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Nontech firms join Microsoft fight

Airlines and media firms are backing anti-Microsoft group ProComp--a sign that many industries feel threatened by the software giant.

Airlines and media companies, not just software providers, are backing anti-Microsoft group ProComp--a reminder that many industries feel threatened by the software giant in the digital age and are willing to support an effort that is rallying against it.

As reported, Knight Ridder New Media, the Air Transport Association (the trade group for major U.S. airlines), the American Society of Travel Agents, Preview Travel, and Sabre Group Holdings were among those listed as ProComp supporters. Although not all are dues-paying members, they support ProComp's goal "to promote open and fair competition and ongoing product innovation."

These companies and trade groups are being joined by companies more familiar to Microsoft, including Netscape Communications, Sun Microsystems, Corel, and Sybase.

The broader opposition is emerging as Microsoft continues to expand into new businesses: online classifieds with Sidewalk and CarPoint; online travel with Expedia, and news services with MSNBC.

It coincides with a widening investigation by the Justice Department, which is looking into Microsoft's expansion into e-commerce and online content, not just desktop browsers.

In a statement released today, ProComp charges that "Microsoft has made no secret of its intention to exploit its control over the screen on virtually all personal computers to become the dominant force in online information and commerce."

The threats to competition are real, the group contends. In the airline business, for example, the paper states: "Recognition of the competitive harm that results from screen bias ultimately led to the enactment of federal antibias rules in the computer reservation market. Now, however, the Internet has raised the question of screen bias once again, only on a much larger stage."

Microsoft denies any monopolistic charges, saying that its goal is merely to sell more software. A spokesman played down the support of companies beyond software providers as well.

"This is no surprise," the spokesman said. "Our competitors are once again trying to make an effort to use government to compete with Microsoft."

Many of these companies or groups have lobbied against Microsoft before but typically on a more piecemeal basis.

Knight Ridder executives previously have raised concerns about Microsoft's push into new media and classified advertising. Last year, Knight Ridder New Media president Bob Ingle said he was "weary" of Microsoft, because "we see them coming at us in local markets for advertising dollars."

The airline industry, including Sabre and the American Society of Travel Agents, also has been critical. "We're supporting ProComp's efforts," a spokesman for Preview Travel, an online travel booking service, said today. "We believe in a fair and open marketplace and a competitive one."

Added a spokeswoman for Knight-Ridder New Media: "We are not a [dues-paying] member, but we are a supporting company."

The group claimed that "a number of other companies and organizations" are working with or supporting ProComp but "do not wish to be publicly identified" at this time.