Update: 3,000 pieces of evidence on Iowa antitrust case posted online

More may be coming

More than 3,000 pieces of evidence in the antitrust lawsuit between Iowa consumers and Microsoft Corp. were posted to a public Web site late Thursday. Thousands more could be posted, pending a ruling from the presiding judge on objections raised by Microsoft.

The exhibits include original letters, memos and e-mails, many of them going back 10 or 20 years and quoting then-Microsoft employees, using intimidating language in letters to PC vendors and talking frankly about announcing products far before they are ready -- what the industry calls "vaporware" -- as a tactic to hurt competitors.

In one letter from 1989 (PDF format) to an executive at Taiwanese PC maker Acer Inc., a Microsoft employee writes, "It only takes a couple of reports about non-compatibility to give the kiss of death to a PC: we've seen that on the hardware side as well as in the operating system area."

In another 1990 strategy memo (PDF format), then-Microsoft executive and Bill Gates adviser Nathan Myhrvold advocates announcing a new Windows server operating system far in advance of its delivery date as a way of hurting competitor Sun Microsystems Inc.

"The purpose of announcing early like this is to freeze the market at the OEM and ISV level," Myhrvold wrote. "Preannouncement is going to give Sun a real problem."

In a 1997 e-mail (download PDF) titled "Go Huskers!" Microsoft executive Jeff Raikes talks college football with legendary investor Warren Buffett while trying to persuade Buffett to add Microsoft to his Berkshire Hathaway fund's holdings. Buffett, in between fretting about his poor typing and inexperience with e-mail, politely declines, saying he doesn't feel "capable of assessing" Microsoft's business prospects -- though he also acknowledges sending Bill Gates a personal note advising him "how hard to push prices."

In a 2002 e-mail exchange (download PDF), Microsoft executives discuss whether or not to remove the company's name from an IDC report it sponsored comparing the total cost of ownership of Windows servers versus Linux servers. (IDC is a sister company of Computerworld.)

"I don't like it to be public on the doc that we sponsored it because I don't think the outcome is as favorable as we had hoped," wrote Kevin Johnson, who will become sole president of Microsoft's platform product and services group after Jim Allchin's retirement after Windows Vista is released. "I just don't like competitors using it as ammo against us."

The entire 66-page transcript of a 1996 speech (download PDF) by then-Microsoft tech evangelist James Plamondon has also been made available. Plamondon had referred to independent software developers writing for Windows as "pawns" and said the tactics to woo developers were similar to those in convincing someone to engage in a "one-night stand."

Other evidence includes a string of internal Microsoft e-mails from 1997 discussing security flaws in the company's Active X technology. Microsoft decided not to immediately fix the problem, but executives fretted nevertheless. One e-mail to Bill Gates stated "If McNealy [Scott McNealy, then-CEO of Sun Microsystems Inc.] or the press get ahold of this, Active X is dead."

All told, 3,186 documents were posted on Thursday. Few of them have yet to be presented to the jury in the Comes v. Microsoft case that began in December, according to Elizabeth Kniffen, a lawyer at Zelle Hofmann, one of the firms representing the plaintiffs.

The plaintiffs allege Microsoft's anticompetitive practices resulted in the company overcharging Iowan consumers. They are seeking as much as $350 million in damages.

Microsoft has said that few of the documents -- or the information contained within -- are new. At the same time, it has so far been successful in temporarily blocking several thousand other exhibits from being posted publicly. And it was able to persuade the judge not to allow 55 exhibits from being posted on the Web for confidentiality reasons.

Kniffen said the posted documents are not in any particular order nor grouped by topic. She said several thousand of them were originally intended for previous state antitrust cases against Microsoft in which Zelle Hofmann has been involved but were never made public because the cases settled before the documents were admitted into evidence.

Not among those documents is evidence showing that Microsoft may have violated its 2002 antitrust settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice. The judge in the Iowa case ruled earlier this week that the plaintiffs' lawyers could send that information to the DOJ if requested, but cannot otherwise make that information public.

David Bradford, a former general counsel for Novell Inc. during the 1990s, is scheduled to testify live at the trial this week. 

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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