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More embarrassing Microsoft e-mail

May 3, 2002 

Then, as now, lawyers battling the software giant were arguing that the company had stitched its Internet Explorer Web browser into its Windows operating system as an attack on Netscape's Web browsing software.

But that legal quagmire didn't stop Microsoft executives from discussing a similar strategy with regard to the company's Media Player software and rival RealNetworks.

That revelation came courtesy of an internal Microsoft memo attached to an e-mail dated January 3, 1999. The memo declares, "Winning in streaming media is likely to follow a similar pattern to how the Web evolved."

Microsoft did eventually integrate its Windows Media Player -- which lets users play music or watch video footage -- into its operating system in much the same way as it did its Web browser.


The documents were introduced during the government's cross-examination of Will Poole, the vice president in charge of Microsoft's digital media and content security division.

Poole testified before United States District Court Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly that removing all the multimedia components from the company's Windows operating system -- as the company says one of the remedies under consideration in the ongoing antitrust action would compel Microsoft to do -- would leave competing multimedia programs, such as RealOne Player, unable to run.

Poole also took issue with the claim of RealNetworks vice president David Richards, who testified for the government last month, saying that consumers trying to use his company's RealOne Player sometimes found incompatibilities between the RealNetworks products and Windows.

Poole noted that RealNetworks claims 250 million registered users of its multimedia players, with most running in a Windows environment. "The fact that so many users choose to use RealNetworks media players instead of, or in addition to, the built-in functionality in Windows is evidence that RealNetworks' media players work very well on Microsoft's operating systems," he told the court.

The Department of Justice and half of the states involved in the original antitrust case reached a settlement with Microsoft in November. But nine states -- California, Connecticut, Florida, Iowa, Kansas, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Utah and West Virginia, along with the District of Columbia -- broke with the Justice Department's remedy proposal, arguing that it wasn't strong enough.

Kollar-Kotelly will decide what remedies are appropriate based on the hearings, now in their seventh week.

Microsoft witnesses, like Poole, have taken the position that the remedies proposed by the non-settling states would damage Windows. The government argues that Microsoft is deliberately interpreting the proposed restrictions in an absurdly broad fashion.

Poole testified that the RealNetworks media player is not an alternative or replacement for Windows, nor is it likely to be. The courts have found that Microsoft feared the development of "middleware" that could run on any operating system, such as UNIX, and let consumers run applications that were tied to the middleware, not the operating system.

It was this fear that caused Microsoft to attack Netscape, whose browser was a type of middleware, the courts ruled.

Court is not in session Friday, so Poole's cross-examination will continue Monday morning. Microsoft could call another six witnesses -- including top executives Steve Ballmer and Jim Allchin -- before the company rests its case.

Madnick encore

Before Poole took the stand, Microsoft attorney Michael Lacovara tried to rehabilitate during redirect Stuart E. Madnick, a computer science professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. (Read more about this testimony.)

Madnick, a Microsoft witness who appeared as a technical expert, had stumbled during his cross-examination.

Lacovara asked him a series of questions designed to help him regain credibility. For instance, Madnick was asked to name an operating system other than any made by Microsoft in which the Web browsing software could not be removed.

Madnick offered up KDE as an example. But KDE is a computer program designed to run on top of the Linux operating system, as the government lawyer pointed out.

Madnick conceded that was true, and then offered GNOME as an example. But GNOME performs the same function as KDE on a computer equipped with the Linux operating system.

A key issue in the antitrust case revolves around Microsoft's incorporation of the Internet Explorer Web browsing software into its Windows operating system in such a way that Explorer can't be removed without damaging Windows.

The courts found that Microsoft has monopoly power in the market for desktop computer operating systems, and violated antitrust law to protect that power. One of the ways Microsoft did that, the courts found, was by mixing the Internet Explorer code into Windows.

Lacovara asked Madnick if the fact that the academic couldn't name another operating system without a browser that couldn't be removed was important. Madnick said it was not, and said a remarkable feat had been performed by software engineers at Microsoft. "The fact that they have designed it this way is a benefit," he said.


From Dave Wilson CNN. Copyright © 2002 Cable News Network LP, LLLP.

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