Microsoft faces more private lawsuits

Angry California consumers last week saddled Microsoft with another private lawsuit alleging that the company overcharges for Windows. But corporate users weren't sympathetic to the mounting claims.

The suit, filed in San Francisco by Lillian R Lea of Alameda, California, and Tortola Restaurants in San Francisco, seeks class-action status, just like suits filed in Alabama, New York and Louisiana the previous week. It was followed Tuesday by another suit, filed in Ohio.

They're all inspired by US District Judge Thomas Penfield Jackon's November 5 "findings of fact" in the federal antitrust case that Microsoft is a monopoly that could set any price it wants for Windows.

"Prices of Windows have been raised, fixed, maintained and stabilized at artificial and noncompetitive levels," the San Francisco lawsuit alleges.

Microsoft didn't return a call seeking comment last week, but the company previously dismissed the three other suits as "baseless [and] groundless."

Corporate technology managers said they aren't preparing to flock to court over Windows prices.

Bill Nicholson, information systems director at Catellus Development in San Francisco, said his real estate development company wouldn't join litigation against Microsoft over prices or other topics.

But he said Microsoft either overcharges or underdelivers: "My issue with Microsoft is that their products just don't meet the quality standards they are supposed to."

Users in the New York Windows NT/2000 Users Group aren't irked by Windows pricing, said Chairman Bill Zack, who is also a Windows NT consultant. On the server side, Windows competes with more costly versions of the Unix operating system, he said.

Whether or not Microsoft charges too much, the growing group of plaintiffs can't yet rely on Jackson's findings of fact as evidence, said Lisa Wood, an antitrust attorney at Nutter, McClennen & Fish. Only after the findings of fact are part of a final ruling that withstands appeals can they be used as evidence in the consumer lawsuits.

If Microsoft were to settle the antitrust case, Wood said, it could squelch Jackson's findings.

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