Bristol Technology hits Microsoft with antitrust suit

Microsoft is illegally using its operating system monopoly power to undermine the competing Unix market in a strategy that has serious consequences for the computer industry and specifically for Bristol Technology, according to an antitrust lawsuit filed by Bristol. Bristol, a small company with 75 employees, provides cross-platform development tools enabling Windows applications to run on other operating systems

Microsoft is illegally using its operating system monopoly power to undermine the competing Unix market in a strategy that has serious consequences for the computer industry and specifically for Bristol Technology, according to an antitrust lawsuit filed tby Bristol.

Bristol, a small company with 75 employees, provides cross-platform development tools enabling Windows applications to run on other operating systems. Its flagship product, Wind/U, was designed specifically to allow companies to port applications from Windows to Unix and has had support from Microsoft, according to the suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Bridgeport, Connecticut.

Microsoft officials actively courted Bristol starting in 1991 and the small company has been a member of Microsoft's Windows Interface Source Environment (WISE) program since 1994. However, Microsoft has recently strengthened relationships with Bristol competitors and has ceased to provide Bristol with the complete source code for Windows operating systems, according to the lawsuit.

"Obviously, a company of Bristol's size doesn't want to get into this with a company of Microsoft's size," said Jean Blackwell, a Bristol co-founder and senior vice president, adding that Bristol officials feel they have no choice but to pursue legal action because Microsoft's behavior is hurting business and the industry overall.

Unbeknownst to Bristol, Microsoft changed its strategy regarding Unix, because its monopoly over PC operating systems and industry acceptance of Windows NT "was growing so rapidly that it would no longer be beneficial to Microsoft" to enable Windows programs to run on Unix, the lawsuit contends.

"Accordingly, Microsoft callously decided to restrict Bristol's access to source code" and "deliberately compounded the competitive impact of its decision to change strategy by withholding its true intent from Bristol and by engaging Bristol in an endless and inconclusive round of negotiations," according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit seeks unspecified monetary damages and also contends that Microsoft has failed to negotiate a new licensing agreement in good faith.

Having just received a copy of the lawsuit this morning, Microsoft declined to comment, a company spokesman said.

In the lawsuit Bristol is also asking the court to order Microsoft to provide source code for Windows versions, including NT, immediately.

"The need to file this action may, by itself, have done irreparable injury to Bristol," the company contends in its preliminary injunction motion. "Program development is a forward-looking, what-have-you-done-for-me-lately business. When customers have doubts about the ability of a supplier to meet commitments, they do not wait for confirmation. They head for the lifeboats."

Bristol counts among its customers Sybase and Oracle. Indeed, Sybase chief Mitchell Kertzman submitted an affidavit as part of the legal documents Bristol filed in the case in which he said that his company relies on Bristol's ability to provide the entire Windows programming interface.

But Bristol hasn't been able to do that because Microsoft has been supplying only parts of the operating system source code, Blackwell said, and the lawsuit alleges.

"If we were building a bridge, basically our bridge would have holes in it, and our customers are going to have to decide what's the risk of crossing that bridge to get to the other side," Blackwell said.

The companies have been negotiating terms of a new licensing agreement for more than a year, but those discussions have proved fruitless, the lawsuit alleges. Microsoft also is demanding a 400% increase in royalties paid per application shipped, Blackwell said.

Bristol customers have more than US$100 million in software that relies on Bristol products, "so this is having a big effect on the industry," she said of the company's inability to reach agreement.

"They encouraged our dependence on that Windows source code and dependence of our customers, too," Blackwell said.

The Bristol suit is one in a series faced by Microsoft, which earlier this week confirmed that the company had reached a preliminary settlement in a similar legal action taken by AT&T.

The software giant was sued in May by the US Department of Justice and 20 state attorneys general over alleged anticompetitive practices. That suit is currently working its way through federal court.

Bristol, in Danbury, Connecticut, can be reached at http://www.bristol.com/. Legal documents in the case can be found at http://www.bristol.com/legal/. Microsoft, in Redmond, Washington, can be reached at http://www.microsoft.com/.

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