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Start-up VP taking on Microsoft

A congressional hearing investigating the software giant likely will address issues that go beyond so-called enterprise computing.

TV Host a start-up based in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, isn't exactly a household name. But on Thursday, the company's vice president will be in the spotlight on Capitol Hill.

Mike Jeffress, TV Host's vice president of business development, will join RealNetworks chief executive Rob Glaser to talk about Microsoft's foray into Web broadcasting. The addition to the lineup scheduled to testify at Thursday's hearing into competition in the digital age before the Senate Judiciary Committee is the first tangible sign that the hearing will address issues that go beyond so-called enterprise computing.

Jeffress claims that, shortly after he pitched his electronic television viewing guide to Microsoft, the software giant began building a similar product called WebTV for Windows that now is integrated into Windows 98.

He said his company had agreements with a number of computer sellers, including Packard Bell, Sony, and Gateway 2000, to distribute the software along with the machines they sold. Microsoft's decision to fold a similar product into Windows 98, which the sellers already had purchased, has threatened those deals, Jeffress said. He added that Microsoft's practice of producing technologies first developed by others threatens the ability of small companies to innovate.

In an interview, Jeffress declined to outline what his testimony at Thursday's hearing will include, saying only that "It will be consistent with the things I've said in the past about Microsoft, and the impact of illegally leveraging their monopoly in the operating system on entrepreneurs that are trying to innovate."

The list of witnesses speaking at Thursday's hearing, dubbed "Competition and Innovation in the Digital Age: Beyond the Browser Wars," also includes Larry Ellison, Mitchell Kertzman, and Jeff Papows, chief executives for Oracle, Sybase, and Lotus Development, respectively. More witnesses may be added, according to a press release issued by committee staffers.

According to a person familiar with the matter, the committee also is in discussions with former Acer America product manager Ricardo Correa to testify on Thursday. Correa recently told Reuters that Microsoft threatened to withdraw crucial business partnerships if the computer seller sold machines that carried applications made by the software giant's competitors. Both Microsoft and Acer have disputed the claims.

Judiciary Committee staff members were not immediately available to comment on any negotiations with Correa. Attempts to reach Correa were unsuccessful.