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Legal Battle Continues in Microsoft Case - 2001-12-13

Judges in the United States are still figuring out how to punish software giant Microsoft for abusing its monopoly in the computer software industry. Consumers, Microsoft competitors and industry experts are just as divided as they have been for years on the effect of Microsoft's dominant position on the industry and consumers.

A congressional hearing on those issues was cut short Wednesday, but VOA got to talk to some of the witnesses.

Legal battles against Microsoft and its dominant Windows operating system have lasted over three years, with twists and turns, but progress is slow.

In the latest development, the government has proposed a settlement under which Microsoft, among other things, would have to provide rival software firms with information allowing them to develop competing products and ensure those products work within the Windows operating system.

Mitchell Kertzman, chief executive of the software company, Liberate Technologies, who was among the scheduled witnesses, says the government's settlement proposal is bad news for consumers because it would keep Microsoft's monopoly alive. He says Microsoft's continuing market domination has kept prices on operating systems and their applications high and stifled competition. He said, "The consumer hurts financially due to the Microsoft monopoly and the consumer is not getting access to any innovative or competing technology that could be more reliable, more stable, of higher performance or just different from Microsoft software. It's bad for consumers."

But Jonathan Zuck, head of the Association of Competitive Technology, says settlement of the Miscrosoft case is needed to get computer business going again. He says consumers like Windows because it offers a uniform and effective platform in the complex world of computer options. Mr. Zuck said, "It really boils down to this, companies like Microsoft bring a stable and evolving platform to the market that allows independent software vendors to bring new value to their customers. In fact, the majority of the high tech industry and the majority of consumers in the United States favor the settlement and moving past this case and back into the world of innovation and out of the world of litigation."

Lars Liebeler, a lawyer for a computer industry trade association, says he wasn't too concerned the congressional hearings were cut short. The place to resolve the dispute, he says, is the courtroom. "The committee," he said, "is certainly entitled to hold hearings on this issue but in the end it really is only an informational type of hearing to people because the courts are handling this and that's the proper forum for this to be resolved."

Several states that joined the federal case against Miscrosoft went along with the settlement proposal, but nine states have not. They are seeking stiffer penalties, and have submitted settlement proposals of their own.

Meanwhile, Microsoft has proposed settling dozens of private antitrust suits involving millions of consumers. The Seattle-based company wants to donate over one billion dollars in its software and computers to thousands of schools in poor districts. Microsoft opponents and competitors dismiss this proposal as self-serving.