December 10, 1998
Some Language Parsing and More on Java at Microsoft Trial
By STEVE LOHR and JOEL BRINKLEY
ASHINGTON-- The Microsoft trial focused Wednesday on an esoteric issue that is crucial to the outcome of the antitrust case: What is a computer operating system?
The answer is important because the Government contends that the Microsoft Corporation illegally tied its software for browsing the World Wide Web to its industry-standard Windows operating system to stifle competition in the Internet software market. Microsoft says that its browser is not a separate product unfairly tied to Windows but merely a feature of its operating system.
For hours, Steven Holley, a Microsoft lawyer, battered away at the Government's expert witness, David J. Farber, a computer science professor at the University of Pennsylvania, asking him arcane questions about fine distinctions in programming files.
Clearly, the questioning was intended to try to get Farber to concede that drawing a neat, sharp line separating the operating system -- which controls a computer's basic operations -- from other software is tricky, if not impossible.
MICROSOFT ON TRIAL
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For the most part, Farber held his own, batting away the challenges to the central tenet of his testimony, which is that there is no obvious technical or user benefit to integrating the operating system and the browser as Microsoft did.
Microsoft apparently has had its own difficulties in defining just what an operating system is. The Government offered into evidence a dictionary of computer terminology published last year by Microsoft. The entry for operating systems made no mention of Internet software or anything related to it. And the definition for a Web browser seemed squarely at odds with Microsoft's courtroom contention that its Internet Explorer browser is an inextricable element of Windows rather than a separate software product, or application.
The Microsoft dictionary stated that a Web browser is an "application that allows users" to navigate the Internet.
And Microsoft, it seems, had some trouble finding a distinguished expert witness to agree entirely with its view of the operating system and the browser. In September, when Microsoft initially named its 12 witnesses, the list included Michael L. Dertouzos, director of the computer-science laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He was listed as Microsoft's technical expert.
But Dr. Dertouzos was soon dropped from the Microsoft witness list after giving a deposition in the case, part of which was entered into evidence today. When asked, "Is a browser an application?" Dr. Dertouzos responded, "Historically and today, it is the case that browsers are treated as applications."
In the afternoon, James A. Gosling, an executive for Sun Microsystems Inc., whose cross-examination began last week, took the stand again. With sharp questions and the introduction of e-mail evidence, the Microsoft legal team attacked the Government's allegation that Microsoft unfairly tried to "pollute" Java, an Internet programming language developed by Sun, because Microsoft viewed the new technology as a threat to its dominance of the personal computer software market.
Instead, Microsoft tried to portray its own work with Java, which it licensed from Sun in 1996, as an effort to make the new Internet programming language work smoothly with Microsoft's Windows.
Microsoft introduced an e-mail sent on Aug. 31, 1995, by Dr. Gosling, one of Java's creators, to Scott G. McNealy, Sun's chairman, sketching out a number of options on how to exploit Java as a business. One option, he wrote, was to use Java to "go after Microsoft."
But later he wrote: "I wouldn't 'go after' Microsoft. I'd want to work with them, but beat them at their own game . . . or at least give them the illusion of working with them."
Accusing Sun of dealing with its rival in bad faith, Thomas Burt, a Microsoft lawyer, asked, "Isn't that exactly what you did?"
Microsoft also introduced e-mail from Sun to its closely aligned Java partners, led by the Netscape Communications Corporation and I.B.M., which are also archrivals of Microsoft, to establish industry working groups to develop Java software. Microsoft, Burt noted pointedly, was left out of those groups.
In the antitrust case and in a private suit in California, Microsoft is accused of deliberately making its version of Java incompatible with Sun's standard Java. Burt insisted that the split was Sun's fault. "Isn't it true that Sun had no interest in making Java work especially well with Windows?" he asked.
Dr. Gosling replied that any lack of cooperation on Sun's part was a result of Microsoft's stance that its version of Java would work smoothly only on Windows and would not include the Sun software to make it work on several operating systems.
"Where we drew the line was when Microsoft's work blocked out other software platforms," Dr. Gosling said.
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