Microsoft tones down talk, but tries to get Lessig removed

Although Microsoft has toned down its rhetoric in the court battle over the bundling of Internet Explorer, it will still push this week for the removal of Lawrence Lessig, the Harvard University Law School professor named as a special master in the case. Citing correspondence between Lessig and a Netscape employee, Microsoft officials say he is biased against them. Via an e-mail, Lessig complained about installing Internet Explorer on his Macintosh: 'Sold my soul, and nothing happened,' he wrote. 'He's talking about us kind of like we're the devil,' says Steve Ballmer, executive vice president of sales and support at Microsoft.

Although Microsoft has toned down its rhetoric in the court battle over the bundling of Internet Explorer, it will still push this week for the removal of Lawrence Lessig, the Harvard University Law School professor named by US District Court Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson as a special master in the case.

Citing correspondence between Lessig and a Netscape employee, Microsoft officials say he is biased against them. Via an e-mail, Lessig complained about installing Internet Explorer on his Macintosh: "Sold my soul, and nothing happened," he wrote.

"He's talking about us kind of like we're the devil," says Steve Ballmer, executive vice president of sales and support at Microsoft.

The Department of Justice and Microsoft will square off in court today as a federal judge weighs whether the software company has violated its court order.

"The language in that note implies partiality, and you can't have any type of supposedly impartial member of the court show that level of partiality," says Rob Enderle, an analyst at the Giga Information Group. "If Lessig was a juror, the judge would not have any problem removing him from the jury."

Jackson issued a preliminary injunction in early December ordering Microsoft to unbundle Explorer from Windows 95. At a hearing set today, US time, he will decide if Microsoft has flouted that injunction by offering an outdated version of the operating system or one that does not function properly.

Meanwhile, Microsoft officials have moderated their language in the public relations war with the government.

"The importance of the lawsuit isn't really about the browser market," Ballmer says. "It's about the base of which we can go forward, add value, do innovative work, serve customers - with Windows. That, to us, is why this is important."

Jackson has not yet determined whether Microsoft has violated a 1995 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, about the time frame Microsoft has set to release Windows 98. This OS system upgrade will fully integrate the browser with the OS.

Justice claims that Microsoft violated the agreement by forcing PC makers to pre-install Explorer as a condition for licensing Windows 95.

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