Caldera, a small software company founded by former Novell CEO Ray Noorda, is challenging Microsoft by resurrecting a forgotten operating system and a recently settled lawsuit. Caldera's suit, filed in US District Court in Salt Lake City, effectively reopens a 1994 Justice Department antitrust action that alleged Microsoft used its muscle to negotiate contracts with PC manufacturers, unfairly locking competitors out of the operating system market. Microsoft settled that case with the US Justice Department out of court last year.
In concert with reopening the antitrust suit, Provo, Utah-based Caldera has bought DR DOS from Novell. This gives Caldera a claim to historical damages against Microsoft, because DR DOS was an early alternative to Microsoft's MS-DOS operating system. While Noorda was still at Novell, he bought DR DOS from Digital Research. DR DOS, formerly known as CP/M, actually preceded MS-DOS and was briefly considered by IBM for the IBM PC. But IBM chose MS-DOS, which Microsoft acquired the rights to in 1980.
"The lawsuit appears to be a rehash of the same tired allegations that were resolved a long time ago," says a Microsoft representative. "It's ironic and a little sad that Caldera would file this lawsuit over outdated technology that the market has long since bypassed."
Analysts also questioned Caldera's actions. "The industry has moved beyond this dispute," says John Rhymer, an analyst with Giga Information Group, in Santa Clara, California. "The issue is no longer DOS or even stand-alone workstations, but distributed computing."
Caldera is defending the action. "As a small company we can bring the suit forward without strong retribution, since our existence doesn't depend on Microsoft technology," says Bryan Sparks, president and CEO of Caldera. "Our current niche doesn't require access to Microsoft APIs," he says, referring to Caldera's other PC operating system, which is based on Linux, a version of Unix.
As for the viability of DR DOS, Caldera plans to bring the product forward in OEM and vertical markets, such as pay-at-the-pump applications for gas stations. "We do expect to make some money out of DR DOS," Sparks says.
Caldera's purchase of DR DOS, however, must be interpreted in light of the lawsuit. "Certainly much of the suit is historical in nature," Sparks says. "How do you allege future discrimination? Many of the alleged practices in the lawsuit took place during the heyday of DR DOS and MS-DOS."
The lawsuit could drag on. "It may take 18 months or more before it goes to trial," Sparks says.