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Threat to Microsoft grows

Microsoft could face a co-ordinated legal attack this week as the US Department of Justice (DOJ) and a coalition of 13 states are considering filing related antitrust lawsuits on the same day. The states are expected to seek an injunction suspending the release next month of Windows 98, but their action could be amended to include Microsoft's efforts to develop and market the Windows NT operating system and the Java programming language.

Microsoft's partners have responded in anticipation by warning the Clinton administration that legal action against the software company could have serious consequences. In one letter sent Friday to the DOJ, 26 hi-tech companies, including Sony, Compaq and Symantec, urged the DOJ not to take any action that would delay the release of Windows 98. "The direct effect on the US economy of a delay to Windows 98 would be considerable," the letter said. "More than 2 million Americans, for instance, develop software that runs on Windows, while a similar number work in the computer services industry. Interfering with the release of Windows 98 would drag down the entire industry's efforts to deliver value to customers and returns to shareholders."

Mark Murray, a Microsoft spokesman, said the company had asked some but not all of the letter writers for support. "A lot of our partners asked what could they do to help ensure that the government understood the consequences of trying to block or delay the release [of Windows 98], so we worked with those partners to look at ways to get the message out," he said.

Tune-up for RealAudio

The next generation of RealAudio technology, which is supported by more than 85 per cent of Web sites that use streaming media, was demonstrated at the RealNetworks Conference in San Francisco last week. Based on Synchronised Multimedia Integration Language, a proposed standard from the World Wide Web Consortium, RealSystem G2 uses new filtering techniques to offer superior sound and video - particularly for dial-up account users - to current multimedia streaming across the Net.

For a complete multimedia presentation, RealSystem can deliver scaleable text and graphics to appear alongside movies while a soundtrack is playing, with no loss of resolution. To support file formats that might be included in a presentation, but not supported by the free-standing player, the new player will automatically download necessary viewers. G2 will also support real-time streaming protocol, a separate proposed standard that aims to lessen congestion on the Internet. Release is due in the second half of this year.

Amazon extends reach

Following better-than-expected first-quarter results "Earth's biggest bookstore", the online bookstore, has taken its first steps into Europe with deals worth $55m to buy the UK online bookseller Bookpages, the German Internet bookshop Telebook and the Internet Movie Database.

The acquisitions are part of's attempt to expand its online offerings beyond bookselling. The Internet Movie Database, which started at Cardiff University, has a catalogue of 140,000 film reviews.'s aim is to use it as the basis for a video store along the lines of its book operation.

It seems that online music sales could be targeted, too.

Just say the Word

Lernout & Hauspie, the Belgium-based speech recognition software developer that Microsoft has invested in, last week launched its Voice Xpress products in the US. Voice Xpress and Voice Xpress Plus are the first software products to combine continuous speech recognition and an artificial intelligence technique called Natural Language Technology (NLT) to enable users to dictate, using natural speech, directly to a computer at a claimed 140 words per minute.