Microsoft rivals unload at hearing

Microsoft's competitors have lined up at a US Senate hearing to discredit the software company's business practices. At the hearing last week RealNetworks CEO Rob Glaser alleged Microsoft was trying to monopolise the multimedia playback market, Sybase chairman Mitchell E. Kertzman accused Microsoft of intimidation in the server market, Lotus CEO Jeff Papows said Microsoft was hurting his company by bundling the Outlook Express e-mail client with IE browser and BackOffice with Windows NT Server ... and Larry Ellison had a bit to say, too.

Microsoft's competitors have lined up at a US Senate hearing to discredit the software company’s business practices. They predicted Microsoft would dominate the server, groupware, e-mail and multimedia markets if left unchecked.

The hearing last week before the Senate Judiciary Committee went beyond the Internet browser wars discussed in a March hearing and focused on just about all other software Microsoft makes.

RealNetworks CEO Rob Glaser raised new allegations at the hearings: that Microsoft was trying to monopolise the multimedia playback market.

Sybase chairman Mitchell E. Kertzman accused Microsoft of intimidation when Sybase introduced its Jaguar CTS transaction software last year. He said Microsoft’s David Vaskevitch said that Jaguar would compete with Microsoft Transaction Server and that Microsoft “did not think that was a good idea.”

Later, Microsoft bundled Microsoft Transaction Server with Windows for less than $US100, after Microsoft had told Kertzman the introductory price would be $2,000, Kertzman said.

Lotus Development CEO Jeffrey Papows said Microsoft was hurting Lotus’ Notes e-mail client and Domino messaging server by bundling the Microsoft Outlook Express e-mail client with its free Internet Explorer browser and by bundling Microsoft BackOffice, a group of server software products, with Windows NT Server.

Electronic TV Host Vice President Michael Jeffress said Microsoft had competed “unfairly” in providing its own electronic TV guide, WebTV for Windows, to beat out its Electronic TV Host. WebTV for Windows is bundled with Windows 98, giving it immediate access that will prevent consumers from buying Electronic TV Host, he said.

Before Microsoft developed its own guide, Electronic TV Host tried to sell its product to Microsoft, but Microsoft offered “less than half the price we offered,” Jeffress said. “Microsoft told us that if we didn’t sell at its price, Microsoft would compete directly against us,” he said.

Oracle chairman Larry Ellison said Microsoft was poised to dominate the server market in the way it has dominated the PC market. He said Microsoft’s actions could move Windows NT’s share on servers past the current 40 percent and bring it closer to Microsoft’s PC share of about 95%.

Microsoft wasn’t represented at the hearing, but company spokesmen disputed all the charges raised by speakers there.

Echoing sentiments of the other executives and of the hearing’s chairman, Senator Orrin Hatch (Republican-Utah), Papows said, “Microsoft has the effect of foreclosing competition on the merits and extending their acknowledged dominance in operating systems for personal computers into other areas. I believe the committee should give these practices close scrutiny.”

But none of the five businessmen who testified called on the government to expand antitrust laws, saying better enforcement of the existing century-old Sherman Antitrust Act was the key to continued competition.

(Senior editor Kim S. Nash contributed to this report.)

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