Microsoft did not withdraw a key element of Windows 95 in order to damage Novell's Perfect Office development, Bill Gates testified on Monday.
The former Microsoft chief, who stepped down three years ago, told a federal court in Salt Lake City that Microsoft did not change course on the issue of name space extensions as an anticompetitive measure.
Novell says that Microsoft's move was intended to delay the release of new versions of WordPerfect and QuattroPro, word processor and spreadsheet programs that were direct rivals to Microsoft's Office products.
"The name space extensions are pretty irrelevant when it comes to word processing and spreadsheets," Gates said in the first day of his testimony on behalf of Microsoft, noting that they were to do with the display of folders and files.
Gates said name space extensions had been ditched as a Windows 95 feature at the last minute because Microsoft feared the feature would crash the OS. Windows 95 was "the most challenging, trying project we had ever done", Gates said.
The issue of name space extensions is central to Novell's case against Microsoft, which dates back to events in the 1990s and is a 2004 spin-off of a separate antitrust suit between the two companies that wound up in the early 2000s.
In the early 1990s, Novell was a software powerhouse with WordPerfect as a market-leading flagship product. After the release of Windows 95, Novell found itself massively losing market share to Office, which worked better with Windows.
As a result, Novell sold its productivity products to Corel in 1996 for about a billion dollars less than they would have commanded not long before. Novell, these days a subsidiary of Attachmate, is now suing Microsoft for the same amount of money as it said it lost in the Corel deal.
Novell's suit is based on three main claims: that Microsoft changed course on Windows 95 namespace extensions so as to delay the development of Novell's Perfect Office productivity suite; that Microsoft misled Novell about the print functionality to be included in Windows 95; and that Microsoft refused to grant Perfect Office a Windows 95 logo certification.
Gates's performance on Monday was by all accounts better than that he gave in the original Microsoft-Novell trial, more than a decade ago. In that trial, Gates gave an uncooperative, obfuscatory testimony that was seen as a major embarrassment to both him and Microsoft.
Gates will return to the Salt Lake City court for further cross-examination on Tuesday.