DOJ vs. Microsoft trial still on track

Despite extra subpoenas, the Department of Justice vs. Microsoft Corp. antitrust trial appears to be on track.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

When Microsoft (Nasdaq:MSFT) hit a number of industry players with wide-ranging subpoenas in early September, some rivals were worried that the twice-delayed trial, originally scheduled to start Sept. 8 but now slated for Oct. 15, would be pushed back again.

Microsoft rivals said privately they fear that foot-dragging by some might give Microsoft an excuse to ask Judge Thomas P. Jackson to push back the trial date for a third time. But Microsoft says nothing could be further from the truth.

"We are preparing to move ahead on Oct. 15," said Microsoft spokesman Jim Cullinan. "We are working with all of these companies to insure we get all the facts about the groundless allegations that the government has brought forward."

Slow but steady

Sources at the vendors said while they have been supplying the requested information slowly but surely, that information-gathering process is hardly finished.

Microsoft issued subpoenas to, among others, IBM (NYSE:IBM), Netscape Communications Corp. (Nasdaq:NSCP), Novell Inc. (Nasdaq:NOVL), Oracle Corp. (Nasdaq:ORCL) and Sun Microsystems Inc. (Nasdaq:SUNW), seeking documents that showed collaboration in a number of areas, including Java, Unix, Web browsers and scripting languages. As part of this request, Microsoft requested any documentation pertaining to 1994 discussions concerning the creation of a "Global Unix," as well as any information about a potential acquisition by Oracle or Novell of Lotus Development Corp.

Sun gives an answer

Sun had requested an extension until Sept. 18 to provide the information requested, and as of Friday, had delivered the requested information to Microsoft, said spokeswoman Lisa Poulson. "We can't say what we did and didn't give them, but we answered the subpoena to the best of our ability," she said.

Novell, meanwhile, is "evaluating the Microsoft subpoena," said spokesman Jonathan Cohen. "We have no further comment," he said, in answer to a question on when and whether Novell intended to provide information to Microsoft regarding the UnixWare operating system. Novell purchased UnixWare from AT&T Unix System Laboratories and later sold the operating system to The Santa Cruz Operation Inc. SCO did not receive a subpoena from Microsoft in September.

Calls to IBM, Netscape and Oracle were not returned by press time. A DOJ official declined to comment.

Attorneys at some of the companies subpoenaed by Microsoft have cautioned one another against delays in providing Microsoft with the documents it has requested, said a source with one of the vendors, who requested anonymity. "We don't want to give them [Microsoft] any reason to request additional delays," said the source.

Software Publishers Association president Ken Wasch said he agrees with Microsoft that the trial will likely start three weeks from now. But Wasch said that's the only point on which he and Microsoft see eye-to-eye on in the antitrust case.

"The judge [Jackson] was reluctant to delay the case twice in the first place. The court doesn't want it [the trial] to drag on past the end of the year," Wasch said.

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