Microsoft Highlights Settlement Burdens

Microsoft tried to show the U.S. District Court today that the a proposed settlement of its anti-trust case is vague and that it would impose an overly heavy compliance burden.

WASHINGTON – Microsoft Corp. spent the better part of its court time Wednesday quizzing an expert witness on the definitions of terms in the antitrust remedy proposed by nine states and the District of Columbia.

The Redmond, Wash., software maker tried to show the U.S. District Court here that the states remedy is vague and that it would impose an overly heavy compliance burden.

The states had called Andrew Appel, a computer sciences professor at Princeton University, to the witness stand to support the feasibility and effectiveness of their proposal, which spells out more stringent requirements on Microsoft than a settlement that the U.S. Department of Justice agreed to in November. The states proposal would require Microsoft to create modular versions of its operating systems allowing the removal of middleware products; give third-party hardware and software makers who license Microsoft software flexibility in configuring products; and disclose APIs, communications and other technical information needed for interoperability.

Microsoft attorney Steve Holley asked Appel to define terms in the proposal, including "middleware," "middleware products," "directory" and "network operating system"--subjects on which other states witnesses have already testified. As an illustration of the difficulty Microsoft would have trying to comply with the remedy requirements, Holley attempted to show that the states witnesses themselves did not always define the terms consistently.

In a discussion of the meaning of "directory," Holley said Appel knew the definition "by calling Carl Ledbetter of Novell and asking him what the term meant." Ledbetter testified on behalf of the states earlier in the hearing. Appel said he had talked with Ledbetter about it.

Holley also grilled Appel on a proposed requirement that Microsoft allow software developers to view source code at a secure facility. "If I am a 16-year-old in Tuscaloosa writing software in my garage, I have a right to come to Microsofts headquarters in Redmond, Wash., and look at the source code?" Holley asked.

Trying to make the point that it would be unclear to Microsoft what circumstances would trigger API and communications interface disclosure obligations, Holley asked whether the obligations would go into effect if 10 leading software developers were invited to Redmond to review an early specification of a new operating system. "How many thousands of people per month would be entitled to come to Redmond?" he asked.

Appel replied that the remedy proposal gives Microsoft some discretion to deny access to some parties in good faith and that Microsoft could impose terms on applications developers viewing the code.

In the morning session of the hearing, as reported by Reuters, Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly ruled that the states will not be allowed to submit transcripts and video of Microsoft executives in wrapping up their case. The request to enter such evidence should have been made before the hearing began, the judge said.

For more on the Microsoft antitrust case, check out eWEEKs special report,"Microsoft vs. DOJ."