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Lindows asserts its individuality

A start-up developing software that would let many Windows programs run on Linux computers releases legal papers to head off Microsoft's efforts to thwart the product.

Lindows, a start-up developing software that would let many Windows programs run on Linux computers, this week released legal papers designed to head off Microsoft's efforts to thwart the product.

In December, Microsoft asked a federal judge to bar the company from using the Lindows name, which it claimed could confuse consumers.

The suit set back Lindows' software release schedule but also has given the start-up publicity as the latest chapter in the long-running competition between Microsoft and Linux fans. The company had hoped to release a preview version in December, but said the legal action delayed the software, which eventually arrived in February.

And the suit has given Lindows new ambitions. "There's a strong chance that Microsoft may lose its trademark on Windows," said Vice President of Marketing John Bromhead. He also said the company has some backup names prepared in case it loses.

In the latest court papers, which were made public Thursday, Lindows said it conducted a survey of 750 of its registered users and found that not one confused Microsoft with the start-up.

"Not a single respondent believed that Microsoft 'makes, sponsors or licenses Lindows OS' or 'owns or operates Lindows.com,'" the company said in the filing.

Further, Lindows argues that Windows is itself a generic term for a feature of an operating system, bolstering its case by drawing on Microsoft's own testimony when the software giant defended itself against Apple Computer in a 1988 suit.

"No matter how much money a company spends, they should not be allowed to prevent others from using a descriptive term widely used in the industry, especially if that company has been found guilty of illegal tactics to build and maintain its monopoly," said Michael Robertson, CEO of Lindows.

"This would be like a furniture company selling a 'Super Chair,' driving other furniture companies out of business illegally, and then trying to gain exclusive rights to the word 'chair' and block all competitors from using it," Robertson said.

A Microsoft representative was not immediately available for comment.

Lindows employs software from the Wine project, an open-source effort to mimic in Linux the commands that Windows programs use. San Diego-based Lindows was launched last year by Robertson, former CEO of digital music site MP3.com.

The company said it has released a "sneak preview" of LindowsOS to a select group of testers and plans to release the full version 1.0 later this year for $99.

Lindows said the next step in the lawsuit is a court hearing Feb. 27 in which the judge will hear oral arguments from both sides.

News.com's Stephen Shankland contributed to this report.