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Bundling of IE, Windows debated

The bundling of Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser with Windows 98 creates more harm than benefit, a computer consultant testifies.

WASHINGTON--The forced bundling of Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser with Windows 98 creates more harm than benefit to software developers, computer vendors, and end users, a computer consultant hired by the government has testified.

"While the combination may offer certain efficiencies, these same efficiencies can be achieved without bundling of the Web browser software" with Windows, University of Pennsylvania telecommunications professor David Farber said in written testimony unsealed today.

An expert in Microsoft's day in court computer software design, Farber concluded that "only the availability of an unbundled version of Windows 98 will cure the difficulties which arise for many [original equipment manufacturers], application developers, and retail end users who may find too burdensome the problems arising from" the combination. Farber is expected to be cross-examined tomorrow when proceedings in the eight-week trial resume.

In a detailed statement, Microsoft dismissed Farber's recommendation. "Mr. Farber has provided nothing more than an opinion piece on how he thinks Microsoft could have or should have designed Windows," the statement said. "But in our market economy, government consultants don't get to redesign software products."

Microsoft went on to say that Farber's testimony was at odds with a June ruling from a federal appeals court that held the combination of Microsoft's Web browser and operating system was likely to pass antitrust muster as long as there was "plausible" benefit to consumers.

"With the heart of its case cut out by a combination of last summer's Court of Appeals decision...the government is grasping at straws to try to make a case," Microsoft continued, adding that Farber admitted in a deposition "that he knows absolutely nothing about the internal workings of Windows 95 or Windows 98."

The Justice Department (DOJ) and 19 states allege that Microsoft's decision to fold its browser into Windows was an illegal attempt to use its alleged operating system monopoly to block the threat posed by Netscape Communications.

Farber contends that "there are no technical barriers that prevent Microsoft from developing and selling its Windows operating system as a stand-alone product separate from its browser software" and that forcing Internet Explorer on all Windows 98 customers "is very likely to impose inefficiencies" on OEMs, software developers, and users.

Farber is the ninth witness to be called by the government in the antitrust case being heard in federal court here. Because of a scheduling conflict, his testimony is interrupting that of Sun Microsystems vice president and Java developer James Gosling, who is expected to take the stand again later this week.