RealTime IT News

New eMail Tales in Microsoft's Minn. Case

Microsoft officials sought to dissuade Intel from investing in handwriting software startup GO Corporation in 1990, according to the latest round of e-mail evidence released in a class-action lawsuit against Microsoft underway in Minnesota.

In a separate 1998 e-mail, which was released as part of the Minnesota case, Lotus Development Corporation worried that Microsoft's J# programming language would constitute a "very real threat to open Java."

Both e-mails came to light in the case of Gordon, et al. versus Microsoft, which got underway in the Fourth Judicial District Court for the State of Minnesota on March 15th. The state is attempting to prove that Microsoft engaged in predatory business practices that harmed competitors, then overcharged end-users for its products.

A first round of email correspondence unveiled in court earlier this month provided juicy details of the fight for market share between Microsoft's MS-DOS and Novell's DR-DOS in the late 1980s.

The latest e-mails released as plaintiff's evidence by the court discuss Microsoft's alleged effort to derail GO, its tussle with Lotus over Java, and its perceived advantages over software competitors in developing applications for its own Windows operating system.

For its part, Microsoft said the individual e-mails, taken by themselves, are misleading. "These are very old documents taken out of context for the sole purpose of obscuring the real issue in the case, which is whether Minnesota consumers were overcharged between 1994 and 2001," Microsoft spokeswoman Stacey Drake told internetnews.com. "Selecting a few documents out of millions doesn't necessarily present an accurate picture."

Among the new material is a June 1990 e-mail discussing Intel's interest in GO. It was sent by "carls" (believed to be Microsoft executive Carl Stork) to company Chairman Bill Gates and other officials. "We met today with the group of people at Intel that is pushing an investment in GO Corp.," the e-mail said. "We attempted to dissuade them from that investment by seeking to find ways to meet their objectives...and by explaining why we thought the investment would be a bad idea. In particular, we presented the Windows H project to them." (Windows H refers to Microsoft's planned handwriting operating system.)

"We didn't succeed in convincing them, and they did not appear very open minded" the e-mail continued. "One appropriate follow-up in probably for us to write a letter to Grove with a follow-up phone call by Bill." Grove refers to Andrew Grove, chairman of Intel. Bill refers to Bill Gates, who was CEO of Microsoft at the time.

According to the newly released documents, Intel wasn't the only company giving Microsoft heartburn. Compaq had apparently decided to use GO's software as the operating system for its first planned PDA, instead of Microsoft's own handwriting-recognizing operating system.

Compaq outlined its plans to enter the handheld market in a 14-page business plan from 1993 entitled "PDA operating system selection." The document, which takes the form of a PowerPoint presentation, noted that both GO and Microsoft delivered proposals to Compaq to make their respective cases.

"GO offers Compaq the best opportunity to dominate the PDA market at an acceptable level of risk," the presentation noted. "GO solution appears to better meet user needs as we can see them (MS not invincible)."

However, Compaq was at least a little wary of its decision. "Attempts by Microsoft to sabotage Compaq/Go integration to the desktop is likely," reads another bullet-point in the presentation.

Compaq, which today is owned by Hewlett-Packard , ultimately became a leader in the PDA market with its Jornado and other PDA lines. However, its products are powered by Microsoft's PocketPC software platform.

On the Java front, the latest evidence in the case revolves around a series of 1995 e-mails from IBM . Most of the e-mails are among former officials of Lotus who were by then working for IBM after it acquired Lotus.

One e-mail focused on Microsoft's efforts to spin off its own version of Java, called J++ . "This tool is the linchpin of Microsoft's strategy to promote a proprietary, Windows-specific version of Java," a May 1995 e-mail noted. "Unfortunately for those who would prefer to see a portable Java standard, J++ is impressive -- a very real threat to open Java, in both the client and web application development spaces."

A separate Lotus e-mail complained about a perceived linkage between Microsoft's applications and its operating systems. "Microsoft applications and tools seem to have an unfair advantage using object-linking-and-embedding controls (OCX)." (OCX is software that supports drag-and-drop operations.)

Another Lotus e-mail on that subject stated: "Microsoft has committed on numerous occasions to ensuring a fair separation between the application and system groups at Microsoft...I am concerned that these commitments are not being met in the case of OCX, and that Lotus and other ISVs are being put at an unfair competitive disadvantage."

Other e-mails among the newly-released documents in the Minnesota case involve messages between Microsoft officials, which appear to touch on the same subject. The 1994 email is a request for comments in response to an earlier message which contains the notation "Microsoft does not code incompatibilities into their products."

The response to Microsoft executive Rick Segal, from company official Tony Ingenosol, who is identified as part of Microsoft's personal software products group, stated: "Tread lightly here, Rick. We just discovered some code in Windows whose sole purpose appears to be to bonk DR-DOS." (DR-DOS is a version of DOS released by Digital Research early in the PC era, which competed with Microsoft's offering.)

"The employees of Microsoft create and send millions of documents every day," Microsoft's Drake said. Selecting a handful of e-mails isn't a fair way to describe how the company works, she added.The case is ongoing, with further testimony scheduled to take place in court today.