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Microsoft, on Offense, Grills Netscape Chief

October 21, 1998|JUBE SHIVER Jr. | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — Striking back at the government's antitrust case, Microsoft Corp. on Tuesday portrayed itself as a tough but fair competitor in the race to develop Internet software and said it gained market share only by making better and easier-to-use products.

On the second day of a landmark antitrust trial that could determine the limits of power in the Information Age, Microsoft tried to use the government's star witness to rebut claims that it illegally used its Windows software monopoly to extend its dominance to the Internet and other emerging technologies.

During three hours of cross-examination of Netscape Communications Corp. Chief Executive James Barksdale, Microsoft lead attorney John Warden challenged assertions that Microsoft's aggressive and successful business strategy was illegal. He elicited admissions from Barksdale that his own company had used many of the same techniques Microsoft had--including incorporating new applications into its software and giving its Web browser away free--to gain market share.

"The government's case is long on rhetoric and short on substance" about illegal activity, Warden told a packed courtroom that attracted Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), among other onlookers.

Painstakingly questioning Barksdale, Warden tried to blunt the government's demand that Microsoft should not be allowed to incorporate a Web browser into its Windows 98 personal computer operating system. The government has maintained that such bundling should not be permissible since Microsoft holds a monopoly in personal computer operating software and is simply leveraging that dominance to take over another market.

But Warden got Barksdale to admit that Netscape did more or less the same thing in 1996, when it held a 70% share of the browser market and decided to add e-mail to its core browser functions. He also got Barksdale to admit that Netscape executives often used the same boastful language about crushing rivals that Microsoft is accused of using.

Later, when asked about a statement Netscape co-founder Marc Andreessen, 28, allegedly made about reducing Microsoft to being a maker of shoddy software drivers, Barksdale attributed the statements to Andreessen's youth.

"Marc Andreessen is a young man that has often made statements in jocularity that has gotten us in trouble," Barksdale conceded.

Barksdale was the first of 12 government and 12 Microsoft witnesses to testify during the trial.

The government alleges that Microsoft restricted computer manufacturers in their choice of operating software to install on PCs and also made deals to make Microsoft's Internet browser the preferred product distributed by Internet service providers.

Warden will continue his cross-examination of Barksdale today in the trial, which is expected to last four to six weeks.

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