A California superior court has ordered Microsoft Corp. to post a warning on its Internet home page advising users that a trial version of its Outlook Express e-mail program includes a filter that could assign legitimate e-mails to a "junk" folder.
Electronic-greeting card firm Blue Mountain Arts Inc. filed a lawsuit against Microsoft Corp. in December. The privately-held electronic-card company claims that Microsoft's software filter illegally prevents users from receiving greetings cards sent to Outlook Express users by Blue Mountain customers.
Judge Robert Baines of Santa Clara County Superior Court said Friday that Microsoft had failed to comply with an earlier order requiring it to warn users of the potential problem with the software. The court had instructed Microsoft to post the warning on sites where users can download the software, a beta version of Outlook Express distributed with the beta of Internet Explorer 5.0.
Baines' amended order, issued Friday, goes a step further than his original order, requiring Microsoft to post the warning on its highly-trafficked home page at http://www.microsoft.com/, said Jared Schutz, a vice president of business development at Blue Mountain.
Users who visit the home page are advised that the beta product "may relegate legitimate e-mails, such as electronic greeting cards from family or friends, to the junk mail folder, and dispose of them according to the user's preference."
Baines' original order, issued Dec. 22, also required Microsoft to help Blue Mountain redesign its greeting cards so that they are no longer rejected by Outlook Express. Microsoft has complied with that portion of the order, Blue Mountain's Schutz said.
Microsoft spokesman Tom Pilla said today that the warnings were inadvertently dropped from its software download sites as a result of a technical error caused by a Microsoft engineer who was working on an unrelated software bug.
Baines' order from Friday acknowledges that Microsoft may not have intentionally removed the warnings from its Web sites, Pilla noted.
In the past, Microsoft has dismissed Blue Mountain's lawsuit as spurious. The Outlook Express beta assigns e-mail that bears characteristics of unsolicited commercial e-mail to a junk folder. The beta software does so without regard for the source of the e-mail. Even mail originating from Microsoft's own MSN.com Web portal site, as well as messages from its electronic greeting card service can wind up in the junk folder. Blue Mountain's greeting cards have not been singled out, Microsoft has argued.
Blue Mountain's suit, filed last Dec. 8, maintains that Microsoft's actions are part of a broader pattern of behavior to stamp out competition. Microsoft created the junk mail folder in the trial version of Outlook Express at about the same time it introduced its own Internet greetings card service, the suit states.
On Jan. 28 Microsoft is due to appear in the superior court to argue why Baines' order should not be turned into a preliminary injunction that will last until the case comes to trial. A trial date has not yet been set.
Blue Mountain, in Boulder, Colorado, can be reached at +1-303-449-0536 or at http://www.bluemountain.com/. Microsoft, in Redmond, Washington, can be reached at +1-425-882-8080 or at http://www.microsoft.com/.