IE uninstall – the MS two browser trick explained

The trial transcript seems to point to another demo fiddle


MS on Trial The transcript of computer scientist Edward Felten's cross-examination by Steve 'Jack-in-the-Box' Holley exposes the trick that Microsoft played to get Felten's prototype IE removal program to fail. It turns out that Felten's program would not work if there were two browsers, so Microsoft chose to introduce a laptop with two browsers for a demonstration in court. Before Jack started his cross-examination, Steve Holtzman for the DoJ invited Felten to summarise the potential effects of removing Internet Explorer from Windows 98, using the prototype removal program as an example. Felten replied: "The prototype removal program is a proof of concept that demonstrates four things. First of all, Microsoft can deliver the Internet Explorer web browser separately from Windows 98 and give the user a choice of which browser they want to use or to use no browser at all. Second, Microsoft can do that in such a way that it does not change any of the non-web-browsing functions of Windows 98. Third, doing that would make Windows 98 run faster. And fourth, doing that would save a significant amount of memory on the computers of users who don't want to use Internet Explorer." Holtzman asked what was the difference to consumers between removing code on the one hand and removing a browser on the other. Jack-in-the-Box Holley popped up with an objection: "I wasn't aware that Professor Felten is an expert in the perception of consumers." It was a bad move, since Judge Jackson wanted to know: "Speaking as one consumer, I think we will let him express his opinion." Did this mean that Judge Jackson was struggling with Windows 98, trying to figure out for himself how to stop IE appearing all the time, even if Netscape is made the default browser? Felten told him: "To me, removing code is not such a big issue. From my standpoint, what I care about is whether I have a choice of which browser I'm going to use, and whether I have to pay the costs in performance and in memory of taking a browser that I don't necessarily want to have." When Jack started his cross-examination, it was as though he had not listened to a word that Felten had said. Felten was not phased by his intimidation, or the repetition of attempts to debunk his removal program, or his deliberate mischaracterisation of it. It became clear that Jack was working towards some revelation about the program, but Felten sensed this and phrased his responses carefully. Felten said that his program attempted to counteract Microsoft's attempts to force the system to use IE instead of the default browser. The two browser trick Holley then produced a Toshiba laptop that Microsoft had kept in its custody since 7 June when it had, in the presence of Felten's assistants and DoJ reps, been taken out of the box and used to create a shortcut to Earthlink. But had Microsoft interfered with the laptop? The machine had been put back in the box and the box sealed, Jack explained, until just before he was on stage. Felten by this time had grave suspicions, and pointed out that his program was not designed to be run in such circumstances. Since Microsoft had had his program for sometime, there was no doubt that there were going to be problems. Jack kept popping up with the same question: would it be possible to browse the Internet after Felten's program had been run? Felten said that it would be possible to browse, because "The removal program was never meant to be run in this situation ... you can browse the Web after removing the IE web browser because the NCompass browser is on this system. There is another web browser there. And the removal program only removes the Internet Explorer web browser." Felten managed to take most of the spring out of Jack's box, but Jack wanted to press on with his act, albeit with a weak spring. Judge Jackson had caught the drift: "Wait a minute. He says there is another browser on this machine." Jack was crestfallen, and started to squirm: "There is another user interface ..." but Felten interrupted him: "Actually, your honour, there is more than one other browser in this system." But in the absence of any objection from Holtzman, Jack was allowed to continue. The first admission by Microsoft that there was something different about the supposedly identical machine that Felten had been given by Microsoft was when Jack admitted that plug-'n-pray had helped itself to a monitor driver, for the courtroom display. Felten ran his removal program, and it was found that the IE icon on the desktop and quick-launch bar had disappeared, as expected. Holtzman then objected to the demonstration on the grounds that the test (which was of a proof of concept, not a production version) was not being performed under fair conditions, since the OEM had put a second browser on the laptop, and any results would be irrelevant. Judge Jackson said that it was entirely up to Felten as to whether the demonstration should proceed. Felten said he couldn't be sure if the test would prove anything, or of the