Microsoft sparks new video row

Issues surrounding a Microsoft demo video again came to the fore in the government antitrust trial Tuesday, sparking protests from antitrust officials reminiscent of those of last week.
Written by Will Rodger, Contributor

This time, though, Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson made no effort to stop the show. In written testimony released to the public Monday, Microsoft vice president Cameron Myhrvold argued that his company's actions in the Internet software market had benefited consumers rather than harmed them, as the government suit filed against the company last May alleged.

Microsoft, Myhrvold told the court, made life easier for users by bundling its Internet browser and related technologies into Windows 95 and Windows 98. That integration, he said, vastly simplified a once-complex process of getting onto the Internet. He compared a video of an automatic Internet sign-up process in Windows 98 to the sluggish, non-automated process Windows 3.1 users had to go through.

But that very comparison was unfair, government lead attorney David Boies seemed to suggest. If Microsoft truly wanted to show how useful integrating the browser and the operating system was, he said, the company should compare adding a browser to early, browserless versions of Windows 95, not to the pokey, often hard-to-use Windows 3.1 "Certainly, under Windows 95 it would have been far easier which is, I think, your question," Myhrvold conceded. Then again, he said, computer buyers still had to go out and buy their Internet software before Windows 95 came along.

Microsoft spokesman Tod Neilsen added: "It would have taken the same amount of time to load the files." Otherwise, he said, Windows 95 would only have bested Windows 3.1 at the time it took to set up the computer's modem. That operation took less than a minute on tape.

During the demo, Microsoft executive Yusuf Mehdi set up an Internet trial account on a Compaq notebook computer within five minutes. That laptop ran Windows 98. Yet a similar demonstration on a similar Compaq computer running Windows 3.1 crawled. Before signing up for an Internet account, Mehdi had first to load browser software as well as sign up software to hook the user to the Internet. In all, it took some 14 minutes before Mehdi could begin signing up. That, he said, showed how much better Windows was with Internet technologies integrated. That assertion drew Boies' question about comparability between the two machines.

Boies also found another discrepancy in the video. This one, like the one before it, seemed as much designed to sow seeds of doubt more than to prove anything conclusively. During the sign-up sequence, the laptop with Windows 3.1 clearly showed it was running on a modem that topped out at 28.8Kbps. The other laptop had an internal modem that, Boies said, should have run at 56Kbps. Myhrvold said he thought they both operated at 36.6Kbps.

After the day's session was over, Microsoft Senior VP for Law and Corporate Affairs Bill Neukom said the faster of the two modems connected to the Internet sign-up wizard at 33.6Kbps and the other connected at 28.8Kbps. In total, he said, the slower modem may have accounted for 20 seconds of the eight-plus minute difference.

After he was through with the video, Boies turned to a series of old e-mails that seemed to compromise some of Myhrvold's testimony. On the stand, Myhrvold strongly denied that companies appearing in the online services folder on the Windows desktop had to guarantee that 85 percent of the browsers they distributed would be Microsoft's. Earlier in the trial, America Online VP David Colburn said his company and others had just that requirement.

Boies produced a May, 1996 memo in which Myhrvold said France Telecom's online service would have to meet an 85-percent requirement for overseas shipment. "They will have to commit that 85 percent of the browsers they ship to their customers will be IE," he wrote.

Boies pressed Myhrvold to say all online services had the same requirement. "Absolutely not!" a near-indignant Myhrvold shot back. Though he couldn't say what companies like Compuserve and Prodigy had to do, he was sure there was no across-the-board requirement.

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