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Novell CTO claims MS harmed rivals

Carl Ledbetter, chief technology officer at Novell, accused Microsoft yesterday of degrading the performance of rival server operating systems and withholding key technical information that his company needed for its servers to achieve full interoperability in corporate enterprises.

Ledbetter was giving evidence in the Microsoft antitrust trial on behalf of the nine US states opposing the government's settlement and pushing for tougher remedies against Microsoft.

He said the proposed settlement would do little to alter Microsoft's behaviour "and in some wayswould leave the industry in a worse position".

According to a written testimony from Ledbetter, Novell is unable to offer integrated solutions because Microsoft discloses too little information about its proprietary interfaces "sufficient to permit Novell to develop products that fully, and seamlessly, interoperate with Microsoft's ubiquitous PC operating system".

He added: "I know of several [application programming interfaces] and interfaces that Microsoft has not disclosed, and that are sorely needed to improve the interoperability of Novell's NetWare with Microsoft's Windows operating system." said Ledbetter in his written testimony.

NetWare, a server operating system, is Novell's top product.

Microsoft countered in court with e-mails suggesting that Novell was using the antitrust case to further its own strategy.

In his cross-examination, Microsoft attorney Michael Lacovara argued that Ledbetter and the US states have created a definition of middleware that goes beyond the scope of the rulings made in the antitrust case to include network or server operating systems.

To support his argument, Lacovara introduced an e-mail from a state official in Utah, Novell's home state, to a company attorney sent during the Microsoft settlement discussions with Judge Richard Posner in April 2000.

The state official asked Novell for the products it mades that would be included in its proposed definition of middleware.

"I can say that products that fit in this classification of middleware would receive protection from certain practices of a certain operating system company," the state official wrote.

Utah is one of the nine states seeking tougher remedies. The other nonsettling parties are California, Connecticut, Florida, Iowa, Kansas, Massachusetts, Minnesota, West Virginia and the District of Columbia.

Lacovara also introduced an e-mail exchange between Ledbetter and Carl Messman, the president and CEO of Novell. The e-mail was sent on 7 December, 2001, the same day the non-settling states released their own set of remedies.

Messman had e-mailed Ledbetter, citing a presentation by a Gartner analyst, stating: "We need to infiltrate the Microsoft strategy. After we get in, we can then proliferate. Could directory or some other product be our Trojan horse?"

Novell makes a directory product that competes with Microsoft's Active Directory.

Ledbetter replied that getting Microsoft "to adopt eDirectory is clearly the best way to do this".

He added: "If what we are doing in the states' antitrust case creates a crack in MS's resistance we may have a way to renew the offer. In any event, Active Directory has been a disappointment to MS - they just aren't getting the uptake they wanted. We may be able to infiltrate by helping MS customers by being a replacement for AD [Active Directory]."

The e-mail was used to underscore Lacovara's point that Novell's business strategy was dependent on the states' proposed remedy to include servers as middleware. He called it "essential" to Novell's strategy.

Ledbetter disagreed.

"We're not going to punt here - we will certainly find some niches - but it would be a lot easier if Microsoft's hegemony on the desktop opened up a bit."

Ledbetter continues his testimony in court today.

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