AOL executive tells of 'fear' of Microsoft

America Online (AOL) senior vice president David Colburn took the stand today in the historic Microsoft antitrust trial, telling the court that AOL feared that Microsoft and its MSN online service would put his company out of business. It was 1995: MSN had just opened up shop and Microsoft was poised to dominate the market with its powerful Windows 95 operating system. Colburn says that Microsoft demanded that AOL exclusively license Microsoft's Internet Explorer Web browser, effectively locking Netscape out of the single biggest Internet service provider on the planet. In return, Microsoft would offer AOL that most valuable of offers: A prime position on the Windows 95 desktop.

Microsoft lawyer John Warden badgered Colburn repeatedly about various parts of his testimony, including the evidence that AOL was installed on about 90% of Windows desktops already. This is important because it casts doubt on AOL's "fear" that Microsoft could somehow shut them out.

"Microsoft used its monopoly control over who could get access to the desktop in order to require America Online to give exclusivity to its browser," said DOJ attorney David Boies. "The critical item, as \[Colburn\] said, was the fact that Microsoft and only Microsoft could control access to a monopoly desktop."

"Nothing in Microsoft's agreement with America Online stopped America Online from working with Netscape," said Microsoft spokesperson Mike Murray in return

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