Anti-Microsoft sentiments plague conference

Microsoft failed to show but a panel of happy Windows NT users spoke up in support of the company during the Ralph Nader-organised event in Washington that set out to examine the software giant's alleged anti-competitive business strategies.

Where do you want to go tomorrow?

According to speakers at what some called an anti-Microsoft conference here, it should not be where the software giant forces you to go.

"Appraising Microsoft and Its Global Strategy", a two-day conference organised by long-time consumer advocate Ralph Nader, capped off a week of public attacks on Microsoft regarding its alleged anticompetitive business strategies.

Hoping to bring more public dialogue about antitrust practices in the high-tech industry to the fore, conference speakers from a wide range of associations and computer companies criticised Microsoft for its domination of the operating system, browser and online content markets.

Despite numerous invitations, Bill Gates and other Microsoft officials declined to participate in what they called "a kangaroo court [that made] no pretense of presenting an objective or balanced treatment of the issues".

Sun chief executive Scott McNealy delivered the keynote, emphasising that the government should be ready to intervene when a player takes unfair advantage of its market position. "Do we want the engineers in Redmond determining the future of the Internet, or do we want the engineers of the planet determining the future of the Internet?" McNealy asked.

Gary Reback, the lawyerwho halted Microsoft's acquisition of Intuit, the publisher of the financial application Quicken, and Roberta Katz, general counsel of Netscap, painted a grim picture of a Microsoft-controlled future.

For example, Reback said Microsoft was "up to the same old dirty tricks" by forcing OEMs to carry Internet Explorer on their desktops through contracting agreements.

He also said the most subtle strategic manoeuvres, such as positioning Microsoft online content sites on Explorer'sopening page, have profound consequences. "Research shows that people use the first page they see and rarely change it," he said.

Microsoft pre-empted the conference with a column by Bill Gates in The Wall Street Journal attempting to support its actions in the face of the impending Department of Justice lawsuit. Microsoft also posted its response to the Justice Department on its Web site.

"Supporting Internet browsing in Windows is a logical incremental step in the evolution of the operating system," Gates said in the editorial.

Microsoft received a boost of support from a coalition of Windows NT users. Claiming they were not corporate spin doctors, but representatives of consumers worldwide, a panel of nine Microsoft supporters gave speeches and answered questions. They were seated in front of a banner that read, "Ralph Nader Doesn't Speak for ME!"

"The anti-Microsoft voices are out of touch," said Charles Kelly, president of the Worldwide Association of NT User Groups. "Saying that Microsoft is bad for consumers is like saying that small-business development is bad for the economy."

"This conference doesn't represent the consumer," said Mike Sax, president of SaxSoftware. "I don't use political lobbying to win my customers. I listen to them. Satisfying their needs is the key to success."

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