MS/DOJ: Academic banters over OS definition

Government computer expert David Farber fought Microsoft's cross-examination yesterday with touches of self-deprecating humor and the confidence of an academic who is in the habit of defending his opinion. Farber, a professor of telecommunications systems at the University of Pennsylvania, and a government witness in the US versus Microsoft antitrust case, spent much of the morning deflecting Microsoft's attacks on his view that an operating system should be limited to relatively low-level services such as resource allocation and scheduling.

Government computer expert David Farber fought Microsoft's cross-examination yesterday with touches of self-deprecating humor and the confidence of an academic who is in the habit of defending his opinion.

Farber, a professor of telecommunications systems at the University of Pennsylvania, and a government witness in the US versus Microsoft antitrust case, spent much of the morning deflecting Microsoft's attacks on his view that an operating system should be limited to relatively low-level services such as resource allocation and scheduling.

He argued, in written testimony, that there are no technical barriers preventing Microsoft from selling its browser as a standalone product, and he said combining applications with an operating system makes it inefficient and hurts performance.

Microsoft attorney Steven Holley challenged Farber as someone with an extreme view of operating systems. To make his point, he cited operating system definitions included in textbooks written by other academics.

"Realise that almost anybody can write a book," said Farber. "I even wrote a book."

Farber said that numerous books have been written on operating systems, and "there is no common agreement on anything ... That is one of the joys of the academic world." But Farber insisted that his view on what makes up an OS is widely accepted.

Holley questioned Farber about businesses' real-world definitions of operating systems that encompass far more than his definition. But Farber said if an operating system includes everything that is in the box it is sold in, then operating systems also include solitaire and pinball games.

"Marketing terms are the bane of the field," said Farber, who also sits on a commission that advises President Clinton on IT issues.

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