US Report: Go after Microsoft - SPA

The Software Publishers Association Friday urged the U.S.

The Software Publishers Association Friday urged the U.S. Department of Justice to expand its antitrust case against Microsoft to include charges of monopolisation in the market for high-powered network servers.

In a document approved by the trade group's board this morning, the SPA said Microsoft's dominance of desktop computer operating systems will inevitably extend to nearly all computers connected to the Internet unless the DoJ moves quickly to stop many of the company's ongoing business practices. As with Windows 95 before, the SPA said Microsoft has deliberately exploited its near-total monopoly over personal computer operating systems to force sales of other products - in this case the Windows NT network operating system and applications that run on it.

Microsoft, the association said, has deliberately introduced incompatibilities between its desktop software and other companies' server software in order to force corporate customers to use NT. In turn, the company has allegedly tried to tie sales of other products to sales of NT. "There's no question Microsoft has to go beyond Windows 95 but those practices they've engaged in with NT are predatory," SPA President Ken Wasch said.

Microsoft spokesman Mark Murray said the paper offered little that was new.

"My understanding is we're accused of doing such nefarious things as integrating new features into our server in the same way that other manufacturers are integrating new features into their products. NT is opening up server capabilities to a whole range of businesses that wouldn't have been able to use them under the old business model."

The paper "Competition in the Network Market: The Microsoft Challenge," drew a sharp retort from Microsoft Chief Operating Officer Robert Herbold, who criticised the "SPA's increasing involvement in the anti-Microsoft campaign currently being waged in Washington, D.C., by Microsoft's competitors. "It is difficult to understand how this pattern of behaviour is consistent with the SPA's goals to 'promote and strengthen the industry,'" he said in a letter to the SPA's Wasch. "Your activities in recent months seem to have accomplished just the opposite, dividing the industry and preventing the organisation from focusing on issues important to the broad membership, such as intellectual property protection, piracy and encryption."

In the paper, SPA argues that Microsoft has exploited features of Windows NT known only to its developers to give it an unfair advantage over its rivals. By way of example, the SPA claims developers at Netscape were able to equal the performance of Microsoft Internet server software designed for the NT operating system only after they discovered features within NT not documented elsewhere.

SPA also accused the company of distributing "service packs," or consumer updates for its operating systems that often introduce bugs into other software developers' products. In addition, the SPA said Microsoft continues to give steep discounts on packages of programs within its "Back Office" server software family in order to drive out competition.

The war of the whitepapers is the latest chapter in what has become a rocky history between Microsoft and the SPA. Earlier this year, the SPA issued a set of eight software industry principles of competition, many of which were thinly veiled criticisms of Microsoft's business practices. More recently, the SPA joined a new lobbying group called the Project to Promote Competition and Innovation in the Digital Age, an alliance of companies and organisations advocating that antitrust action be taken against Microsoft.