U.S. Says Microsoft Is Stalling Probe
By Elizabeth Corcoran
Government antitrust officials fired off a motion to U.S. District Court in Washington late yesterday contending that software giant Microsoft Corp. is trying to stop them from gathering evidence they need to pursue an antitrust case against it.
The federal government alleged that Microsoft is refusing to make its chairman, Bill Gates, available for an adequate period of questioning; won't turn over the "source code," or the programming recipe, for its Windows 95 and 98 operating system programs; and is blocking a request to depose 17 Microsoft representatives.
Greg Shaw, a spokesman for Microsoft, said the company is cooperating with the federal government, but that the current demands are "a little overreaching." The government wants to interview Gates for two days consecutively; Microsoft has agreed to make Gates available for eight hours of questioning, a time period that Shaw said is "more time than other CEOs have made themselves available."
In its motion the government pointed out, however, that Marc Andreessen, vice president of Netscape Communications Corp., was questioned by Microsoft lawyers for "over 12 hours."
Microsoft is willing to let government-appointed experts look at the Windows source code, Shaw said, provided they agree not to work for a software company involved in competing technology for 18 months. Otherwise, he said, "It's a little like asking Coke to surrender its formula and letting someone from Pepsi look at it."
Finally, Microsoft has said it will make available nine of the 17 witnesses that government lawyers want to question, according to the motion. "Microsoft executives did 11 depositions this spring," Shaw countered. "Now, in the 11th hour, the DOJ is asking for more."
Lawyers for the Department of Justice, 20 states and the District of Columbia are gearing up for an early September trial in U.S. District court over the business practices of the software leader.
Government antitrust lawyers have alleged that Microsoft has used unfair tactics to protect and extend the stronghold it has in operating system software. Microsoft's Windows software is used in more than 90 percent of the world's personal computers. The company counters that the government is trying to interfere with the design of its products, spurred on by complaints raised by competitors.
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