A New Microsoft Tape Elicits Another Admission
By Rajiv Chandrasekaran
For the second time in a week, Microsoft Corp. was forced to make an embarrassing admission of discrepancies in a demonstration video that it created and played yesterday at its antitrust trial.
The video in question was intended to show that Microsoft's Windows 98 personal computer operating system has simplified the process for consumers to select and sign-up with an Internet service provider. To draw a comparison, the video depicted a lengthier and more complicated selection and sign-up process for a person using Windows 3.1, an earlier version of the software.
But after the presentation had concluded, the government's lead trial attorney asserted that the computer running Windows 98 was connected to the Internet at double the speed of one running Windows 3.1. That would tend to heighten the differences in performance between the two systems.
After the proceedings had recessed for the day and chagrined public relations staffers made a series of frantic telephone calls back to the company's headquarters near Seattle, a Microsoft official acknowledged that there was a difference in speeds, but he said the Windows 98 machine had only a slightly faster connection, not one that was twice as fast.
The discrepancy nevertheless provided another embarrassing moment for the company, which was still reeling from criticism over another video demonstration that played in court last week. That presentation -- which appeared to have been filmed using one computer but actually involved several machines and spliced video clips -- drew the ire of the federal judge hearing the case, who called it "very troubling."
The nearly 30-minute demonstration played yesterday was a prelude to the testimony of Cameron Myhrvold, a Microsoft vice president who is in charge of the company's relationship with Internet service providers.
The Justice Department and 19 states have accused Microsoft of several antitrust violations, including its practice of promoting certain Internet providers through a directory in Windows 98 in exchange for the providers agreeing to promote Microsoft's Internet browsing software over a rival product made by Netscape Communications Corp.
Myhrvold argued on the witness stand yesterday that the software giant's cross-promotional deals with Internet providers were legal and did not prevent Netscape from distributing its browser.
The videotape showed how the Windows 98 directory works, comparing it with Netscape's and one that is provided to a user who installs Microsoft's browser on Windows 3.1. In each case, the browser connects to an Internet database that has up-to-date directory information.
In the case of Windows 98, the video showed the computer retrieving the necessary information in less than 20 seconds. With Windows 3.1, obtaining the directory information from the same Microsoft computer took a longer time on the tape.
That prompted David Boies, the government's lead trial attorney, to ask Myhrvold if the Compaq computers used in the demonstration had modems that were the same speed.
Myhrvold said he thought both machines had modems with a top speed of 28,000 bits per second. When Boies pressed the point, saying that the particular model of Compaq used for the test includes a 56,000 bit-per-second modem, Myhrvold argued that the speed was irrelevant. "It's not material," he said. "What is more important is how easy it is under Windows 98."
Later in the day, a Microsoft official acknowledged that the computer running Windows 98 was equipped with a 33,600 bit-per-second modem, but he said the discrepancy did not affect the gist of the demonstration. "This had to do with how easy it was to use the [directory], not how fast they were running," the official said.
© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company