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80,259 News Articles

News feature: Old dog, same tricks

Is Microsoft trying to schmooze way out of court?

Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer met with US Vice President Dick Cheney this week, but they didn't talk about Microsoft's antitrust suit. Honest.

You'd think such a situation would be a call to arms for journalists everywhere, but apparently not. The Wall Street Journal and News.com reported on the Cheney-Ballmer rendezvous Wednesday. The Journal reported that Microsoft's appeals court ruling is so close that some US federal officials advised against the meeting.

The meeting wasn't on Cheney's public schedule or publicised by Redmond. An unnamed White House official told the Journal that many of Cheney's visits with executives are kept secret. Hmm.

"The issue is a sensitive one, because depending on how the court rules, it is possible that within as little as a matter of weeks Microsoft may be seeking settlement negotiations with Bush administration officials to end the case," said the Journal. News.com called the timing "a striking coincidence".

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer put further fear into Microsoft foes by declaring "it's preferable, if you can reach agreements, to reach agreements" rather than continuing lawsuits. As for Ballmer's ill-timed meeting with Cheney, it had been scheduled for two months, said a Microsoft spokeswoman.

Also this week it transpired that US state lawmakers are being pressed by an industry trade group created by Microsoft's biggest foes to file a second antitrust (anticompetition to us Brits) suit against the Redmond software maker.

ProComp, a group backed by Microsoft rivals including Oracle and Sun Microsystems, took a pile of paperwork to US state attorneys general on Wednesday during their annual meeting, accusing Microsoft of plans to bundle messaging and media applications with its next operating system is a move to extend its monopoly into other markets.

The group suggested that Microsoft is again using its monopoly power in the PC operating systems market to stifle competition, this time with its forthcoming Windows XP operating system.

ProComp president Mike Pettit would not comment on whether the state attorneys general were receptive to his presentation, but noted he would likely return to their next meeting on Thursday to answer more questions.

Attorneys general attending the meeting could not be reached for comment, but Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller told the Associated Press that the states are concerned that Microsoft's strategy with Windows XP may be harmful to competition.

"Microsoft seems to be using much of its power to preclude competition on a new platform," Miller told AP. "This is what they did before and this is what they're doing again to maintain their monopoly."

Part of Microsoft's strategy with Windows XP parallels the one used in 1996 when it tightly integrated its Internet Explorer web browser with Windows, ProComp's Pettit said. By giving its browser software away for free with the operating system, which was used on almost 90 percent of all PCs, Microsoft helped crush a competing browser from Netscape.

The behaviour, described in an antitrust suit filed by the US Department of Justice and 19 state attorneys general, contributed to the company being branded a predatory monopolist by a US District Court, a decision the software maker has appealed.

"It's disappointing, but not surprising, that our competition continues to use time and resources to press law makers rather than innovate," Jim Cullinan, a spokesperson for Microsoft.

Cullinan said the additional applications in Windows XP were based on efforts that will benefit consumers. He also noted that they point to the evolution of the operating system, as the internet becomes more tightly interwoven with the PC and other devices.

"What is considered the plumbing today and what will be considered the plumbing tomorrow is going to evolve," Cullinan said. "These things that we add are just natural, next steps when looking at the future of the operating system."


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