MS ANTITRUST - Evidence in Microsoft-Iowa case online

More than 3,000 pieces of evidence now available on a public Web site

More than 3,000 pieces of evidence in the antitrust lawsuit between Iowa consumers and Microsoft were posted to a public Web site late Thursday. Thousands more could be posted, pending a ruling from the presiding judge on objections raised by Microsoft.

The exhibits include original letters, memos and e-mails, many of them going back 10 or 20 years and quoting then-Microsoft employees, using intimidating language in letters to PC vendors and talking frankly about announcing products far before they are ready -- what the industry calls "vaporware" -- as a tactic to hurt competitors.

In one letter from 1989 (PDF format) to an executive at Taiwanese PC maker Acer, a Microsoft employee writes, "It only takes a couple of reports about non-compatibility to give the kiss of death to a PC: we've seen that on the hardware side as well as in the operating system area."

In another 1990 strategy memo (PDF format), then-Microsoft executive and Bill Gates' adviser Nathan Myhrvold advocates announcing a new Windows server operating system far in advance of its delivery date as a way of hurting competitor Sun Microsystems Inc.

"The purpose of announcing early like this is to freeze the market at the OEM and ISV level," Myhrvold wrote. "Preannouncement is going to give Sun a real problem."

Previous exhibits in the Comes v. Microsoft case have included a transcript of a 1996 speech in which a Microsoft employee calls independent software developers "pawns" and compares wooing them to a "one-night stand." In a 2004 e-mail to Gates and Steve Ballmer, Windows development chief James Allchin complained that Microsoft had "lost sight" of customers' needs, and that he would buy a Mac if he wasn't working for Microsoft.

All told, 3,186 documents were posted on Thursday. Few of them have yet to be presented to the jury in the Comes v. Microsoft case that began in December, according to Elizabeth Kniffen, a lawyer at Zelle Hofmann, one of the firms representing the plaintiffs.

The plaintiffs allege Microsoft's anticompetitive practices resulted in the company overcharging Iowan consumers. They are seeking as much as US$350 million in damages.

Microsoft has said that few of the documents -- or the information contained within -- are new. At the same time, it has so far been successful in temporarily blocking several thousand other exhibits from being posted publicly. And it was able to persuade the judge not to allow 55 exhibits from being posted on the Web for confidentiality reasons.

Kniffen said the posted documents are in no particular order nor grouped by topic. She said several thousand of them were originally intended for previous state antitrust cases against Microsoft in which Zelle Hofmann has been involved, but were never made public because the cases settled before the documents were admitted into evidence.

Not among those documents is evidence showing that Microsoft may have violated its 2002 antitrust settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice. The judge in the Iowa case ruled earlier this week that the plaintiffs' lawyers could send that information to the DOJ if requested, but cannot otherwise make that information public.

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