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Microsoft told to submit evidence

A federal judge orders Microsoft to turn over evidence relating to business dealings with two of its partners.

A federal judge ordered Microsoft to turn over evidence relating to business dealings with two of its partners, but put off ruling on the company's requests to exclude the evidence from the antitrust case or on delaying the trial set to start in three weeks, both parties in the dispute said.

In a brief filed yesterday, Justice Department prosecutors said Microsoft had rebuffed their requests for information concerning dealings with Intel and Apple Computer, as well as for database contents relating to computer vendors who purchase Microsoft operating systems. The government's brief asked that the software giant be ordered to hand over the evidence within 24 hours.

In its own brief, Redmond attorneys yesterday countered that allegations related to those requests--as well as claims relating to other partners such as RealNetworks and Bristol Technology--were improper attempts by prosecutors to rewrite their case at the last minute.

Microsoft asked that the allegations, introduced in a government brief filed Monday, be excluded from the suit. In the alternative, Microsoft asked that the trial, scheduled to start September 23, be delayed by six months so that it can prepare a defense.

At a hearing in Washington, D.C., today, U.S. District Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson ordered Microsoft to turn over the contested evidence, but he made no decision on Microsoft's request to either exclude the new allegations or delay the trial. He said he would address those issues at a pretrial hearing scheduled for September 17.

In its filing earlier this week, antitrust prosecutors introduced new evidence that went well beyond allegations that Microsoft had illegally attempted to crush Netscape Communications' Navigator browser by tying its own Internet Explorer browser to its Windows operating system. Those claims, which had been central to the government's case, were dealt a major setback in June when a federal appeals court ruled that Microsoft was free to integrate its products so long as the combination provided a plausible benefit to computer users.

Among the new allegations are claims that Microsoft leaned on Intel, Apple, and RealNetworks to shut out not only Navigator but also Sun Microsystems' Java programming language.

Microsoft also said the government is seeking additional information concerning a private lawsuit partner Bristol Technology filed against the software company last month.

The government said the new allegations go to the heart of the complaint it filed in May, which claims Microsoft engaged in a broad pattern of anticompetitive conduct to hold onto a monopoly in desktop operating systems and to establish a new monopoly in Internet software.

Microsoft, however, sees the matter differently. It has characterized the new allegations as an attempt by the government to rewrite its case and to ambush defense attorneys just weeks before trial is to begin. It argues that court procedure requires the government to formally amend the suit in order to introduce the new allegations.