States call for new restrictions against Microsoft, separate from Justice Department agreement

Friday, December 7th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Nine state attorneys general argued Friday that Microsoft must offer a stripped-down version of its Windows operating system and make its leading Office software compatible with competing operating systems.

The 40-page document proposes several new penalties in an attempt to punish Microsoft for breaking antitrust law. The federal government and several other states have already settled with Microsoft under more lenient terms.

The states that haven't settled also argue for tougher enforcement provisions, including a court-appointed ``special master'' to oversee Microsoft's compliance.

The states' arguments are contained in a document filed with U.S. District Court Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, who allowed the states to continue their lawsuit against Microsoft after the Justice Department and nine other states reached a settlement with the firm. Microsoft is due to respond to the states' request next week.

The Office suite, which contains Microsoft Word, Excel and other programs, is essential for many businesses. Microsoft currently makes the software for Apple's Macintosh computers, and the states want to make sure Microsoft can't threaten Apple _ as it has done in the past _ by suggesting it will cease making an Apple version.

Sun Microsystems, another Microsoft competitor, also gets a nod from the states. Under the proposal, Microsoft would have to include Sun's Java programming language in its Windows operating system. Microsoft stopped including Java in the newest version of Windows.

The states say Microsoft also must make public the blueprints _ also known as source code _ of the Internet Explorer Web browser. Microsoft president Steve Ballmer has called the ``open source'' movement a ``virus'' that erodes intellectual property standards.

The proposals go far beyond what is required of Microsoft in the federal government's settlement. Microsoft agreed to let customers remove some portions of Windows, and to release source code of some portions of Windows to make it easier for competitors to write compatible software.

The states that haven't settled with Microsoft are California, Florida, Utah, Iowa, Connecticut, Minnesota, Kansas, West Virginia and Massachusetts. The District of Columbia is also suing Microsoft.

The states' case is scheduled to go to trial in March. Also in March, a federal judge will review the federal government's settlement to determine whether it is in the public interest.

Next week, lawmakers will take up the settlement issue when several Microsoft critics appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Some senators have expressed skepticism about the way the Justice Department handled the case.

New York antitrust chief Jay Himes, Consumer Federation of America director Mark Cooper and Stanford University professor Lawrence Lessig all said they have been invited to testify. Industry officials said Red Hat Software executive Matthew Szulik, venture capitalist and former Netscape head Jim Barksdale and Justice Department antitrust head Charles A. James have also been invited.

The last panel in the hearing consists solely of Microsoft opponents. Barksdale holds seats on the boards of Sun Microsystems and AOL Time Warner, both tough Microsoft rivals. Cooper, Szulik and Lessig have also been very critical of the software giant.

Microsoft has not yet determined whether it will send an executive to face legislators, said spokesman Jim Desler.

``We don't feel that it's appropriate for a hearing at this time,'' Desler said, citing the antitrust cases.