Antitrust Hawks Renew Attack

Several business rivals and some users still say the software company wields too much power in the marketplace.

Six months after a federal settlement was ordered to remedy Microsoft Corp.s anti-competitive conduct, two states, several business rivals and some users still say the software company wields too much power in the marketplace.

Attorneys General Thomas Reilly of Massachusetts and Darrell McGraw of West Virginia are continuing the battle for tough antitrust remedies after the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia approved the settlement last year. In a brief filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit last week, the states argued that the remedies do not stop Microsofts illegal conduct, restore competitive conditions or deny the Redmond, Wash., software company the fruits of its anti-competitive behavior.

A key sticking point for critics is that the remedy does not require Microsoft to unbundle middleware code from the Windows operating system but allows only users and PC manufacturers to remove the middleware icon from the desktop. Critics also said the API and protocol disclosure leave too much discretion to Microsoft to define terms.

Microsoft will reply to the briefs June 18. "The District Court thoroughly reviewed these issues last year and issued comprehensive rulings," said Jim Desler, a Microsoft spokesman. "Only two of 21 states and a couple of groups of Microsoft competitors are continuing with their efforts to impose overreaching and punitive terms." The two states and Microsoft rivals have allies among users. "I do not think the settlement has had any effect on Microsoft whatsoever," said Grant Johnson, senior programmer/analyst at Time Warner Cable Inc., of New York, adding that Microsoft should be required to open APIs and file formats.

In the next court appearance, set for Nov. 4, Microsofts adversaries will bring celebrity power to the proceedings. Representing two trade groups seeking to bolster the states arguments will be former Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr and former U.S. Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork, the latter a former judge on the appeals court. In a brief filed on behalf of the Computer & Communications Industry Association and the Software & Information Industry Association, which represent Microsoft rivals, Starr and Bork said the settlement will not prevent Microsoft from illegally driving new middleware technology out of the market.