Novell CTO says Microsoft harmed rival systems

Carl Ledbetter, chief technology officer at Novell Inc., accused Microsoft Corp. Wednesday of degrading the performance of rival server operating systems and withholding key technical information that his company needs for its servers to achieve full interoperability in corporate enterprises.

Ledbetter testified this morning in the Microsoft antitrust trial on behalf of the states opposing the Bush administration's settlement in favor of tougher remedies against Microsoft. He said the proposed settlement would do little to alter the software giant's behavior "and in some ways would leave the industry in a worse position."

Novell can't provide integrated solutions because Microsoft doesn't disclose enough information about its proprietary interfaces "sufficient to permit Novell to develop products that fully, and seamlessly, interoperate with Microsoft's ubiquitous PC operating system," said Ledbetter, in his written testimony.

"I know of several [application programming interfaces] and interfaces that Microsoft has not disclosed, and that are sorely needed to improve the interoperability of Novell's NetWare with Microsoft's Windows operating system," said Ledbetter in his written testimony. Novell's major product is NetWare, a server operating system.

In his cross examination, Microsoft attorney Michael Lacovara argued through his questions that Ledbetter and the states have created a definition of middleware that goes beyond the scope of the rulings made in the antitrust case to include network or server operating systems.

Lacovara appeared to be arguing that the middleware definition was being broadened to specifically help Novell. To support that argument, he introduced an e-mail from a state official in Utah, Novell's home state, to a company attorney sent during the settlement discussions with Judge Richard Posner in April 2000. The state official asked Novell for the products it makes that would be included in its proposed definition of middleware. "I can say that products that fit in this classification of middleware would receive protection from certain practices of a certain operating system company," the state official wrote.

Utah is one of the nine states seeking tougher remedies. The other nonsettling parties are California, Connecticut, Florida, Iowa, Kansas, Massachusetts, Minnesota, West Virginia and the District of Columbia.

Ledbetter maintains that developers can write applications directly to server operating systems, as well as to browsers for instance, spurring competition in the desktop market.

In regard to his allegation that Microsoft took steps to degrade the performance of rival operating systems, Ledbetter in particular cited proprietary code by Microsoft known as the Multiple Universal Naming Convention Provider, or MUP, which facilitates communications between a client and servers on the network. MUP code released in 1996 caused networks to operate "catastrophically slow" in responding to requests, and it took 26 months for the problem to be resolved to Novell's satisfaction, he said.

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