The forum pitted the Association for Competitive Technology, a Microsoft advocate formed last fall to offset Ralph Naders' criticism of the company, against ProComp, a group that sprouted up in April with the support of former Senator Bob Dole and former Supreme Court Justice nominee Robert Bork.
Mike Pettit, the executive director of ProComp, predicted Microsoft (Nasdaq:MSFT) will settle on the night before the trial. "Microsoft can't go to trial with all of the evidence that's out there," Pettit said.
History of anti-competitive behavior
Pettit said Microsoft's had a history of anti-competitive behavior, including: writing damaging code into its Windows operating system to thwart competitors, trying to drive companies such as Netscape out of business, and illegally strong-arming computer makers. As an inventor who holds 30 patents, Pettit said he feared the ramifications of not regulating the software giant.
"If you're an innovator and want to get your product to market, before you raise your first dime you better figure out what Microsoft is going to do about it," said Pettit, whose group includes industry heavyweights such as Sun Microsystems Inc. (Nasdaq:SUNW) and Netscape Communications Corp. (Nasdaq:NSCP). "If there are no laws, the swath that Microsoft cuts will get wider and wider."
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Pettit said some members are even afraid to identify themselves for fear of Microsoft retribution. "Not everyone who wants to speak out can speak out. To me that's un-American and has to be stopped," he said.
But Jonathan Zuck of the Association for Competitive Technology, called that argument ridiculous. "It's a very convenient argument because it's circular. I can never find out who's afraid and why because I don't know who they are," he said.
Microsoft has 'broken no laws'
What's more, Zuck said Microsoft hadn't broken any laws, and a government crackdown could cause "a fundamental breakdown in the culture of the industry itself." Zuck said that regulating Microsoft would set a precedent for all technology companies that would require software makers to go running to their lawyers before they created or named any product. But Zuck said that probably wouldn't happen because he predicts a Microsoft win. Zuck called allegations that Microsoft illegally threatened computer makers or met with Netscape executives to divide up the market simply untrue.
"They all have been examined and proved to be false," he said.
Such sentiments prompted SPA President Ken Wasch, who organized the event, to jump up out of his chair and draw comparisons between Microsoft supporters and Clinton supporters. The SPA has supported the Department of Justice case against Microsoft.
"When I hear you, I can't help but be reminded of a striking performance by the First Lady on the Today Show earlier this year," Wasch told Zuck. He said that Hillary Clinton agreed that if the President had performed alleged improprieties, he should be punished. But he hadn't, the First Lady said.
Wasch said that, like the First Lady, Microsoft boosters were in danger of being forced to eat their words when evidence of Microsoft's wrongdoing comes out at the trial, which is slated for October 15.
After both sides debated that argument, the moderator declared the forum a Starr-free zone.