Gates: Stiffer remedy would mean end of Windows

In unequivocal terms, Microsoft chairman Bill Gates told the court yesterday that he would withdraw Windows from the market if forced by a court to produce a stripped-down version of the operating system.

          In unequivocal terms, Microsoft chairman Bill Gates told the court yesterday that he would withdraw Windows from the market if forced by a court to produce a stripped-down version of the operating system.

          Gates said the remedy “asks for the impossible” and compared the removal of seemingly modular, arbitrary parts of the system to removing a human heart.

          In US District Court, states’ attorney Steven Kuney repeatedly questioned Gates as to whether he would make some effort to comply with the remedy before taking such a “drastic step” to pull Windows from the market.

          “I don’t see how we could comply,” said Gates.

          Instead, Gates said, the company “would come back to every court that would listen to us” and fight the remedy.

          Gates will return to the witness stand tomorrow to continue testifying in this landmark case as his company fights remedies sought by nine states that have refused to sign the Bush administration's proposed settlement of the case. The states believe the deal isn't tough enough.

          In questioning this afternoon, Kuney focused on the states' proposal requiring Microsoft to allow PC makers to sell a stripped version of the operating system or include competing middleware products such as browsers and media players without the equivalent Microsoft product.

          Microsoft could still sell its full-featured version of Windows.

          The settlement reached by the Bush administration allows PC makers to remove end user access to Microsoft applications, but the code remains in the operating system.

          Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly is running the case on two tracks, considering both the settlement and the remedies sought by the nonsettling states.

          In response to questions, Gates said he doubts there is enough demand for a version of Windows XP with less functionality to make such a product commercially attractive.

          Kuney also questioned Gates at length about an aspect of Gates' written testimony in which he said that Netscape Navigator and Java “supposedly had the potential to become general-purpose software development platforms.”

          A key government claim in the case was the Microsoft viewed Navigator and Java as platform threats, and Kuney zeroed in the word “supposedly,” presenting evidence, memorandum and e-mails introduced during the trial, to show that Microsoft characterized them as platform threats.

          Gates acknowledge that that was the case, and said, “I would be glad to strike the word supposedly” from the written testimony.

          Kuney continued to press the point, raising objections from Microsoft lead attorney Daniel Webb, who said “enough is enough” and charged that Kuney was attempting to retry the original case.

          Kuney said the evidence related to the credibility of what Gates has said on the stand.

          Throughout the day, Gates kept his calm on the witness stand, frequently smiling, and occasionally eliciting laughter from the judge and spectators. At one point, Kuney introduced a question by saying, "Do you recall testifying yesterday afternoon," and before Kuney could finish, Gates said with a grin "yes." Unlike some witnesses, he did not seem visibly rattled.

          Quizzing Gates about another remedy proposed by the states that would prevent adverse actions against competitors, Kuney asked if the proposed remedy would have prohibited Gates' complaints to Intel over its development of a Native Signal Processing (NSP), which is used to manage multimedia applications.

          Gates said it would, but Webb objected to the line of questioning. He said Gates was being asked to compare the state remedy with the settlement proposal. The settlement could also bar this conduct, said Webb.

          Throughout the day, Kuney attacked Gates' dark vision of the remedy plan.

          One section of the dissenting states' proposed remedy would require Microsoft to provide notification when it knowingly interferes with the performance of non-Microsoft products.

          Gates, in court, argued that when Microsoft makes changes to Windows, it is often making a trade-off between new features and compatibility. But under the states' remedy, a third party could challenge such a change, he said.

          Is it your concern, Kuney asked Gates, that third parties will bring "meritless claims?" "They would bring claims on which reasonable men could disagree," Gates answered.

          But Kuney argued through his questions that Microsoft could justify a change for good cause. Gates, however, insisted that the states' provision would subject the company to "endless second-guessing" over whether a software modification "was good cause or not."

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