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Sun exec to lead key deposition phase

Microsoft will depose a Sun executive involved in the AOL-Netscape deal as the landmark antitrust trial gets closer to restarting.

Microsoft lawyers preparing for the rebuttal phase of its antitrust trial will take the deposition of Sun Microsystems's Mike Popov, one of the executives who helped forge the three-way deal between Sun, Netscape, and America Online.

Microsoft claims that Microsoft's day in court the deal, which resulted in AOL's $10 billion buyout of Netscape, is fatal to the antitrust lawsuit filed last year by the Justice Department (DOJ) and 19 states.

Last month, U.S. District Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson granted Microsoft's emergency motion to seek information about the deal, which also calls for Sun to develop and resell Netscape's browser and server products.

Sun today named Popov, its vice president and chief operating officer of staff operations, as the person who will answer questions about the deal on behalf of Sun. The deposition will be open to the public and will take place on April 30 at federal court in San Francisco.

Jackson's order required that AOL chief executive Steve Case give his deposition about the deal, along three executives from each of the companies involved. While the remaining two deponents have not been officially announced, AOL's interactive services president Barry Schuler is also expected to appear, the Dow Jones news service reported. A Netscape spokeswoman referred calls to AOL representatives, who were not immediately available to comment.

Sun's announcement comes just days before the remaining six witnesses to be called at trial will be announced. Neither side has said who they will call, but speculation runs high that AOL's Case, Gateway chief executive Ted Waitt, and economists for each side will be among the final witnesses. The names are expected to be revealed on Monday.

The government alleges that Microsoft is a monopolist that illegally wielded its dominance to compete against Netscape and other companies. Microsoft alleges that it has not violated any laws, and that in any case, it does not have the enduring market power characteristic of monopoly.

The Redmond, Washington, company says that the deal demonstrates how quickly dynamics of the computer industry change. Microsoft critics, meanwhile, say that the merger has done nothing to curb Microsoft's alleged monopoly in the operating system market.