Microsoft told to give Windows code Federal judge also allows unlimited questioning of Gates, other executives

Software

August 07, 1998|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON -- A federal judge ordered Microsoft Corp. yesterday to turn over to the government the source code for its operating system and to make its chairman, Bill Gates, and 16 other executives available for pretrial depositions that will last as long the Justice Department deems necessary.

Microsoft was ordered to give Justice Department lawyers preparing for a Sept. 8 trial in the government's antitrust suit a copy of the source code for the latest two versions of its operating system, Windows 95 and Windows 98.

Microsoft had asked that Gates' testimony be limited to eight pTC hours and had wanted to provide only seven other executives for pretrial interviews.

The company had offered to turn over the source code -- the dense technical blueprint -- of the operating system under conditions that would have made it difficult for the government to bring in outside experts to analyze it.

But in a hearing called to settle these and other disputes yesterday afternoon, Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson of U.S. District Court ruled in favor of the government on every question.

"I do not intend to put a time restraint on the length of time Gates may be deposed," Jackson said. He ordered that the deposition be taken beginning Wednesday.

Months ago, Microsoft gave the source code for Windows 95, the operating system version that was replaced this spring by Windows 98, to 20 state attorneys general who also have filed an antitrust suit against the company. Maryland is one of the states.

In that case, the attorneys general agreed to Microsoft's request that no one who looked at the code would be allowed to work for most major software companies during the next 18 months.

When Justice Department lawyers entered their request for the Windows 95 and Windows 98 code, they argued that the government "will be unable to utilize the services of their consultants or experts" under such a restriction "unless they are willing to give up their livelihood."

Yesterday, Jackson agreed but told Microsoft that he would order severe penalties if any of the government's consultants misused the data.

The government wants the source code for Windows 95 and Windows 98 to help prove its assertion that Microsoft is improperly bundling its browser, the software used to navigate the World Wide Web, with its operating system.

The Justice Department argues that bundling the browser was a tactic intended to harm Microsoft's primary competitor in that business, Netscape Communications Corp.

Microsoft says it was planning to include browser capabilities in Windows as early as April 1994, long before Netscape had grown to be important in the industry. The Justice Department vigorously disputes that.

Pub Date: 8/07/98

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