Monday November 22, 1999
Consumer Group Says Microsoft Must Divest Browsers
By David Lawsky
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Consumer advocates Ralph Nader and James Love say Microsoft Corp (NasdaqNM:MSFT - news). should be required to divest its Internet Explorer Web browser when people begin looking for remedies in Microsoft's landmark antitrust trial.
U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson found Microsoft uses monopoly power to harm consumers, competitors, and customer companies. He may have to decide on a remedy next year.
Last week, U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Richard Posner of Chicago agreed to mediate the case, acting in a private capacity. Any compromise would require remedies.
A Microsoft spokesman said the suggestion by Nader and Love is on the wrong track.
Much of the trial concerned the ``browser war'' between Microsoft and Netscape for control of software to surf the Web.
The government argued that Microsoft bundled its browser into its monopoly operating system. But Microsoft said Internet Explorer was an integral, unremovable part of its Windows 98 operating system.
Jackson found otherwise and said the browser could be removed. Microsoft said the Court's technique merely hid browser software instead of removing it.
Long-time antagonists of the firm reported recently that Microsoft itself used the same ``hiding'' technique to remove functionality from one of two versions of its Windows NT.
Love and Nader, of the consumer group Consumer Project on Technology (http://www.cptech.org), said removing the browser should be part of any solution because the issue took up so much time at the trial. The consumer advocates argue that if Internet Explorer ``was a separate divestiture, the entire browser market might well become competitive once again.''
Microsoft spokesman Mark Murray said: ``This proposal seems particularly groundless. While we were disappointed in many of the court findings, the court itself found our actions benefited consumers and accelerated the growth of the Internet.''
Jackson said in his findings that Internet Explorer ''contributed to improving the quality of Web browsing software, lowering its cost, and increasing its availability, thereby benefiting consumers.''
But Jackson also found that Microsoft used monopoly power to muscle Netscape so that it ultimately ``surrendered itself to acquisition by another company.''
In fact, Microsoft has overwhelmingly won the ``browser war'' against Netscape, according to (http://www.statmarket.com).
A few years ago four out of five surfers used Netscape, but now four out of five use Internet Explorer. And for critics that raises the technical question of what can be done.
Government witness Edward Felten, a Princeton University computer science professor, testified it was possible to remove Internet Explorer by changing settings in the computer's registry, a database that keeps tracks of what software is installed and key settings controlling how programs operate.
Microsoft witnesses replied that Felten's program merely disabled Internet Explorer, rather than removing it.
But Tim O'Reilly wrote in online magazine Salon (http://www.salon.com), that Microsoft used exactly the same technique itself.
Microsoft sells an operating system known as ``Windows NT'' in two versions, with different functions and different prices.
The more expensive version, known as ``Windows NT Server,'' operates host files or programs for other computers. The less expensive version, ``Windows NT Workstation'' is primarily for single users.
But they have the same code, according to two outside experts on Microsoft, Andrew Schulman, a consultant against Microsoft in another case, and Mark Russinovich, who operates the Web site (http://www.sysinternals.com).
``The code was simply disabled, and some additional applications bundled'' in the less expensive version of Windows NT, Schulman said.
Microsoft's Murray said that was an apples-and-oranges comparison because ``there's a big difference between how a company licenses its technology, versus the government's obligation under the antitrust laws to show that there are two separate and distinct products, which the government completely failed to do.