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Tuesday, 30 April, 2002, 06:55 GMT 07:55 UK
Microsoft drops court witnesses
Bill Gates arriving at the court building in Washington on Wednesday with wife Melinda
Bill Gates is now making common cause with the Justice Department
Microsoft has decided to ditch eight of the remaining 17 witnesses it had intended to bring before the federal judge whose job it is to decide what punishment it faces for anti-competitive behaviour.

The company's lawyers told Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly that its own progress in the case, now in its seventh week, meant the witnesses - including four Microsoft executives - were not needed.

I emphatically disagree with the suggestion that Microsoft deliberately introduces incompatibilities to prevent our competitors' software from working with our products

Robert Short
Microsoft vice president
It also cited what it called "shortcomings" in the case made by the opposition: the nine US states who have refused to accept a settlement struck between the software giant and the Justice Department.

Still due to testify though is Microsoft's chief executive officer Steve Ballmer, as is Windows Division vice president Jim Allchin, both long-term stalwarts of the company's senior echelons.

But while Microsoft was touting its own confidence following the generally well-received testimony of chairman and co-founder Bill Gates earlier this month, the "unsettling states", as they have come to be known in some quarters, saw things differently.

According to Tom Greene, assistant to California attorney general Bill Lockyer, the company is cutting back on its witnesses in the hope of "reducing potential vulnerabilities in their case".

Dodging the blow

Microsoft remains determined to evade the strictures of the unsettling states' suggested settlement, which Mr Gates insisted on the stand would cripple Windows and destroy the company.

The states are after a modular version of Windows, which would ensure that companies making services and programs which compete with Microsoft products get a fair crack of the whip.

Microsoft prefers the much lighter restrictions placed on it by the Justice Department, which make it easier for suppliers to feature non-Microsoft products. These, it says, will do the job of mending its ways quite sufficiently.

The nine states will have to persuade the judge that the settlement will fail to prevent Microsoft from compounding the illegal anti-competitive behaviour it has already been found to have committed.

Working together?

Microsoft staffers were in court again on Monday to defend the company's conduct.

Against charges that Microsoft makes life difficult for competitors by changing Windows in ways that make their software incompatible, vice president Robert Short said the company made "significant efforts" to collaborate.

"I emphatically disagree with the suggestion that Microsoft deliberately introduces incompatibilities to prevent our competitors' software from working with our products," his written testimony said.

Troubled testimony

But earlier in the day, Microsoft found for the second time that testimony from one of its witnesses was undermined by the witness himself.

Gregg Sutherland, vice president of phone company and Microsoft partner Qwest, told the court that the idea of Microsoft using its monopoly to squash competition in the emerging internet services business was impossible.

"It couldn't happen," he said. "That would be a nonsensical thing for anyone to do."

His testimony was meant to counter that of SBC Communications engineer Larry Pearson, who had earlier in the case said Microsoft could crush his company's planned unified messaging services.

Microsoft's proprietary messaging service has been built into its new XP operating system, a move which the unsettling states see as a prima facie case of bundling to stop competition.

Unfortunately, when questioned by the states' lawyers, Mr Sutherland had to admit that he was unfamiliar not only with Microsoft's anti-competitive conduct in the past, but also with the internet services in question.

Last week, a Microsoft witness had to admit that even though he had told the court the states' settlement would harm consumers and the computer business, he was saying what Bill Gates had asked him to say and did not know any details of the proposed settlement.

See also:

24 Apr 02 | Business
Gates in court for third day
23 Apr 02 | Business
Gates 'curtailing customer choice'
23 Apr 02 | Business
Gates cool on the stand
18 Apr 02 | Business
Microsoft profits disappoint
04 Apr 02 | Business
Microsoft chief in surprise exit
08 Mar 02 | Business
Sun sues Microsoft
22 Apr 02 | Business
Gates denounces Microsoft penalties
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