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THE LANDMARK anti-trust case brought against Microsoft by the US Department of Justice (DOJ) and 20 states started in Washington last week. Prosecutors on Monday played and disputed Bill Gates' pre-trial video deposition, in which he denied any knowledge, at the time, of a meeting in June 1995 where Microsoft executives proposed to their counterparts at rivals Netscape that they should illegally divide the Internet browser market, with Netscape developing software only for non-Windows operating systems.

"I have never been in a meeting in my 33-year business career in which a competitor had so blatantly implied that we should either stop competing with it or the competitor would kill us," Jim Barksdale, Netscape chief executive officer, said in written testimony quoted by the Washington Post. The DOJ, quoting from memos and e-mails, argued that after Netscape turned down the proposal, Microsoft tried to collude with other industry firms to kill off Netscape. The DOJ said that Bill Gates even asked AOL, "How much do you need to screw Netscape?"

On Tuesday, Microsoft said that Netscape's version of the meeting was incorrect. Microsoft attorney John Warden also said that Netscape was already talking to the DOJ at the time of the meeting and saw an anti- trust lawsuit as an opportunity to protect the monopoly of the browser market it then enjoyed.

Barksdale was further cross-examined on Wednesday when e-mails were produced suggesting that in 1994 the then-CEO of Netscape, Jim Clark, had asked Microsoft to invest in Netscape in exchange for rights to the company's Internet browser. Netscape's lawyer argued that the request was made in a moment of weakness. Barksdale said it was not discussed at the June 1995 meeting.

On Thursday Barksdale was again put on the defensive as Warden used e- mails and a recently published book about Netscape to undermine Netscape's claim that it lost money because of Microsoft's policy of giving away its browser and incorporating it into the Windows operating system. The trial resumes today.

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A PRELIMINARY hearing is due to begin in Los Angeles today on a temporary restraining order banning the sale of Diamond Multimedia's Rio PMP300 digital music player - a device that plays MP3 music files downloaded from the Internet and stored on memory cards. The order was granted at the request of the Record Industry Association of America (RIAA) and the Alliance of Artists and Recording Companies (AARC), which said the Rio violates US copyright laws and the Home Recording Act by allowing music to be downloaded without paying any royalties.

The RIAA said it was acting to stamp out online music piracy and encourage systems to enable legitimate online digital sales. Diamond's chairman, Robert Schroeder, said the RIAA was looking out for its own interests. "They're worried about becoming obsolete," he said. "They position themselves as middlemen, but the Internet gets rid of middlemen."

NETSCAPE COMMUNICATIONS shipped version 4.5 of its Communicator suite of Internet tools last week. As well as fixing security bugs and enabling easier access for people who use different computers to log on to the Net, the new release has a refined version of its smart-browsing feature, which uses Netcenter and Excite databases to allow users to search for Web addresses. Micki Seibel, Communicator senior product manager, said that a new beta process for this incarnation of the suite, which is losing ground to Microsoft's Internet Explorer, resulted in Netscape implementing more than 4,000 customer suggestions, including bug fixes and performance enhancements. Communicator 4.5 can be downloaded (http:// home.netscape.com/computing/ download/index.html) for Windows 95, 98, NT 3.5.1 and 4.0, Macintosh, and Unix. Communicator no longer supports Windows 3.1.

IBM LAST week unveiled Home Page Reader, a Web browser add-on designed to give visually impaired computer users the same data that a sighted person can pick up from any site. An English version of the software, which is already available in Japanese, uses IBM speech technology in conjunction with Netscape Navigator to translate Web pages into spoken words. Screen readers are already available to translate text into speech, but IBM says this product can also handle tables, frames and graphics. It makes navigation simpler by having a male voice read ordinary text, and a female voice read hyperlinks. The software also provides spoken online help, bookmarking facilities and integrated e-mail. Home Page Reader for Windows is expected to ship in the US in January for $149. IBM Special Needs Systems group is at http://www.ibm.com/sns/.

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