Microsoft, DOJ face each other in court

The day of reckoning has come and gone without a clear signal to which side will emerge victorious. A lawyer representing Microsoft faced a lawyer from the U.S. Department of Justice, making their respective cases before a U.S. District Court judge regarding charges that Microsoft violated its 1995 consent decree. Judge Thomas Jackson submitted no ruling, but took both sides cases under advisement. No date was set for a ruling.

In the sometimes heated debate, both sides volleyed for the judge's understanding of the technical issues surrounding the case. Jackson asked numerous pointed questions about the status of Internet Explorer 4.0 and whether it is, in fact, an integrated component of Windows 95.

"This case appears to be awash in vapor," said the DOJ's Phillip Malone. "It comes down to a fundamental difference in interpreting the consent decree."

"I have an intellectual problem in this case," Judge Jackson said. "The product may be separate today but in accordance with the proviso it can be developed into an integrated product. \[Is the DOJ\] suggesting the court tell \[Microsoft\] not to do that?"

Malone said the that DOJ feels that IE 4.0 is a clear case of a separate product being bundled with Windows 95, stating that such bundling is in violation of Microsoft's consent decree. Malone stated that while Microsoft is not currently forcing OEMs to bundle IE 4.0 with Windows 95, they will in February when the OSR 2.5 release of Windows 95 becomes available. That release will incorporate IE 4.0 as a non-optional component. Microsoft responded that, by January, 70-75% of all PCs being produced and shipped will come with IE 4.0 anyway.

Malone wasn't impressed with this argument, however, asking if that were the case then why does Microsoft need to force OEMs to include IE 4.0 in Windows 95 starting in February.

"The government is simply seeking to give consumers a choice," he said. "And if consumers are driving this, Microsoft should not force OEMs to take IE."

In preparation of today's court date, Microsoft submitted a second formal reply to the DOJ's November 20th statements. The reply concludes that the DOJ has no case since Microsoft is not violating the terms of its consent decree. To drive home this point, Microsoft's lawyer Richard Urowsky slowly walked Judge Jackson through the pertinent section of the consent decree, using a blown-up version of it on a display board.

Urowsky also quoted DOJ officials as saying that Microsoft was free to incorporate new features into its operating system to create an integrated product.

In an interesting moment, Judge Jackson asked Urowsky why IE was any different from products like Word and Excel. He asked if there were any technological barriers from preventing Microsoft from integrating those applications into Windows. Urowsky admitted there was nothing stopping them from doing so, though it wouldn't make "economic sense."

The entire hearing lasted only two and a half hours. At that point, Judge Jackson stood up suddenly and announced that the matter was "considered submitted." Both sides later said in statements that they were pleased with the hearing

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