outcome with the program being run on a machine with two browsers. Jack was disingenuous: "Your honour, the only other browser on this machine is the NCompass browser, which the Department of Justice says is Internet Explorer. That's their position in this litigation. The NCompass browser is nothing but a custom user interface that sits on top of the Internet Explorer components of Windows. So, it is not like there is some Netscape browser on this machine or any other browser." Hey, IE's come back! The judge replied: "Mr Holley, as much as I respect your tactical knowledge, you cannot provide the authentication for this", but he allowed the demonstration to proceed. Jack sprang out of his box and asked Felten to press CTRL+N. The result was of course the Windows update window appeared, from the other browser. Jack's demo just showed that Felten's program was not designed to deal with two browsers, and Microsoft was indulging in its usual nefarious practices. After some ineffective huffing and puffing, Judge Jackson called "time" and said: "I think you've both made your points, and any further experimentation isn't going to change the mind of either one of you." Jack tried again to score the same points, until the judge said "Once again, I think both of you have made your points, and you're in a state of semantic non-reconciliation, and you're never going to reach - " at which point Jack rudely interrupted, so judge Jackson announced: "I'm going to take a five-minute recess now, or ten-minute recess." The fat attorney sings When they resumed, Jack wanted to enter into evidence the source code of just one of Felten's programs. To the judge's surprise, Holtzman did not object, despite the exhibit, and an earlier one, being incomplete. Some further sparring between Jack and Felten allowed Felten to draw attention to "the distinction between Microsoft making things available and Microsoft forcing people to install them. Microsoft making things available is helpful in most cases, but Microsoft forcing people to install a web-browser product, I don't think, is helpful." Just before Holtzman began his brief redirect examination, Judge Jackson remarked: "Mr. Holley, have you ever sung the role of Figaro? The way you handled those lines of code is absolutely awe-inspiring." This curious remark suggests that the judge was being superficially kind to Jack and wished the record to reflect that he was not antagonistic. This is not an unusual move when the judge has formed a very negative impression. Felten lost a chance for revenge when he had no useful response to Holtzman's question as to why Microsoft would have chosen a PC with two browsers. But an excellent chance came when he was asked about Windows 98 bugs. It turned out that the source code marked known bugs with the annotation "BUG BUG BUG", and - get this - there were more than 3,000 known bugs in one seventh of the code. Being a scientist, Felten was reluctant to make the assumption that there were probably therefore 21,000 known bugs, plus many thousands yet to be flagged - perhaps 25,000 in all. So far as the desire not to have browsing built in, the CEO of Intuit had testified that Intuit preferred Windows 98 not to have a browser. Allchin had been asked whether it was an option not to have or to get rid of IE, and replied: "They don't have to use it. So, I mean, the rest of the system is, depending on its functions, so it's not like we could remove it. I mean, we can't remove those DLL's. It will not work. We can't remove the - well, obviously, it's software, so we can change anything." Felten agreed that Microsoft could change Windows 98 so it had no Web browser incorporated. Holtzman brought up the subject of Shane Brooks' 98Lite again and quoted Smart Reseller magazine: "This isn't just a parlour trick. For several weeks, Smart Reseller has evaluated 98Lite and found it, for all practical purposes, to be a fully functional Windows 98 operating system. In particular, such ordinary Windows applications as Microsoft Office 95 and 97, Netscape 4.0 and 4.5, Pegasus Mail 2.5 and Lotus Notes 4.0, all worked perfectly. When it comes to productivity, Windows 98 without Internet Explorer 4.0 works ...." Felten said he had no reason to contradict that finding. Jack had one final go at Felten, but Felten remained at the crease and was not out when stumps were drawn. Jack wanted a return match, to be videotaped, but Holtzman had observed that Jack had had the opportunity to do this, and "for his own reasons, chose not to do that." Umpire Judge Jackson pulled the stumps and said: "Motion is denied." David Boies then said that the DoJ would have some additional evidence to produce, and the judge replied: "That's why I'm not asking you to rest [the defence] at this point." The DoJ did not introduce more evidence when play next resumed, but will presumably be asking that Microsoft's cross-examination on the matter be struck because of the trickery. After all, only a gentleman could be castigated for ungentlemanly behaviour. ® Complete Register trial coverage


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