The judge in the Microsoft v. Justice Department case wants to know why his staff can uninstall the Internet Explorer browser in 90 seconds and still have a working PC, when the software supplier insists that this is not possible without damaging Windows 95.
Judge Thomas Jackson demanded an explanation from Microsoft on Friday as he set a date of 13 January to hear arguments in the Justice Department?s plea to have the supplier found in contempt of an earlier ruling by the court.
Jackson had ruled the previous week that until a final decision was reached next summer on whether or not Microsoft was guilty on anti-competitive behaviour, the company was forbidden to bundle "any Microsoft personal computing operating system software" with "any Internet browser software".
Microsoft said it would comply with the ruling pending an appeal, but then offered OEMs an out-of-date version of Windows 95 or said they could remove the browser but this would mean Windows 95 did not work properly.
But Judge Jackson appears unconvinced by Microsoft?s protestations as he described how he and a court technician had removed the IE icon from a Micron PC in less than 90 seconds. In words which could come back to haunt Microsoft, Jackson noted: "When the uninstall process was completed, to all appearances Windows 95 functioned flawlessly as it was intended to operate."
Microsoft?s explanation on Friday was that Jackson had mererly deleted the visible portions fo the browser, but this only amounted to around three per cent of the total IE code. Brad Smith, Microsoft associate general counsel, said there were more lines of code in Windows - 14 million - than in the Federal Aviation Administration?s air traffic control system. "We simply can?t slice and dice it with a legal meat cleaver," he insisted. "Windows comes in lots of different configurations."
But he said Microsoft welcomed the early chance to put forward its case with evidence from expert witnesses. The supplier has complained that it has had little or no opportunity to put forward its side of the case as yet. "The basic problem we face today is the intersection of legal complexity and technical complexity," he said. "It?s a welcome step that the court is going to have an opportunity to hear from some people about the technology itself."
Jackson has given Microsoft until 23 December to file a written response to the Justice Department?s filing for contempt of court. The Justice Department will then have until 29 December to respond before a court hearing on 13 January. Both parties will also meet with Lawrenve Lessig, the legal expert appointed by Jackson to produce an opinion on the case by 31 May 1998.
With the claims and counter-claims mounting on an almost daily basis, there were signs this week that the Justice Department thinks it is in for a long fight when it was revealed that high profile New York lawyer David Boies is helping to prepare the case against Microsoft. Boise helped IBM defeat a federal antitrust suit in the 1970s.
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