Gates says antitrust penalties would allow competitors to clone Windows


Tuesday, April 23rd 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6



WASHINGTON (AP) _ Antitrust penalties proposed by nine states would allow Microsoft competitors like Sun Microsystems and AOL Time Warner to clone the Windows operating system, Microsoft chairman Bill Gates says.

Gates took the stand Monday to defend his company against the states' penalties, which he calls extreme. He said the proposed penalties would force Microsoft to take Windows off store shelves.

Steven Kuney, a lawyer for the states, tried Monday to establish that Microsoft had attempted to clone features of rival products.

Kuney pointed to a 1995 memo in which a Microsoft official wrote Gates that the company ``must have a plan to clone all the features (of the Netscape Navigator browser) they have today, plus new ones they will add.''

More recently, a memo introduced by Kuney revealed that Microsoft planned to ``migrate existing (America Online) users via cloning ... of AOL community services'' like the ``Buddy List'' feature on its instant messaging product.

``In this case AOL chose to block that,'' Gates said in response.

Kuney suggested that Microsoft's stance in the antitrust case is somewhat hypocritical, given its business practices.

``Is there something different when Microsoft's not doing it?'' Kuney asked.

Gates responded, but not before he quibbled over the definition of cloning, as opposed to copying. He said legal imitations of another company's intellectual property is fine.

Gates was to continue testifying Tuesday.

The appearance by the Microsoft chairman came a little over two years after a court concluded that his company operated as an illegal monopoly that thwarted competitors and hurt consumers.

The Justice Department and nine other states settled the case last fall and their deal with Microsoft is awaiting court approval. The nine states remaining in the case, along with the District of Columbia, want U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly to impose tougher penalties than those in the settlement.

The penalties sought would include requiring Microsoft to share with competitors technical information and blueprints about how some of its most popular software works and creating a modular version of Windows that could incorporate other software makers' products.

Gates' performance contrasted sharply with his 1998 videotaped testimony that became a key piece of evidence in the first phase of the antitrust trial. Gates was criticized for appearing fidgety, evasive and combative in that tape.

On Monday, he spurned his customary casual attire for a traditional blue suit and purple tie and brought his wife to the courtroom.

In his written testimony, Gates exhaustively countered every argument the states had made in favor of penalties. During cross examination, the states' lawyers sought to turn his words to their advantage.

At one point, Kuney challenged Gates' assertion that Microsoft does all it can to disclose technical information so software developers can write programs that work well with Microsoft products.

The lawyer cited an internal memo in which Gates instructed his employees to stop trying to make sure Microsoft Office documents would work with rival Web browsers.

``Allowing Office documents to be rendered very well by other people's browsers is one of the most destructive things we can do to the company,'' Gates wrote in the memo.

``We have to stop putting any effort into this,'' he said in the December 1998 e-mail. ``Anything else is suicide for our platform. This is a case where Office has to avoid doing something to (destroy) Windows.''

Confronted with the memo, Gates said he believed it was inefficient for engineers to spend their time on an effort that was ``not making any progress.''

States that rejected the government's settlement with Microsoft and are continuing to pursue the antitrust case are Iowa, Utah, Massachusetts, Connecticut, California, Kansas, Florida, Minnesota and West Virginia.