Microsoft has continued its fightback against the Justice Department with the filing of depositions of support from partner companies, including Compaq, whose testimony is now being used by both sides.
The PC software supplier has posted sworn statements from a number of its leading partners, including Compaq, Rational Software and Packard Bell, on its Web sites. They are part of a bid to counter the Justice Department's use of evidence from Gateway 2000, Micron Electronics and Compaq again which all testified that they were forbidden by Microsoft to disable the icon for the Internet Explorer (IE)browser on their desktops.
Ealier this week Microsoft issued its first formal response to the Justice Department's anti-trust law suit which alleges that the company is engaging in anti-competitive behaviour by forcing licencees of Windows95 to distribute IE as well. Microsoft accused the government of trying to prevent it from making its products better for end users.
In a 48-page brief the software giant alleged: "The petition is aimed squarely at preventing Microsoft from including improved features and functionality in upgraded versions of Windows 95."
Microsoft insists that the Justice Department was well aware of plans to include Internet capabilities in Windows 95 "before the start of the negotiations leading up to (a 1995) consent decree" and that it did not issue any objections until the end of September when IE 4.0 was launched.
The company also dismissed the suggestion that non-disclosure agreements in its licences made it difficult for third parties to come forward and testify against Microsoft. It argued that such NDAs were routine in the software industry and more importantly were not part of the consent decree and as such could not be considered part of the Justice Department's investigation.
To support its claims, Microsoft has now wheeled out 10 big name partners to back it up, following the lead taken by Dell Computer, whose deposition was included in the court filing. William Morris, Dell's senior manager in charge of online content and marketing, stated that: "The fact that the Internet Explorer technology in Windows 95 includes a Web browser does not diminish our willingness to provide a different Web browser such as Netscape Navigator."
The most interesting deposition comes from Compaq, if only because the company finds itself in the bizaare position of being used in evidence by both sides in the dispute. John Rose, senior vice president and group general manager of enterprise computing at Compaq, said: "Based on consumer customer demand, we would not want to ship a personal computer system that did not include the most recent and advanced Internet browser - based on our current understanding of the market, Internet Explorer meets these requirements."
"The fact that the Internet Explorer technology in Windows 95 includes a Web browser would not diminish our willingness also to install a different Web browser, such as Netscape Navigator, if we believed there was sufficient customer demand for it," he added.
Mike Devlin, president of Rational Software, added his support for Microsoft's policy. "From our perspective, and the perspective of our software development customers who want comprehensive development and testing tools, the systems services Microsoft includes under the umbrella name of Internet Explorer are fundamentally operating systems services," he said.
"Rational relies upon and integrates with some of the most recent updates to Microsoft's Internet Explorer technology," he added. "To be certain that these key operating system components are present on our customers' computer systems, we currently license those components from Microsoft and redistribute them with our product. It is to our advantage and our customers' advantage, however, if those components are already on our customers' machines as part of Windows 95.
And he concluded: "When the Internet Explorer system services we use are distributed widely enough, Rational will further benefit, as it will no longer be necessary for us to redistribute the Microsoft code with our product." Tim Krauskopf, a co-founder of Spyglass, backed the crucial Microsoft claim that integrating Web functionality into an operating system is a logical development. He testified that Spyglass had determined that its Mosaic browser - on which IE was based - was an embedded technology, not a stand-alone product. "The ability of developers to rapidly produce such products is substantially facilitated by the availability of various Internet-related system services as part of modern operating systems," he said.
"For example, any modern operating system should include support for data transfer using various Internet protocols, the handling of Uniform Resource Locators, and the display of HTML, the document format of the Web," he continued.
He also supported Microsoft's timeline for IE, based on the 1994 licensing of Mosaic to the company. "When Spyglass granted this licence, we fully expected all of the Mosaic technology to become part of the operating system," he confirmed.
Mal Ransom, senior vice president of marketing, dismissed the suggestion that his company was being forced to use IE, insisting that it was customer demand that would determine the choice of browser. "The presence of Internet Explorer does not have any effect on the operation of Netscape Navigator," he noted. "Whether or not we license and install Navigator, therefore, is a decision we base on whether we perceive sufficient customer demand."
He added: "We have had meetings from time to time with representatives of Netscape and have an ongoing dialogue with Netscape - we have found that customer demand for Netscape Navigator is not strong enough to warrant our installing it as a standard feature on our systems."
Meanwhile Bill Gates himself has weighed in with an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal in which he tells the Justice Department to back off. 'Its position is equivalent to telling PC manufacturers that they can't include word processing, spreadsheet or email functionality in PCs because it would be unfair to typewriter, calculator or couriers companies, 'he insisted. "In this instance consumer benefits seem to be less important than the complaints of a handful of our competitors who want the government to help them compete," he alleged. "US antitrust laws do not exist to prop up competitors."
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