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Poll: Public sides with Microsoft

Most Americans oppose state attorneys general blocking the release of Windows 98, according to a poll commissioned by the software giant.

Americans overwhelmingly oppose state attorneys general bringing a lawsuit that blocks the release of Microsoft's Windows 98, according to a poll commissioned by the software giant.

By a 5-to-1 margin, Americans said it would be a bad idea for the attorney generals in their states to file such a suit, according the poll, which was conducted by Peter D. Hart Research and Robert Teeter Research, two better-known research firms. By the same margin, Americans say the best way to ensure competition in the personal computer industry is to let consumers decide which products to buy, without interference from state attorneys general.

The poll surveyed 1,002 adults nationwide between April 29 and April 30, and has a margin of error of 3.2 percent. The results were made public today.

Tom Riehle, a partner with Hart Research, called the results "unusually lopsided," noting that it is rare for more than 70 percent of people to come out on the same side of any contentious issue.

"People really do perceive Microsoft and the Windows products as adding and contributing to the health of the nation's economy," he said. "They don't see a need for this really extraordinary action."

As widely reported, up to 13 states are close to deciding whether to file lawsuits targeting potentially illegal conduct associated with the development and marketing of Windows 98. At least two of the attorneys general from those states--California's Dan Lungren and Massachusetts' Scott Harshbarger--are running for governor. A number of others are up for reelection, or have their eyes on political office.

The survey asked six questions that focused primarily on how people felt about the possibility of their respective state attorneys general bringing lawsuits that might delay the release of Windows 98. None of the questions focused on the possibility of the Justice Department bringing a similar suit.

Among the questions are the following:

• Do you think that your attorney general should bring a lawsuit that blocks Microsoft from releasing Windows 98 in your state, or should they not bring such a suit?

• Do you think that it is a good use or bad use of tax dollars for your attorney general to bring a lawsuit that blocks Microsoft from releasing Windows 98 in your state?

• Should your attorney general bring a suit to try to force Microsoft to remove the Internet capabilities from the Windows 98 software sold in your state, or should they not bring such a suit?

Riehle said the antitrust debate surrounding Microsoft has special meaning for U.S. adults, 66 percent of whom use a computer at home or work. Of those, 75 percent use Windows 95, and 66 percent have access to the Internet.

"Public opinion really matters when it comes to this service," Riehle said. "This is a part of everyone's life."

Chris Holten, a spokeswoman from Microsoft competitor Netscape Communications, discounted the survey.

"Microsoft is now turning to desperate and bizarre measures," said Holten. "Are they now saying that opinion polls are a substitute for what a judge and jury should do when a company breaks the law?"

She added that she would be interested in knowing how people would respond if the poll questions had been asked differently, such as: "Do you feel your state attorney general should enforce the antitrust laws of this country?"

Riehle said that the questions were formulated by the firm after it sought input from Microsoft.

"We tried to ask very simple questions that people could answer," he added. "They told us what the issues were and asked us to ply our expertise to make it a fair set of questions."

For selected poll questions and answers, see the next page. Following are some of the results of the Microsoft-commissioned poll.

Do you think that your attorney general should bring a lawsuit that blocks Microsoft from releasing Windows 98 in your state, or should they not bring such a suit?

Question 1

Do you think that it is a good use or bad use of tax dollars for your attorney general to bring a lawsuit that blocks Microsoft from releasing Windows 98 in your state.

Question 2

Which of the following statements comes closer to your opinion on this issue:
Statement A: The attorney general in your state should block the release of Windows 98 in order to maintain competition in the industry.
Statement B: The best way to ensure competition in the industry is to let consumers and the market decide without government intervention.

Question 3

Should your attorney general bring a suit to try to force Microsoft to remove the Internet capabilities from the Windows 98 software sold in your state, or should they not bring such a suit?

Question 4

Do you feel that Microsoft is currently contributing to economic growth in the United States, or are they holding back economic growth?

Question 5

Microsoft's success has helped stimulate the growth of the computer industry in the U.S.

Question 6

Source: Hart-Teeter Research