MS Dismisses UMS Plan as Litigation Tactic

The software giant claims SBC's plans for an enterprise unified messaging service was "dead in the water" before the company decided to testify against Microsoft.

SBC Communications Inc. is developing a unified messaging service expressly for enterprise users, and it plans to deploy a consumer version of the system in January, a company executive revealed Monday while testifying in the Microsoft Corp. antitrust hearing.

Although Microsoft tried to dismiss SBCs UMS plans, which require interoperability with the Windows operating system, as no more than a litigation tactic, SBCs Larry Pearson said the service will soon be a reality in the marketplace. "There will be unified messaging. It will be deployed on Jan. 31, 2003," said Pearson, associate director of product design in the strategic marketing division of SBC.

Pearson was called to the witness stand Monday by the nine states and the District of Columbia seeking more stringent remedies for Microsofts anti-competitive conduct than the Department of Justice agreed to in November. The November settlement proposal would not prevent Microsoft from using the monopoly power of its dominant operating system to impede deployment of UMS and other Internet-based service, Pearson said.

Microsoft attorney Dan Webb questioned whether SBC had viewed UMS as a viable business case before the company decided to testify against Microsoft, noting that SBC did not grant the project final approval or funding until early December. "The truth is that this product was dead in the water and was on the shelf at SBC until it was decided that you needed something to talk about," Webb challenged.

Rejecting the argument, Pearson said UMS received initial approval well before the states decided to pursue the case following the November settlement.

The antitrust hearings foray into unified messaging brings the proceedings deep into an area of not-yet-available products as well as into a business sector—telecommunications--in which Microsoft traditionally has not competed.

UMS, which will be integrated into SBCs Yahoo Web portal, is slated as a major boon to business travelers and other busy people on the go. It allows users to pick up all of their messages--voice mail, e-mail, faxes--from one mailbox that resides on an Internet server. The mailbox can be accessed via a standard telephone, wireless phone, personal digital assistant or set-top box as easily as via a PC. Microsoft is working on its own unified messaging product.

Pearson testified that UMS and other Internet-based services pose a threat to Microsofts Windows operating system because they provide an alternative to the Windows platform that software developers can write for; they provide functions that exist today as applications on a PC; and they allow non-PC devices to deliver functions traditionally the purview of the PC. In other words, a UMS user would be able to achieve the same communications functions using PDAs and wireless phones that today require a Windows PC.

Effective UMS deployment requires interoperability with Windows, which, in Pearsons view, requires the communications protocol disclosures guaranteed by the litigating states remedy proposal. Although the Microsoft/Justice Department settlement proposal provides for disclosures, it contains an exception for protocols with a sufficiently important security concern, to be determined by Microsoft. "Most protocols have some security aspect to them," Pearson said.

Webb tried to show that SBC did not consider interoperability a major risk prior to its decision to assist the states in the quest for tougher antitrust remedies against Microsoft. Pearson responded that SBCs understanding of the interoperability risk grew after Windows XP was released in October. SBCs Web site includes Java programming, and Microsoft did not include Java in its distribution of Windows XP, meaning that Windows XP users either cannot access the site or cannot access parts of it.

Webb also employed several cross-examination tactics used with other Microsoft rivals that have taken the witness stand on behalf of the litigating states. Using witnesses e-mail and other internal documents, he attempted to show that the testifying company would benefit in the marketplace if the states remedy prevails, and that the testifying company decided to take its anti-competitive grievances to the courtroom only after failing to clinch business deals with Microsoft in conference rooms.

Referring to a number of internal SBC e-mails, Webb asked whether SBC created a "strike team" to deal with Microsoft once it determined that the launch of XP marked Microsofts entry into the telecommunications marketplace. Taking issue with the term "strike team," Pearson said he was interested in assessing XP for several reasons, including its telecommunications aspects and its potential for working with the enterprise UMS system under development.

Pearson said that SBC plans to begin a user trial of the UMS system in July.