Microsoft could be slapped with fines of $1 million (#625,000) per day, as part of an anti-trust investigation. The investigation has also thrown up evidence of bullying tactics from Microsoft.
Last week the US Department of Justice (DoJ) charged the software giant with violating a 1995 court order which barred it from imposing anti-competitive licensing terms on manufacturers of personal computers. Janet Reno, US attorney general, applied to a federal court to ask for fines of $1 million a day to be levied on the company until it satisfies the anti-trust rules.
The crux of the DoJ's complaint concerns the way Microsoft is allegedlycoercing PC manufacturers to license its Internet Explorer (IE) web browser as a condition of licensing the Windows 95 operating system. Under the 1995 court order, Microsoft is prohibited from forcing manufacturers to license any other Microsoft product as a condition of licensing Windows.
One such victim of Microsoft's bullying is Compaq. Answering to DoJ investigators, Stephen Decker, the Compaq executive responsible for software procurement, said that Netscape was the company's preferred browser partner. Compaq wanted to replace the IE icon with Netscape's on its Presario Windows 95 desktop, but backed down when Microsoft threatened to terminate Compaq's Windows 95 licensing agreement if it did so.
Referring to the 1995 court order, Joel Klein, assistant attorney general in charge of the DoJ's anti-trust division, said: "Microsoft is not entitled to require computer manufacturers and consumers to take Internet Explorer when they license Windows 95." Separately he added: "Everybody knows (the browser and the operating system) are two separate products."
The DoJ's action follows pressure from consumer groups including Consumer Project on Technology (CPT), a group set up in 1995 by Ralph Nader whose victories include successfully lobbying Chevrolet to drop the Corvair.
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