On the first day of the US government's contempt-of-court hearing against Microsoft, a government witness has demonstrated several ways to uninstall the Internet Explorer browser software from Windows 95.
District Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson issued a preliminary injunction in December,ordering Microsoft to unbundle Explorer from Windows 95. Jackson is expected to decide at this hearing whether Microsoft flouted that injunction by offering an outdated version of the operating system or one that does not function properly.
Glen Weadock, author of computer books and a consultant on Windows 95, said in testimony that he was performing essentially the same procedure that Jackson himself used last month in quickly uninstalling Internet Explorer from his own computer.
Weadock used a videotape to show that Internet Explorer can be launched in at least four ways -- navigating to the help desk, using the My Computer files, using the Start menu, or clicking on the icon. He then used the Add/Remove Programs function in Windows to uninstall the program.
Weadock said that Microsoft "knowledge-base" articles submitted to the court as evidence provide instructions that spell out these procedures. Asked whether the articles contain any warning that carrying out the uninstall procedure could damage Windows 95, he replied, "I don't see any warning of any kind."
After appealing Jackson's order to unbundle Internet Explorer from Windows 95, Microsoft had offered computer makers the choice of a crippled version of Windows 95 without the browser or an outdated, 2-year-old version of Windows 95.
Those choices angered the US Justice Department, which quickly responded by asking that Microsoft be held in contempt, calling the company's options "a mere mockery" of Jackson's order.
DOJ lawyer Philip Malone in his opening arguments today told the court that uninstalling Internet Explorer from Windows 95 is "a simple and straightforward procedure" that "doesn't require removal of other products."
The case centers on whether the Internet Explorer browser is a separate product from the Windows 95 operating system. Microsoft contends that it is in full compliance with the temporary injunction.
In his opening arguments, which preceded the Justice Department's, Microsoft lawyer Richard J. Urowsky said the Add/Remove utility removes only a portion of the Internet Explorer code but does not eliminate all or even most of the browser software. Microsoft had interpreted the injunction to mean that full compliance required total removal of the browser software, and that the government's methods -- removal of the visible aspects of Internet Explorer -- are inconsistent with what it had requested, Urowsky said.
"I want to be clear on this fact: the straightforward routes to using the technology are deleted, but the technologies themselves are not deleted," Urowsky said.
In this hearing, Microsoft also is expected to push for removal of Lawrence Lessig, the Harvard University Law School professor named by Jackson as a special advisor in the case. Microsoft officials had claimed ahead of today's hearing that Lessig is biased against the company.
Jackson has not yet determined whether Microsoft has violated a consent decree barring the company from tying the licensing of one product to another. That will be determined by Lessig, who must report to Jackson by May 31.
The government has said that while the 1995 consent decree allows Microsoft to sell integrated products, it prohibits Microsoft from forcing OEMs to take second products as a condition of licensing Windows. The government also pointed out that Microsoft offers Internet Explorer 4.0 as a separate product.
The DOJ claims Microsoft's bundling of Internet Explorer with Windows 95 is a violation of the 1995 consent decree barring it from conducting anticompetitive licensing practices. The government views the antitrust case as one in which Microsoft is using its market position to beat its chief competitor in the market for browsers, Netscape, and any challenge to its Windows monopoly.
DOJ contends that forcing manufacturers to accept IE will squeeze the producers of other browsers, who don't enjoy a near-dominant position in operating systems, out of the market.
Microsoft denies that the consent decree precludes it from further innovation of the operating system.
But in his December ruling Jackson wrote that "Microsoft has demonstrated, at the very least, the ambiguity of the term 'integrated product.' " He also described to the court that it took him only 90 seconds to uninstall Internet Explorer from Windows 95.
In recent statements to reporters, Microsoft officials had toned down their rhetoric and backed away from the hard line they had taken in the case.