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The masses weigh in on Microsoft trial

The Justice Department is flooded with more than 2,285 email messages addressed to its lead trustbuster, lawyer Joel Klein.

A war of words over the Microsoft antitrust trial is exploding outside the courtroom.

The Justice Department has been Microsoft's day in court flooded with more than 2,285 email messages addressed to its lead trustbuster, assistant attorney general for the antitrust division Joel Klein. Some messages present Klein with laurels befitting a hero, while others accuse him of nothing short of endangering the American way of life.

"These emails are from your brother, your sister, anyone who wants to give us any kind of comment," said Gina Talamona, a DOJ spokeswoman. "It's from people in the industry, and people who have nothing to do with the computer industry.

Even though the barrage of messages is unlikely to influence the outcome of the trial, Talamona said she welcomed the comments.

And the public seems to have no problem speaking up.

One message attacks the federal government in general, going so far as to ask whether it is "trying to destroy in a few months what Microsoft" built over many years. By contrast, another message--whose author claims to have been hospitalized due to "stress induced by the initial release of Word 6.0"--thanks the DOJ for "exposing Microsoft's many crimes."

In lawsuits filed in May, the Justice Department and 19 states claim that Microsoft has leveraged its dominant Windows operating system to compete unfairly against Netscape Communications and other companies, like Sun Microsystems.

A recurring theme in the messages is the accusation that the DOJ is paternalistically trying to protect struggling companies unable to compete against a superior player. One accuses the government of "attempting to do a job on Microsoft on behalf of a conglomeration of companies" who don't like competition.

Another refers to the trial as a "witch hunt," noting that the recent $4.2 billion AOL-Netscape deal proves that there is room for competition in the operating system marketplace. Still another asked, "Where would the U.S. and the world be today without Microsoft??????"

Overall, the messages support the DOJ's actions at a rate of nearly 3 to 1.

One person finds Microsoft "sooooo guilty of anticompetitive practices it's obscene." Another thanks Klein for taking on "that great, giant dragon" referring to him as "Mr. (Dragonslayer) Klein."

Other messages are downright spiteful toward the software giant.

One accuses Microsoft of "destroying the computer industry," arguing that everything the company does is bad. Another exhorts the DOJ: "Don't lose this one."

Klein and the DOJ are hardly spared, however, with one emailer refering to Klein as "weasel-face," adding, the "more misery, the better for you."

In response to a request under the Freedom of Information Act, the DOJ released on a CD-ROM the 2,286 email messages, which were sent through a link on the agency's Web site. The names of the senders have been deleted, making it impossible to determine whether the authors have any vested interest in the case.

Microsoft said that it also has received messages from the public--upward of 20,000 since the trial began in September.

"By and large a vast majority--more than 75 percent--of our mail is positive," said Microsoft spokesman Adam Sohn. "Sometimes we get mail from people who want to register negative opinions, but that is the beauty of the Internet."