As the US Department of Justice (DoJ) called its final witness to the stand last week, the judge hearing the Microsoft antitrust case expressed concern for the first time that Microsoft may not be pulling all the strings in the industry.
The judge interrupted the testimony of economist Franklin Fisher to question him about the impact of AOL's acquisition of Netscape and how this would affect Microsoft's dominance of the operating system market.
A source close to the DoJ and in attendance at the trial said: "The judge was uneasy about how the AOL/Netscape deal might affect the competitiveness of the computer industry, which is at the heart of this trial."
"It will have some relevance," said Fisher, who called the AOL deal with Netscape "a hopeful sign" of renewed competition. But he added: "It won't have changed the fact that Microsoft took actions to reduce the threat from Netscape's browser."
Earlier in the week, Intuit CEO William Harris called for regulators to restrain the market power of Windows.
Harris told the court that on several occasions Microsoft had used its market power to prevent Intuit from gaining business. For instance, the software giant signed a deal with Visa International under which it agreed it would not compete in the electronic bill-paying market if Visa promised not to work with Intuit; Compaq decided to replace Intuit's Quicken logo with Microsoft's Money icon until Intuit pleaded a compromise and Compaq was able to use both logos; and, in 1997, Intuit signed a contract with Microsoft in which it was prevented from promoting Netscape's browser or working with the company.
Ted Julian, analyst at Forrester Research, commented: "The question is how many other companies were put in this position or still are in this position."
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