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SPA warns of NT threat

The software trade group releases its white paper outlining its "serious concerns" with Windows NT, which Microsoft dismisses.

The Software Publishers Association has released its long-anticipated white paper outlining its "serious concerns with Microsoft leveraging its desktop monopoly" to Windows NT, a document the software giant was quick to dismiss as "misguided."

The 31-page paper describes several ways Microsoft is attempting to "eliminate competition in the enterprise markets." Windows NT already outships established operating systems in that space, such as those offered by Novell, Sun Microsystems, and others. Specifically, the SPA contends, Microsoft is using practices such as "vaporware" announcements, bundling, tied and predatory pricing, and manipulation of technical standards to promote the product.

Offered in workstation and server versions, the NT operating system is intended for corporate businesses--a lucrative market that extends Microsoft's reach beyond its consumer-oriented software roots. Microsoft markets a series of server-side applications called BackOffice, which take advantage of NT.

Going forward, NT will likely drive the majority of Microsoft's revenue, and the base code eventually will supplant Windows 95 and 98-based software, the company recently has said. The idea is to unite the company's various operating systems into a single software infrastructure, from consumer to corporate-oriented versions, according to Redmond executives.

"As a result of Microsoft's desktop monopoly, even those companies and consumers who choose not to use Windows NT as their network operating system will be forced to adopt Windows NT technologies and standards," the white paper stated. The SPA noted that "developers who write for the Windows 95/98 monopoly must also ensure that their products run on Windows NT" in order to be certified by Microsoft, a practice that was previously reported by CNET NEWS.COM.

The Washington, D.C., software trade group also took aim at Microsoft's practice of folding other applications--including e-commerce, messaging and so-called certificate and index servers--into NT. "These products, while tightly integrated with Windows NT, are not part of the operating system itself," the paper added.

The practice gives Microsoft an unfair advantage, relegating third-party developers "to development on the fringes" while giving Microsoft's applications team the benefit of quicker and more extensive knowledge of the how the operating system works, according to the white paper.

Microsoft clearly was ready for the SPA's paper, which had been rumored for some time.

"Particularly troubling is the timing of your 'white paper,' which seems to coincide with Sun Microsystems' admission as a member of the SPA," Microsoft executive vice president and chief operating officer Bob Herbold wrote in a letter addressed to the SPA. "It is a disservice to the SPA membership that you would consider publishing such a partisan and one-sided document in their name."

In January, Sun became a member of the SPA for the first time, paying the trade group $100,000 per year in dues. The SPA's board, which today approved the release of the white paper, is made up of a number of Microsoft opponents, including Oracle vice president and general counsel Dan Cooperman and Netscape general counsel Roberta Katz.

"Windows NT has enjoyed great success because it offers the price and performance our customers demand," Herbold continued. "Our competitors' business model has been and remains one of low volumes and high prices, and it is only natural they would do everything possible to unfairly discredit our efforts on behalf of consumers.

Herbold's comments were echoed by Jonathan Zuck, executive director of the Association for Competitive Technology, an organization made up of Microsoft partners who support the company in its antitrust dispute with the Justice Department.

"I'm not going to cry a river for having to spend $30,000 to buy a system from Sun when I can spend a third" of that on a comparable system that runs NT, Zuck said. He called the white paper a "desperate attempt on the part of the SPA to gain the favor of a minority in the industry."

Although NT does not share the market dominance of Microsoft's consumer Windows franchise, some industry pundits are calling for increased scrutiny of the company's server-side efforts in order to police any alleged monopolistic practices before the NT business grows to the market share size of Windows 95.