This week Microsoft's lead counsel stressed that the company's antitrust woes were receding into ancient history, as he tried to bounce the EU into dropping its sanctions against the company. But like the Whack A Mole game, another antitrust suit has popped up today.
Novell has sued Redmond over anti-competitive behavior relating to the WordPerfect office suite, which Novell briefly owned for a couple of years in the mid 1990s. It promises to reopen one of the bitterest periods in Microsoft's history: for Redmond's determination to rip into Novell at the time made subsequent engagements with Sun Microsystems and Netscape look gentle by comparison.
Although Novell and Redmond reached a settlement after a year of talks on Netware, with Microsoft paying Novell half a billion dollars in reparations, the two were unable to reach an agreement about the office applications. Novell alleges that Microsoft withheld technical information about Windows, integrated specific technologies to exclude WordPerfect "from relevant markets", and put the squeeze on OEMs not to bundle the suite.
Microsoft's tactics have been exhaustively documented in both the FTC's and the DoJ's antitrust cases against Microsoft. The task usually fell to Reg favorite Joachin Kempin, Microsoft's unfailingly charming OEM enforcer.
"vERY CLEAR TO ME; nO CHICAGO, NO COOPERATION, no beta, no alpha code, total war", he wrote after he discovered that AST was going to launch a line of PCs bundled with OS/2. Chicago was Microsoft's internal code name for Windows 95. A colleague made haste with the instruction: " Pls add AST to the no-ship list for Chicago & Snowball materials," he added.
(Ironically, Kempin is the only Microsoft executive to have been brought to justice: although in Joachin's case, it was for the offense of illegally shooting antelopes in Montana.)
Novell had acquired DR DOS, widely believed to be a superior product to Microsoft's MS DOS, driving down the OEM fee. Caldera assumed the right to sue Microsoft and the two settled in January 2000, with Microsoft paying Caldera around $300m.
In a typical fit of paranoia, Gates had identified Novell as the main threat to his desktop business, and the tactics discussed were as nasty as anything that subsequently emerged in the DoJ's trial. At one point in 1994, a staff toady recommended psyops tactics to Gates. "At yesterday's Exec Staff meeting you asked what else could be done to attack Novell/WP. At the Exec Retreat in Feb, I suggested that we should lock up the LDS Church [Latter Day Saints] (and BYU) [Brigham Young University] as a 100 per cent MS account. While this may not be Novell's or WP's largest account, it is certainly an emotionally and psychologically important account. Were we to own this account, we would inflict an incredible amount of FUD on the new Novell/WP. The influence of the LDS church in the Utah economy and culture is difficult to appreciate from a distance."
Novell paid around $1bn for WordPerfect and Borland's Quattro Pro, but disposed of the assets at a knock down price three years later, with WordPerfect going for $170m.
It's sometimes alleged that WordPerfect lost its share because of poor software rather than anti-competitive tactics - as if the two are mutually exclusive. The WordPerfect Corporation dominated the DOS word processing market but had botched the 1991 introduction of a Windows version with a product that was widely regarded as shoddy. But by 1995, it had licked it into shape. In truth we'll never know whether WordPerfect and Quattro could have succeeded on their merits in the marketplace: because Microsoft never allowed Novell a clean fight. ®