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Microsoft strikes back

As consumer advocate Ralph Nader kicks off an anti-Microsoft conference in Washington, D.C., the software giant releases a letter challenging the convention.

    On the same morning that consumer advocate Ralph Nader kicks off a conference in Washington D.C. to discuss Microsoft (MSFT) and its "global strategies," the software giant has released a letter challenging the premise of the convention.

    Nader is using the two-day conference as a forum to denounce what he Microscope on Microsoft calls Microsoft's "intimidating tactics" and is opening a campaign to educate the public about the costs of what he calls its "monopolistic techniques." Nader has called Microsoft's efforts to expand "unprecedented."

    However, in his letter to Nader, Microsoft's senior vice president and chief officer of operations Bob Herbold pointed out that most of the panelists participating in the conference are "either litigation opponents, leading competitors, or well-known Microsoft critics. The conference makes no pretense of presenting an objective or balanced treatment of the issues."

    Herbold went on to write that the bias of most of the presenters "makes one wonder whether your speakers traveled by Qantas, because it has all the hallmarks of a kangaroo court."

    Nader convened the national conference to discuss the implications of Microsoft's business practices. Speaking at the conference are Bob Herbold executives from two of the company's fiercest competitors--Netscape Communications general counsel Roberta Katz and Sun Microsystems' chief executive, Scott McNealy. Also scheduled to appear are antitrust attorney Gary Reback, a longtime Microsoft critic, and former Federal Trade Commissioner Christine Varney.

    A professional group known as the Association of Windows NT Systems Professionals opposes the conference and is planning a "town meeting" in the nation's capital to coincide with the event.

    In today's letter, Herbold was quick to commend Nader for his long-standing commitment to the well-being of consumers. The intensely competitive nature of the software industry has produced a steady stream of innovative new products at attractive prices, and that is unambiguously good for consumers, he wrote.

    "As a result, it is regrettable that you appear to have aligned yourself with a small band of Microsoft's detractors whose apparent goal is to enlist the government's assistance in their efforts to compete with Microsoft," he added.

    Nader said that some people were afraid to attend the conference, because, he alleges, they are intimidated by Microsoft.

    But the company contends that Nader's staff rejected its suggestions for inviting several respected industry participants and observers who could have presented a balanced view of the company's business practices and products.

    Herbold's letter follows a public campaign launched this week by Microsoft to challenge the federal government, which last month charged the Redmond with violating a 1995 consent decree. The campaign also challenges competitors whom Microsoft claims are using the government to weaken the software giant's position in the high-tech industry.

    Reuters contributed to this report.