U.S., states sue Microsoft for antitrust violations

The United States government, along with 20 U.S. states and the District of Columbia, filed two separate lawsuits against Microsoft on Monday, alleging that the software giant is violating antitrust laws by using its Windows monopoly to push other products and "crush" competition. U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno said at a noon press conference that Microsoft must include competing Web browsers with Windows 98 if it wants to bundle Internet Explorer as well.

Reno said the Justice Department feels that Microsoft is abusing its monopoly with operating systems to stifle competition, which will hurt consumers and prevent widespread innovation in the software industry. The states added that other Microsoft products, especially its Office productivity suite, benefited illegally from bundling with Windows, pushing competitors out of the market.

"The Justice Department has charged Microsoft with engaging in anti-competitive and exclusionary practices designed to maintain its monopoly in personal computer operating systems, and attempting to extend that monopoly to Internet browser software," Reno said.

As expected, the lawsuits did not attempt to stop the shipment of Windows 98, which Microsoft released to hardware manufacturers on Monday as well. Windows 98 will ship on June 25th as scheduled.

"We stopped short of enjoining \[Windows 98\] because we believe in creating options, not restricting them," said Joel Klein, DOJ chief antitrust lawyer, and a key player in the Microsoft crisis. "We are not seeking to impose a recall."

One might wonder what the point of the lawsuits is if the two groups aren't seeking to stall Windows 98. Justice and the states are trying to force Microsoft to offer other browsers with Windows 98, not just Internet Explorer. If Microsoft doesn't find this acceptable--and Gates has called bundling Netscape Navigator with Windows just that--then the groups feel that Explorer should be forced to compete in the marketplace "on its own merits." Additionally, the groups are trying to stop Microsoft from forcing its own startup screen on hardware manufacturers: OEMs, they say, should be able to put whatever information there they wish, not just advertisements for Microsoft software. Microsoft also prevents hardware manufactures from configuring the browser software on a Windows 98-based PC and Justice would like them to have the option to do what they want with the browser.

Anti-trust battles tend to drag on for years and this case could conceivably outlast the life cycle of products like Internet Explorer 4.0 and Windows 98. Barring any settlement with Microsoft, it's likely that we'll be hearing about this fight for some time to come

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