SAN FRANCISCO — As Microsoft Corp. Chairman Bill Gates unveiled a $2-billion suite of tools for software writers Wednesday, the programmers who want to create applications for the company's Web services framework weren't the only ones taking note.
The nine states pressing for harsher antitrust sanctions against Microsoft are increasingly citing the so-called .Net services framework in court, arguing that the plan will allow Microsoft to extend its monopoly over desktop computer operating systems into new areas.
The suite of tools released Wednesday, called VisualStudio.Net, will make it easier for programmers to create products for .Net, just as they have for Windows operating systems.
The .Net framework is designed to let end-users on any Internet-connected device use automated services, but the central data will reside on big computers running Windows software. Analysts said VisualStudio will help Microsoft compete for programmers' time against rival Sun Microsystems Inc., which controls the programming language Java.
In filings over the past week in federal court, California and other states have argued that Microsoft could use .Net's Passport authentication gateway and security protocols to block access from PCs, hand-held computers and phones that don't run Windows software.
"Any Web service that seeks to compete with Microsoft must ensure that it can interoperate across many devices, including those running Microsoft software,'' the states said in one recent filing.
Hand-held maker Palm Inc. already has been denied advance access to VisualStudio details because it didn't pledge to adopt the .Net framework, the states said. Palm officials didn't return calls for comment Wednesday.
The new filings set the groundwork for a trial scheduled for March on whether Microsoft's proposed settlement with the U.S. Justice Department and nine other states go far enough to rein in the Redmond, Wash., software giant. That settlement would bar retaliation by Microsoft against PC firms that include non-Microsoft programs on the machines they sell.
The states that haven't settled want to go further, forcing Microsoft to publish the source code for the dominant Internet Explorer Web browser and allow other firms to make versions of Office applications for Linux and other operating systems. And they want Microsoft to offer a stripped-down version of Windows that doesn't include its media player or other accessories.
Microsoft said the states were escalating the dispute by asking to see source code, when in earlier legal rounds, they were content to leave Microsoft's code alone but make sure that computer companies could hide consumer access to parts of it.
"They're injecting a very complicated issue into this," spokesman Jim Desler said. Competitors have been working hand in hand with the states, and they will stop at nothing to get access to our intellectual property."
Microsoft probably will fight the request. Desler declined to comment on the broader allegations about .Net.