Gates fears penalties may crack Windows

Microsoft chief testifies remedies could force pulling of software

April 24, 2002|By BLOOMBERG NEWS

WASHINGTON - Microsoft Corp. Chairman Bill Gates told a judge yesterday that the company will have to pull its flagship Windows operating system from the market if a penalty plan offered by nine states gets approval.

Gates, testifying for a second day in the antitrust case, faulted a proposed provision that would let computer makers substitute competing products for Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser and other software.

Gates said that requirement would force radical changes in the Windows code.

"We'd be in an awful situation where we'd be under a court order that we can't comply with, except by withdrawing Windows from the marketplace," the Microsoft co-founder said.

Microsoft is seeking to convince U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly that the plan is unworkable and would harm the entire computer industry.

The judge must decide whether to impose additional controls on top of a settlement the company struck with the Bush administration and nine other states, including Maryland.

Under questioning from Steven R. Kuney, a lawyer for the non-settling states, Gates acknowledged that company engineers would attempt to restructure the Windows code if Microsoft's lawyers advised them to do so. The states' proposal would let the company seek an extension of the six-month deadline if it needed one.

"I'd be very open-minded," Gates said. "If resources would solve it, great, I'd put up those resources."

Still, Gates said the accord "asks for the impossible." He said hundreds of engineers would have to work for years to ensure that code for so-called "middleware" products could be removed from Windows without damaging the operating system or other programs.

Gates also said the proposed penalties are so restrictive they would delay company efforts to fix security glitches discovered in its Windows software.

Gates said a provision requiring Microsoft to give advance notice of any changes in Windows that might degrade competitors' software would bar the immediate release of security patches.

"There's no mistake about it," he testified. "It does degrade the performance. We could not put out the security patch without giving 60 days' notice."

Gates objected that the provision restricting changes in Windows that might degrade other software without "good cause" is too broad.

He said Microsoft might make changes in Windows believing it was responding to consumer demand, only to discover later that the new features are unpopular.

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