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States ax Windows demo in antitrust case

Nine states seeking strong sanctions against Microsoft abruptly cancel plans to demo a version of the Windows OS with removable features.

    Nine states seeking strong antitrust sanctions against Microsoft abruptly canceled on Thursday plans to demonstrate a version of the Windows operating system with removable features.

    An attorney for the states said they had made the decision to avoid prolonging the case after Microsoft said it needed an indefinite period of time to prepare its response.

    A modular version of Windows is one of the key demands of the nine states that have rejected a proposed settlement of the landmark case.

    "Our sense is we're in as good a shape as we're going to be," said Tom Greene, assistant attorney general for California.

    U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly had expressed interest in seeing the version of Windows but was unhappy with the states for introducing the material in the eighth week of hearings.

    Thursday afternoon, a computer-science professor testified that a modular version of Windows was "technically infeasible" and would exponentially increase the cost of testing and supporting the operating system.

    John Bennett, a computer-science professor at the University of Colorado, also rejected the states' contention that a version of Windows, called Windows XP Embedded, could form the basis for a modular version.

    Microsoft says Windows XP Embedded is designed to work with specialty devices like cash registers and automatic teller machines, and is not the same as the regular home and office version of Windows XP.

    Bennett said the states misunderstood how Windows XP Embedded works. Rather than removing functions, it assembles components to produce a single-purpose operating system.

    But the states had found a computer-testing consultant, James Bach, who believes he has developed a desktop version of Windows XP using the embedded program.

    Kollar-Kotelly said earlier this week she wanted Bach to demonstrate his system next week, but Microsoft asked for a delay, saying it had recently received 10 versions of his program and 67 CDs worth of supporting documents.

    Microsoft attorney Steve Holley said it would be "an extensive enterprise" to prepare a response to the demonstration. "We're not talking about a matter of hours or even a matter of days," Holley told the judge.

    Kollar-Kotelly lashed out at the states' legal team. "This is absolutely astounding," she told them. "I cannot tell you I am happy about the way this has been done."

    Economist recants some testimony
    Earlier Thursday, an economist testifying on behalf of Microsoft had to recant his charge that strict antitrust sanctions sought by nine states against Microsoft were developed by its competitors.

    University of Virginia Professor Kenneth Elzinga admitted he had mischaracterized the states' proposals in his written testimony to Kollar-Kotelly when he said the sanctions were "developed" by Microsoft's competitors.


    Under questioning from states' attorney Steve Kuney, Elzinga acknowledged that many of the restrictions the states wanted to impose on Microsoft were actually proposed by the original trial judge.

    "Perhaps 'supported' was a better word than 'developed,'" Elzinga conceded.

    Microsoft has long maintained that competitors like Sun Microsystems and America Online are behind the four-year-old landmark case.

    Kuney cited portions of the breakup order handed down in 2000 by Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson. In it, Jackson listed a series of interim restrictions on Microsoft designed to stay in effect until the company was split up.

    Elzinga acknowledged that a number of the states' proposals were the same as those in Jackson's interim remedy, and some were completely identical. "The word 'developed,' I will concede, is an awkward one," he said.

    A federal appeals court last June upheld Jackson's finding that Microsoft illegally maintained its Windows operating-system monopoly through acts that included commingling its Internet Explorer code with Windows to fend off Netscape's rival Web browser.

    But the appellate judges rejected Jackson's breakup order and sent the case back to a new judge, Kollar-Kotelly, to consider the most appropriate remedy.

    Microsoft reached a proposed settlement of the case in November with the U.S. Justice Department and nine other states, but the non-settling states say the pact is too week to prevent future antitrust violations.

    Elzinga also had to admit that a demand by the states for Microsoft to offer a version of Windows with removable features was the same as a proposal from Richard Posner, a Chicago appeals court judge appointed by Jackson in 1999 to try to mediate a settlement.

    "Is Judge Posner someone you consider subject to undue influence by Microsoft's competitors?" Kuney asked. "No," Elzinga replied.

    But the University of Virginia economics professor battled back, insisting that competitors were a factor in the case.

    "There doesn't seem to be much doubt that competitors had a role in the states' remedies," Elzinga said. "If they didn't play any role, or try to play a role, they sure wasted a lot of money."

    Now in their eighth week, the hearings on the states' proposal seem likely to end next week. Kollar-Kotelly is also considering whether to endorse the proposed settlement.

    The nine states still pursuing the case are California, Connecticut, Florida, Iowa, Kansas, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Utah, West Virginia, plus the District of Columbia.

    Story Copyright © 2002 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved.