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Hatch deflates Microsoft event

Hours before a Microsoft rally against delaying Windows 98, the Republican Utah senator sounds off on the event.

Just hours before Bill Gates and executives from a number of Microsoft partners were to stage a rally promoting the high level of competition they say exists in the software industry, conservative Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) made a preemptive strike against the event.

On the Senate floor this morning, Hatch questioned whether the executives--who are expected to urge antitrust regulators not to file suit against the software giant--were appearing by choice.

Among the executives joining Gates today are Eckhard Pfeiffer, president and CEO of Compaq Computer; Jim Halpin, president and CEO of CompUSA; Bill Krause, president and CEO of Storm Technologies; and Ted Johnson, executive vice president and chief technology officer of Visio. Representatives from a number of groups that advocate for people with disabilites also will attend.

"It strikes me as curious that it was only after calls from Microsoft that many of these individuals saw fit to sign letters and make public appearances," Hatch was quoted as saying in a floor statement. "Indeed, I have been told that some executives in fact hope to see the Justice Department pursue further its case against Microsoft, but have chosen to join Mr. Gates on that stage today because they feel they have little choice but do so in order not to jeopardize their relationship with the industry's most powerful and important player."

Microsoft representatives were not immediately available for comment.

As previously reported, the Justice Department and up to 13 states are investigating Microsoft and are close to deciding whether to file a suit targeting allegedly anticompetitive business practices.

In addition to top executives from 26 companies--who last week signed a letter urging regulators not to file a suit that might delay the release of Windows 98--Microsoft has lined up other support. Most recently, former Apple Computer chairman John Sculley came out against any potential action, according to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

In an interview in Seattle yesterday, Sculley told the paper that regulators investigating Microsoft were guilty of "political harassment," adding that "what the government is trying to do is completely unjustified."

Utah's Hatch, for his part, counts several of Microsoft's most bitter rivals as constituents, including Novell, and Caldera, which currently is pursuing a private antitrust suit against Microsoft. Throughout his four terms as a U.S. senator, Hatch, who now chairs the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee, has been an outspoken critic of burdensome governmental regulation.

Since Hatch publicly took the offensive against Microsoft last November, a number of conservatives have followed suit. Just yesterday, for example, Daniel Oliver, the chairman of the Federal Trade Commission under former president Ronald Reagan, published an article in the conservative publication the National Review that supported antitrust action against Microsoft.

Other conservatives speaking out against the software giant include the Progress and Freedom Foundation. In addition, former presidential candidate and senator Bob Dole and former appeals court judge Robert Bork are being paid by Microsoft competitors to lobby against the company. (See related story)

Sen. Slade Gorton of Washington has called remarks Hatch has made on the Senate floor regarding Microsoft "nonsensical."

Today, he issued a statement today criticizing regulation aimed at Microsoft. "The last thing the high-tech industry needs right now is to be lectured to by a bunch of bureaucrats in D.C. who don't know a hyperlink from a hard drive," he said.

Former congressman Vin Weber, a co-director of the conservative think tank Empower America, also is a paid adviser for Microsoft.