Web of legality over software threatens Microsoft's march

Microsoft, the world's dominant software manufacturer, has vowed to fight a possible federal antitrust suit that would wreck the introduction of Windows 25, its new operating system.

The US Justice Department has been investigating a potentially illegal component in the new software that could allow Microsoft's virtual monopoly in one business to monopolise another.

With only three weeks before introduction of the new software, a federal investigation has been extended to include Microsoft's plans to include a Web Browser in the product - a feature that would allow users to access the World Wide Web, one of the fastest growing areas of the Internet.

Microsoft announced 10 days ago that it would include the feature in addition to offering its own Microsoft Information service, or MSN. Competitors in the fast-growing business have charged that Microsoft's plans would give unfair advantage to the company, which already has an effective monopoly on computer operating systems.

On-line services such as America Online, Compuserve and Prodigy have appealed to consumer groups, congressional leaders and directly to the Justice Department to block the "bundling" of the new communication software in with Windows 95, arguing that the system is the wedge that would allow Microsoft to monopolise a business growing at a rate of 14,000 new subscribers a day.

"The government believes that Microsoft's forced inclusion of the MSN access software might, under certain facts, violate antitrust laws," Assistant US Attorney, Anne K Bingaman, said in a filing to a federal judge in New York.

With about 8.6 million customers, on-line services currently pay computer manufact- urers to include their software in new computers or give it away in promotions. Included into Windows 95, Microsoft's communication service expect 20 per cent - nine million - subscribers in the first year.

"When it comes to the on-line business, we are not going to stand by while Microsoft engages in practices that jeopardise what is now an open, competitive and growing industry," said CompuServe president Bob Massey.

The intense interest surrounding the new software underscores just how important the $81bn personal computer industry has become to commerce and culture in the US. Many Wall Street analysts have identified the surge in stock prices this year with anticipated sales in technology, particularly computers and software.

Microsoft's current software, Windows 3.1, already dominates the software market and runs on more than 100 million computers worldwide - about 80 per cent market share. Windows 95 is the first major revision to the program since 1990 and is expected to ship 30 million units in its first four months of release, and 100 million by 1998.

The new system, held up by technical glitches since last December, promises to be better and faster than its predecessor but will also require faster machines to run it. With an extra eight million lines of command in the program, fewer than 40 per cent of computers have enough capacity to run it without expensive upgrading.

The Justice Department has dropped a demand for more documents from Microsoft and must make a decision on the information it has. If federal investigators file suit, it will upset a huge manufacturing, marketing and sales operation that has been building for months.

Production has been revved up to seven times its normal capacity and the company has a fleet of 500 trucks to ensure the product - $100 a piece - will be available at 20,000 outlets on 24 August. According to Bill Gates, Microsoft's chairman, a $150m advertising campaign has won advance orders "beyond what we've had for any other product by a factor of two."

The prospect of Windows 95 has created intense fear in competitors. It is predicted that IBM will cease production of its OS/2 operating system in January, leaving only Apple Macintosh as the viable alternative.

With such little time remaining, it seems unlikely that the Justice Department will bring the case to court. Even lawyers for the on-line services concede the difficulty of assembling an antitrust case as the technology is new and the Microsoft Network does not yet have a single paying customer.

Microsoft, meanwhile, is confident that Windows 95 will indeed reach the stores. "We remain curious about what the Government case may be," said Greg Shaw, a spokesman for the Seattle-based company. "Our plans for Microsoft Network are entirely pro-competitive."

News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Sport
Danny Welbeck's Manchester United future is in doubt
footballGunners confirm signing from Manchester United
Sport
footballStriker has moved on loan for the remainder of the season
Sport
footballFeaturing Bart Simpson
PROMOTED VIDEO
New Articles
Olivia Colman topped the list of the 30 most influential females in broadcasting
tv
News
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
News
The five geckos were launched into space to find out about the effects of weightlessness on the creatures’ sex lives
i100
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Sport
Andy Murray celebrates a shot while playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
TennisWin sets up blockbuster US Open quarter-final against Djokovic
Arts and Entertainment
Hare’s a riddle: Kit Williams with the treasure linked to Masquerade
booksRiddling trilogy could net you $3m
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
news Video - hailed as 'most original' since Benedict Cumberbatch's
News
i100
Life and Style
The longer David Sedaris had his Fitbit, the further afield his walks took him through the West Sussex countryside
lifeDavid Sedaris: What I learnt from my fitness tracker about the world
Arts and Entertainment
Word master: Self holds up a copy of his novel ‘Umbrella’
booksUnlike 'talented mediocrity' George Orwell, you must approach this writer dictionary in hand
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

SQL Implementation Consultant (VB,C#, SQL, Java, Eclipse, integ

£40000 - £50000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: SQL Impl...

Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, Fidessa, Equities)

£85000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, ...

Technical Software Consultant (Excel, VBA, SQL, JAVA, Oracle)

£40000 - £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: You will not be expected to hav...

SQL DBA/Developer

£500 per day: Harrington Starr: SQL DBA/Developer SQL, C#, VBA, Data Warehousi...

Day In a Page

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering