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Be files antitrust suit against Microsoft

Operating system developer Be is the latest software company to file an antitrust suit against software giant Microsoft.

Be, alleged that, among other claims: "Microsoft harmed Be through a series of illegal exclusionary and anticompetitive acts designed to maintain its monopoly in the Intel-compatible PC operating system market".

Be argued that Microsoft "created exclusive dealing arrangements with PC OEMs prohibiting the sale of PCs with multiple pre-installed operating systems".

A US District Court ruled in June 2000 that Microsoft had illegally maintained a monopoly in the market for desktop operating systems, a ruling that was later upheld by a US Court of Appeals.

Be emerged as a maker of operating system software in 1997, pitching its product as an alternative to Microsoft Windows. The company tried to get its software shipped on Intel-based computers alongside Windows in a dual boot configuration. However, the company claims, its efforts were unsuccessful due to the anticompetitive nature of Microsoft's deals with its industry partners.

"Computer manufacturers have always been able to ship computers with multiple operating systems," countered Microsoft legal spokesman Jim Desler. "Computer makers have chosen Windows over competing operating systems because Windows is the best product."

Be later shifted its focus towards providing software for Internet appliances, a market that included Microsoft's Windows CE operating system. The company has since been mostly acquired by Palm, Microsoft's top competitor in the market for handheld computers.

Be's antitrust action follows a similar lawsuit filed in January by Internet browser maker Netscape, which is now owned by AOL Time Warner. Netscape argued in its lawsuit that the way Microsoft distributed Internet Explorer was harmful to Netscape's Navigator Web browser business.

Be is seeking a jury trial and is asking for compensatory and punitive damages. It is also asking that Microsoft "make full restitution for its violations".

Netscape may have a better case against Microsoft than Be, largely because its browser was at the centre of the DOJ's antitrust complaint against Microsoft, said Mark Schechter, a former official in the DOJ's antitrust division.

"Netscape was the specific subject of the DOJ case. Be wasn't," Schechter said.

While Be's case might not have much impact on the government cases, it offers a glimpse at the type of legal actions that may continue to dog Microsoft after the government case is over, according to Schechter.

"In some ways, no matter how the settlement turns out, private plaintiffs will have their own courses of action," he said.

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