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Monday, 29 March, 1999, 07:49 GMT 08:49 UK
USA versus Microsoft: the ninth week
Bill Gates and Internet explorer logo
Bill Gates: video deposition didn't help
by independent computer industry analyst Graham Lea

The last week before Christmas included dramatic evidence about how Internet Explorer could be removed from Windows 98; there were more videotaped extracts from Bill Gates' deposition; and other witnesses, also on videotape, testified as to how toughly Microsoft acts towards competitors.

Professor Edward Felten of Princeton University gave the most important expert evidence so far on behalf of the Department of Justice. He elaborated ways whereby Microsoft could separate its Internet Explorer browser - had it wished to do so - from Windows 95 or Windows 98. He had even written a Prototype Removal Program that made it possible for a user to remove the functionality of IE.

This proved very unpopular with Microsoft, as it had always maintained that there was complete integration between Windows and the browser, and that removing the functionality was not possible.

Although Microsoft maintained it was possible to use an alternative browser and set it as the default, there were a number of circumstances when despite the user's wishes, IE appeared, unwanted. After Professor Felten's program was run, this did not happen.

windows 98
Windows 98: dispute over how to remove Internet Explorer
Microsoft had received a copy of the program, but some time thereafter it would not run properly because of changes that Microsoft had made to its Windows Update feature.
It was generally assumed that Microsoft had done this deliberately, but Microsoft has now made a representation to the court that it did not interfere with the running of the program to disable it.

Professor Felten pointed out that Microsoft could do a much better job of a removal program than he had done in his prototype. Microsoft attorney David Heiner found himself completely outclassed by Professor Felten, and in his cross-examination failed to make any progress in breaching his testimony, which provides a powerful analysis of Microsoft's actions in tying Windows and IE.

This tends to lead to the conclusion that it was done not for any valid technical reason, but as a means of defeating Netscape.

With the cross-examination of Professor Felten not helping Microsoft's case at all, it was terminated earlier than expected and consequently the court found itself with time on its hands. In holiday mood, it was decided to play video extracts of depositions.

A sixth extract from Bill Gates' marathon 20 hours of deposition was heard first. As with the previous installments, it did not help Microsoft's case at all. It was unfortunate for Microsoft that on several occasions he had referred to IE as being a browser, since Microsoft was trying to maintain that it was browsing functionality that was integrated in Windows 98, not a linked (and subsequently welded-in) browser.

The latest Microsoft PR line about the depositions is that "Bill is right in many of these disagreements" (over syntax and definitions), but this implies he was also wrong at times.

Netscape sign
Netscape: Disney was banned from linking to it or mentioning it, according to testimony
Steve Wadsworth, Vice President of a Disney subsidiary who negotiated with Microsoft, explained in his deposition how Disney was not allowed to mention or promote Netscape, or to link to a page that mentioned Netscape.

Microsoft had second thoughts about this extremely tough stance to Disney and various other content providers, and in view of the DoJ investigation, sent an email relaxing some aspects of its marketing and promotion restrictions. Mr Wadsworth wrote a note that "we are being roughed up by a 1,000 pound gorilla", which beats the best information in Microsoft Encarta, where gorillas in the wild are said to reach only around 400 pounds.

Jon Kies of PC-maker Packard Nell NEC said that their customers preferred to make their own choice of browser. The company had taken advantage of the relaxation in licensing conditions last January, which resulted from an earlier phase of the Microsoft case.

Curtis Sasaki of Sun made the point that some businesses preferred at least some of their staff to have no Web browser access, because of the potential waste of time, and the associated costs.

John Romano of Hewlett Packard confirmed that component prices for PCs had been decreasing, but the cost of Windows had been going up.

Judge Jackson, who will decide the case alone, has dropped two subtle hints about his thinking on the case. He referred to Mr Gates as "Gates" - implying guilt. Then, when Steve Houck, the lead lawyer for the 19 states, was asking for access to some documents. He mentioned that the remedies requested by the states differed from those of the DoJ. The judge said "we are long way from any relief at this point", which suggests that relief will be forthcoming.

There are two more DoJ witnesses to be heard in the New Year, after which Microsoft will commence its defence. The court is now in recess until 11 January, and it seems unlikely that the case will finish before the end of February.

Graham Lea is a leading computer industry analyst, specialising in Microsoft, following the case for News Online - his views do not represent those of the BBC.

Links to more Microsoft stories are at the foot of the page.

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