Iowa plaintiffs claim to have proof Microsoft violated 2002 antitrust decree

Judge says evidence may be submitted to DOJ

Lawyers suing Microsoft Corp. on behalf of Iowa consumers claim to have evidence that the company is withholding key application programming interfaces (APIs) from competing software companies, a violation of its 2002 settlement of its antitrust case with the U.S. Department of Justice.

That evidence, according to testimony on Jan. 10 (see page 7,654 of the transcript), includes an expert review of Windows XP source code provided to the plaintiffs' attorneys before the Comes vs. Microsoft Corp. trial began in December.

"We intend to present this evidence to the jury; we're just not sure when," said Elizabeth Kniffen, one of the lawyers 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.

The presiding judge in the case on Tuesday granted the plaintiffs' attorneys and expert witnesses the right to inform the DOJ about the evidence.

APIs allow independent software companies to create applications that run on Microsoft's platforms, such as Windows. The 2002 settlement of the federal antitrust case required Microsoft to share its APIs with third-party companies and to appoint a panel of three people with full access to Microsoft's systems, records and source code for five years to ensure compliance.

But as recently as December, security companies such as Symantec Corp. were complaining that Microsoft was refusing to grant them access to a kernel protection technology in the 64-bit version of Windows Vista called PatchGuard. Microsoft argued that giving away access to PatchGuard would compromise Vista's security, but it eventually agreed to create new APIs for Vista to let security vendors get around PatchGuard.

A Microsoft spokesman disputed the plaintiffs' claim.

"Microsoft is in full compliance with the 2002 final judgment in the government case and has documented everything it is required to document," he said. "All our work in this area has been exhaustively reviewed by the Department of Justice and the technical committee established under the final judgments, and the DOJ and technical committee regularly report on our compliance efforts to the court."

The review of Windows XP source code was done by Andrew Schulman, an author of Windows programming books and a software litigation expert.

What should emerge sooner than the alleged proof, however, are more than 3,000 documents admitted as trial exhibits that the judge presiding over Comes v. Microsoft agreed to allow be posted on the Web by Friday.

Exhibits already available at the site, which was put up by the plaintiffs suing Microsoft, have been dramatic. They include the transcript of a 1996 speech by a then-Microsoft tech evangelist who referred to independent software developers writing for Windows and the company's other software platforms as "pawns" and compared wooing them to persuading someone to have a one-night stand. The tech evangelist has since apologized.

There is also a copy of the 2004 e-mail written by then-Windows development chief James Allchin to Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and Chairman Bill Gates, complaining that Microsoft had "lost sight" of customers' needs and that he would buy a Mac if he wasn't working for Microsoft.

A Microsoft spokesman said it was unlikely the new documents would be as striking as the already-available exhibits.

"Most if not all of those documents have been produced in prior cases," he said.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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