Feds vs. Microsoft: is NT 5 next?

The ongoing state and federal antitrust lawsuits against Microsoft may not address Windows NT by name, but that does not mean they won't affect the next-generation OS. Microsoft president Steve Ballmer has acknowledged as much, saying that, while his company's ongoing legal battles center on Windows 98, the issues pertain equally to NT

The ongoing state and federal antitrust lawsuits against Microsoft may not address Windows NT by name, but that does not mean they won't affect the next-generation OS.

Microsoft president Steve Ballmer has acknowledged as much, saying that, while his company's ongoing legal battles center on Windows 98, the issues pertain equally to NT. Lauren Hall, chief technologist for the industry trade-group Software Publishers Association, agrees. "NT is only involved tangentially, although the larger principles certainly apply," she says.

Those principles include the legality of incorporating previously separate products into the operating system. The suits, filed last May by the U.S. Department of Justice and 20 state attorneys general, originally focused on Microsoft's bundling of its Internet Explorer browser with Windows 98, and how the company used its OS muscle to crowd out Netscape Communications Corp.'s Navigator Web browser. NT Workstation 5 will include a copy of IE. For its part, NT Server 5 will include a host of network utilities -- including a Web server (Internet Information Server) -- similar to those sold as stand-alone products by other vendors. But the integration issue may be moot: Though the plaintiffs sought and received an injunction against the inclusion of Internet Explorer in Windows 95, that injunction was rescinded by an appeals court in June.

Since then, DOJ has sought to expand its case. Former Department of Justice economist Carl Shapiro says, "The folks at Justice ... are now trying to establish [that Microsoft has engaged in] a pattern [of conduct intended] to bully and stifle would-be competitors." As the frequently postponed trial approached, the government tried to shift the focus of its case to the question of Microsoft's relationships with such potential competitors as Intel, Digital Equipment, and Netscape. Such issues are already under scrutiny in a private antitrust case filed against Microsoft by Bristol Technology. The Connecticut company, which makes software development tools, has accused Microsoft of using its control over access to Windows source code as a means to discourage developers from making products for competing operating systems.

In response to DOJ's attempts to broaden its case, Microsoft asked the presiding judge, Thomas Penfield Jackson, to limit the scope of the trial or to delay the trial for up to six months to give it time to craft a detailed response. At press time, Judge Jackson had turned down the motion to limit the trial's scope, but had agreed to delay the proceedings another three weeks.

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