Novell says "We got stabbed in the back" in $1 billion Microsoft antitrust suit

By Preston Gralla

The Novell $1 billion anti-trust suit against Microsoft has turned nasty, with Novell's lawyer claiming the company "got stabbed in the back," by Microsoft when Microsoft launched Windows 95 without support for WordPerfect. Bill Gates, meanwhile, testified that Novell simply wasn't capable of getting the word processor ready in time for the launch. Can things get nastier?

Novell's $1 billion lawsuit claims that Microsoft didn't hand over information that Novell required in order to get its WordPerfect word processor to run with Windows 95. Because of that, Novell argues, WordPerfect was never able to compete against Microsoft Word.

Novell attorney Jeff Johnson claimed that Microsoft got Novell to work on a WordPerfect version for Windows 95, but then withdrew the technical help Novell needed in order to develop a Windows 95-compatible version. "We got stabbed in the back," the Associated Press reports him as saying.

Gates, though, says that Novell simply wasn't capable of meeting the deadline for the Windows 95 rollout. He added that at the time of the Windows 95 launch, Word was already the most popular word processor in the world.

Who's right here? I side with Microsoft on this one. There's no doubt that over the years Microsoft engaged in anti-competitive behavior -- and the courts have ruled against the company for them for it. But in this instance, Novell is wrong. Even before Windows 95 hit, Word had already overtaken WordPerfect, and it was clear to most people in the industry that the once-dominant WordPerfect was never going to recover. Novell had overpaid extravagantly for WordPerfect and other applications such as Quattro Pro in an ill-advised attempt to compete against Microsoft Office. Now Novell is trying to get the courts to make up for its bad business decisions.

The court should rule against Novell. There's some indication that it might. The Associated Press reports:

Throughout arguments Friday, U.S. District Judge Frederick Motz openly expressed doubts that Novell's claims had merit.

"I don't see why I have to give a product to a competitor so he can beat me," Motz told Novell attorneys.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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