Netscape complains to Microsoft, US Justice Department

Antitrust allegations against Microsoft have resurfaced with Netscape Communications complaining to the US Justice Department about Microsoft's licensing of Windows NT Workstation.

Antitrust allegations against Microsoft have resurfaced with Netscape Communications complaining to the US Justice Department about Microsoft's licensing of Windows NT Workstation. At issue is Microsoft's limiting to 10 the number of simultaneous connections that can be made to a single copy of its NT Workstation software. (See I told you so.)

While refusing to comment on an ongoing Justice Department probe, Microsoft spokesman Greg Shaw says the company stands by its licensing agreement that forces customers seeking a World Wide Web server to use NT Server rather than NT Workstation.

Microsoft's NT Server 4.0 is priced at US$1129. Netscape has been urging customers to buy its entry-level US$295 Fastrack Server software and use that with Microsoft's US$319 NT Workstation software instead. Netscape also offers its Enterprise Internet/intranet server for US$995.

"We optimise NT workstation for the desktop for single users and we optimise NT Server for multiple users, and we have a responsibility to our customers to inform them on how our products are optimised and how they're best used," Shaw says.

Gina Talamona, spokeswoman for the Justice Department, says the investigation into complaints of anticompetitive practices in the software industry involving Microsoft was "active" and continuing, but says she could not comment on Netscape's latest gripe.

Netscape's complaint was prompted by a letter Microsoft sent to Netscape on July 30 demanding that Netscape remove from its Web site a price comparison chart that stated that using Netscape's server software with NT Workstation would provide users a more cost-effective Web server than NT Server.

Microsoft's letter says the price comparison is "unfair and deceptive" because it erroneously assumes the user can run Netscape's server software on NT Workstation and make unlimited connections to a Web site without violating the NT Workstation licence agreement. Users wanting more than 10 connections are required to buy NT Server, the letter states.

In a letter to Microsoft two days ago that was also sent to the Justice Department, attorney Gary Reback of Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati in Palo Alto, California, says Netscape would not change the price comparison information on its Web site. He also suggested that Microsoft's NT Workstation licence agreement that limits "peer connections" refers only to SMB (Server Message Block), or print and file connections, and not to TCP/IP (Transfer Control Protocol/Internet Protocol) connections.

Shaw could not say whether Reback's interpretation of what the NT licensing agreement covered was correct or not.

Reback also chastised Microsoft for trying to bully competitors into conforming to its marketing plans after it failed in attempts to alter the software in NT Workstation so it would automatically restrict the number of connections allowed. After drawing much public criticism for including code in the beta version of its new NT Workstation 4.0 release that would limit the connections to 10, Microsoft publicly announced on July 19 that it was removing that technical limitation.

"We believe your effort to limit consumer choice by artificially restricting your product's functionality (whether through technical or licensing means) violates the antitrust laws," Reback wrote. In addition, "Netscape's engineers estimate that even restricted to Microsoft's interpretation of the licence agreement, a customer can process well over one million connections per day using Netscape's server products," he wrote.

Shaw reiterates Microsoft's stance that users will see better Web server performance with NT Server. "NT Workstation optimises cache scheduling, which allows the user to cache the computer for faster workstation performance, and uses memory utilisation that offers better memory performance on single desktops," he says. "On NT Server we adjusted these same elements on multi-user for better file serving. What these differences mean is NT Server is several times faster than NT Workstation on Web server functions -- seven times faster."

The issue comes down to one of "deceptive advertising that is misinforming and confusing consumers," Shaw says.

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