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Hatch wants meeting of the minds

The Utah senator is inviting CEOs from Microsoft, Sun, and Netscape to a judiciary committee hearing on competition and policy in the digital age.

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said today he has invited Microsoft chairman Bill Gates and two of his fiercest rivals to participate in a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing concerning competition and public policy in the digital age.

In addition to Gates, Hatch said he also invited Sun Microsystems chief Scott McNealy and Netscape Communications CEO Jim Barksdale.

A judiciary committee spokeswoman said that the invitations went out today and that Hatch had not yet received replies. A Microsoft spokesman said it was too early to know whether Gates's schedule would permit him to attend but said that the company would send either him or another senior executive to represent the company.

A Netscape spokeswoman said Barksdale would appear if Gates did, and a Sun spokeswoman said she did not know whether the company would be sending any representatives to the hearing. All three spokespeople indicated that their companies welcomed the opportunity to participate.

Hatch said that the March 3 hearing, entitled "Market Power and Structural Change in the Software Industry," is part of an ongoing examination of competition in the computer industry. While billed as open-ended, Microsoft invariably seems to be a major focus of the examination.

At a similar judiciary committee hearing last November, a cross-promotional contract Microsoft signed with EarthLink Network came under fire because it prevented the Internet service provider from informing some subscribers that there were alternatives to Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser.

In comments to a Washington conference last week, Hatch said the government may need to form an "Internet commerce commission" to prevent Microsoft from building its own, private Internet.

Last week, Sen. Slade Gorton (R-Washington) criticized the "attacks" being leveled at Microsoft and suggested there was a lack of balance at last November's hearing. Senate Judiciary Committee spokeswoman Jeanne Lopatto denied the hearing was biased, pointing out that a number of those invited to speak, including Microsoft attorney Charles Rule, presented views favorable to the software giant.

Hatch's state of Utah is home to a number of Microsoft's most bitter opponents, including Novell and Caldera.