Microsoft Denies Monopolizing Media Player Market

The nine states suing Microsoft for antitrust violations have accused the Redmond, Washington-based software maker of plotting to monopolize the media player market and edge out market leader RealNetworks. But a Microsoft executive who took the witness stand during the antitrust trial denied the claims.

Will Poole, a Microsoft vice president who oversees the company’s Windows New Media Platform division, told the court in written testimony that by including multimedia technology in Windows, Microsoft “has not impeded RealNetworks’ ability to create competing media players that run very well on Windows and to distribute and promote those media players broadly to users.”

The ‘IE Approach’

In an earlier phase of the proceedings, RealNetworks vice president David Richards claimed Microsoft purposely failed to hand over crucial technical data in an effort to guarantee that Microsoft’s Windows Media Player would outshine RealNetworks’ offering in the Windows arena.

Bolstering that contention, an attorney for the states produced an e-mail sent in 1999 by Microsoft executive Anthony Bay to chairman Bill Gates.

The e-mail said Microsoft should use its Internet Explorer approach “wherever appropriate” to reposition the streaming media battle from Netshow vs. Real to Windows vs. Real.

States’ attorney John Schmidtlein asked Poole if the company wanted “to integrate the media player deeper into Windows in the same way Microsoft integrated Internet Explorer into Windows.”

A trial court has already ruled that Microsoft attempted to monopolize the browser market. That ruling was upheld by a federal appeals court last year.

How Similar?

Although he admitted that the media player battle had similarities to the Netscape-IE browser wars, Poole also noted that “there are aspects of the battle that were very different.” He added that he is unsure whether Bay’s directive was ever adopted by Microsoft.

However, the states pointed to later e-mails in which Jim Allchin, another Microsoft executive, said “the whole company must pull together consistently” to win the battle against Real.

The nine states have rejected a proposed settlement between the software giant and the U.S. Department of Justice in the four-year-old antitrust suit, calling for stronger sanctions.

In particular, the non-settling states would like Microsoft to offer a modular version of Windows with add-on features that can be removed so users can select competing products, such as RealNetworks’ media player.

Modular Windows ‘Dangerous’?

Poole said creating a stripped-down version of Windows would be harmful.

“I am confident that it would not be good for developers of software and Web sites that rely on [media] functionality in Windows or for consumers generally because the performance of their programs would be degraded,” he testified.

In refuting that statement, states’ attorney Kevin Hodges leaned heavily on Microsoft witness Stuart Madnick, a professor at MIT, who said it “is possible” to separate portions of Internet Explorer from Windows.

However, Madnick added in his testimony, it is not a wise move to prevent Microsoft from “interfering with” software from competitors.

“To make that a legal requirement seems really dangerous,” said Madnick, who noted that because there are potentially “so many interdependencies, to be able to be sure you understand all the consequences of any change you might make, it turns out to be almost unrealistic.”

Microsoft has argued all along that Windows is a comprehensive set of features that work in tandem and that to remove any of the operating system’s features is to compromise the entire system’s integrity.

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