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MICROSOFT LAST week scored an embarrassing own goal in the anti- trust case brought against it by the US Department of Justice (DOJ) when it was forced to admit that its video evidence was not what it appeared to be. Throughout the week, a video had been used to demonstrate the software company's claims that removing browser elements from Windows 98, which the DOJ says can be done using a program written for it by the Princeton computer scientist Edward Felten, causes severe degradation of system performance.

The tape was introduced into evidence by James Allchin, a Microsoft executive, as a rebuttal of the DOJ's case, showing the difficulties that a machine running Felten's program had in connecting to the Windows 98 update site on the Web.

However, David Boies showed in cross-examination that the tape was not a real-time demonstration, as it purported to be, but was made of scenes that had been spliced together from a series of different computers with different system set-ups.

Microsoft eventually admitted that the video was an "illustration" rather than footage of a real test. Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson said this meant that the tape was no longer credible. In a conference with lawyers, he said that he did not believe Microsoft had set out to deceive him with the video, but that Boies had done "a very professional job of discrediting those tapes".

Microsoft was given leave to perform the tests again in the presence of government lawyers and computer experts. Allchin, however, did not perform all the tests from the original video, maintaining that they had to be done "under laboratory conditions".

He did demonstrate some bugs in the DOJ program and showed that despite the presence of the program, it was still possible to browse the Web using other functions built into Windows.


PRIVACY GROUPS and activists were not impressed with Intel's offer of a software patch to turn off the identification features of its Pentium III chip, due for release this month. After a meeting in Washington last week with Intel about the privacy implications of the technology - which is intended to ease e-commerce by making transactions, and a user's movements across the Net, easily traceable - the Electronic Privacy Information Center (Epic), JunkBusters and Privacy International said they would enlist the aid of consumer organisations to extend their call for a boycott of Intel products.

Marc Rotenberg, director of Epic, said that Intel's software proposal was not a tenable solution.

"The processor serial number identifier would be in the hardware," he said. "Once it is in the hardware it is hard to disable." He added that the groups had petitioned the US Federal Trade Commission about a potential recall of the chips Intel has already shipped to computer manufacturers.

The FTC said that it was unclear what it could do. "[We have] looked to self-regulation to create a greater sense of privacy, which would result in more consumer confidence online," explained Victoria Streitfeld, an FTC spokeswoman. "It's a novel issue that underscores the need for consumer privacy protections online."


LYCOS LAUNCHED a new service last week providing links to more than half a million songs in the controversial MP3 format that is popular with music fans, but which many record labels oppose on the grounds that it makes piracy too easy.

"We took a look at what words people were most often searching for online, and within the Lycos network, `MP3' was the second most often searched word, after `sex'," a Lycos spokesman said.

Although the search engine, which will be updated hourly to cut down on dead links, will not distinguish between legal and illegal recordings, Lycos said that it will work with the Recording Industry Association of America and do whatever it can to combat piracy.

Meanwhile, MP3 received another boost when the GoodNoise website won the National Music Publishers Association's first digital phonorecord delivery licence for delivering tracks in MP3. The licence covers mechanical rights, and paves the way for MP3 to be a legitimate, mainstream means of distribution. The day after gaining the licence, GoodNoise revealed that it had done a deal with the independent record label Rykodisc to offer its music for downloading at 99 cents per track.


COMPETITION AMONG free Internet service providers is likely to accelerate next month when Martin Dawes Communications introduces the subscription- free Breathe Net using Unified Call Management technology, which allows members to access e-mail by phone without a computer. The technology also allows voicemail, faxes and e-mails to be collected from Breathe Net's Web site.

The first aim of the company - which expects to make an initial loss - is to win more members than Freeserve, which currently has more than a million users.