Did Microsoft Threaten Linux OEM?

Massachusetts won't roll over in its antitrust case; it's investigating new charges of Microsoft misdeeds.

If there was any lingering doubt, Massachusetts, the sole state refusing to sign on to a Microsoft Corp.-crafted federal antitrust settlement, has now made it clear that it will not ease up in the pursuit of tougher remedies. The Bay State, which is investigating whether Microsoft already has violated the settlement, set up a Web site and telephone hotline to gather complaints about Microsofts conduct.

Massachusetts told the court that it is investigating whether Microsoft used illegal means to punish a computer manufacturer for promoting rival operating system Linux, whether it violated an exclusive dealings prohibition, and whether it failed to properly disclose communications protocol information, among other things. The allegations were based on complaints and tips, and have not been proven, the state told the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia July 3.

Microsoft maintains that it is complying with the federal settlement, which the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia approved in November, 2002.

In 2000, the Redmond, Wash., software maker was found to have maintained an illegal monopoly in the desktop operating system market. Its illegal conduct included retaliation against original equipment manufacturers that promoted non-Microsoft middleware, namely the Netscape Navigator browser. One of the provisions of the federal settlement is that Microsoft would not punish OEMs for promoting rival products.

Massachusetts is training hotline staff to handle Microsoft complaints and has designated specific staff to coordinate complaint review.

The Bay State lost its last ally in the battle for tougher remedies last month when West Virginia agreed to a $21 million settlement resolving its claims in the federal suit and in a class action suit. The settlement included $1 million in vouchers to West Virginia schools for computer equipment from any manufacturer and $700,000 in general purpose vouchers to be distributed the Office of the West Virginia Attorney General to be distributed to citizens.

Massachusetts complained to the appeals court July 3 that its efforts to monitor compliance with the settlement provisions have been impeded because the settlement does not remedy all conduct found to be illegal and because other states and the Department of Justice have not shared investigative leads. According to Massachusetts, the Justice Department maintains that it cannot coordinate with Massachusetts while it pursues its appeal of the settlement.

"As matters currently stand, Massachusetts is excluded from multistate enforcement discussions, denied access to leads sent to multistate enforcers, and barred from access to information shared by the multistate group regarding the Technical Committee and Microsofts compliance officers," the state told the court.