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Nader: Hit Microsoft where it hurts

Saying the courtroom is ineffective, the consumer advocate wants the government to use its purchasing power to solve issues in the software market.

Ralph Nader and the Consumer Project on Technology are asking the federal government to take on Microsoft via the pocketbook instead of the courts, by using its purchasing power to solve "security and competition" issues in the software market.

In a letter sent to Office of Management and Budget Director Mitchell Daniels on Tuesday, consumer activists Nader and James Love of the CPT ask the government office to spell out exactly how much money the government spends on Microsoft technology.

"If you look at antitrust cases, they take a lot of money and they're time consuming. Our way of thinking is it might be more efficient for the government to use its procurement policy," Love said. "Almost nothing they're trying to achieve in the current set of remedies is something that you couldn't accomplish through procurement remedies."

Microsoft and OMB officials could not immediately be reached for comment. The OMB is an office of the White House, responsible for preparing the federal budget, setting spending plans and assessing the funding requirements in federal agencies.

The CPT, formed by Nader in 1995, has been a critic of the proposed settlement between Microsoft and the Justice Department in the landmark antitrust case. A federal judge has yet to rule on whether the settlement proposal is adequate or needs to be strengthened.

Among other suggestions, the letter asks the OMB to conduct a cost-benefit analysis of buying the code for office productivity products outright, and of releasing that code into the public domain.

"If you think about it, in the private sector the U.S. government is probably the only consumer on earth that has the power to control Microsoft's market decisions," Love said.

Other suggestions include determining whether Microsoft should be required as a matter of procurement policy to fully disclose the file formats for its office productivity and multimedia programs, "so that the data created in such programs could be reliably read by non-Microsoft software."

The letter also questions whether a lack of competition in client software markets create security risks for federal agencies, and whether office productivity tools should be required to provide "high-quality ports" to other operating systems, including Linux or BeOS.

Linux has recently been making inroads into government markets in the United States and abroad. Proponents of the OS have argued that it is more secure than Microsoft's products. Microsoft has denied those claims, and has reportedly countered that open-source products could pose a security threat to governments.

Tuesday's letter is a follow-up to meetings held between the OMB and the CPT, Love said.

"We're trying to put something on the agenda in terms of things we'd like them to look at. We made information requests and suggested things we think they should do and asked for a meeting," he said.