Microsoft: Unisys executive questioned

Microsoft presented its 10th witness yesterday - Richard Ulmer a vice-president of Unisys - who was immediately questioned by the...

Microsoft presented its 10th witness yesterday - Richard Ulmer a vice-president of Unisys - who was immediately questioned by the states' attorney over his company's marketing agreements, which include assisting in public relations activities.

Unisys is producing an Intel-based enterprise-class server, the ES7000. Microsoft is interested in using the server to boost business in the large server enterprise area.

Ulmer gave evidence about the harm that some of the remedies sought by the nine nonsettling states would have on Microsoft.

In particular, he warned in his written testimony that requiring the disclosure of application programming interfaces (API) would increase Microsoft's development costs and threaten the stability of the server operating system - affecting both Unisys and Microsoft. The process of exposing an API increases complexity for the user and reduces system performance and scalability, he said.

In court, Ulmer acknowledged that Unisys had a preferred partner agreement with Microsoft and had a commitment to endorse the company.

Earlier yesterday, Microsoft sent the vice-president of its Windows division to reinforce and add detail to the testimony of its chairman, Bill Gates, who finished three days of testimony yesterday.

But while the testimony of Christopher Jones, vice-president of the Windows client team, might have helped Microsoft underscore the points raised by Gates, it also gave the nonsettling states new opportunities to punch holes in it.

"One danger is that other witnesses contradict his testimony or don't corroborate it," said Dana Hayter, a former US Department of Justice antitrust attorney now at the law firm Howard Rice in San Francisco.

The states' attorney, Kevin Hodge, attempted show through his questioning that Microsoft had the flexibility to change the "look and feel" of the Windows desktop for business reasons and not for technical reasons. Microsoft has asserted that it is important to maintain a consistent Windows desktop, and it warned that the states' remedies would create end-user confusion.

Windows XP, for instance, is shipped to PC makers icon-free, which was the result of extensive usability testing with consumers that included videotaping them using their PCs, Jones said. He added that Microsoft found from this testing that consumers would "spend all this time wandering around" the desktop looking for icons. The change made it easier for end users to operate the PC, he said.

But under its agreement with PC makers, if PCs are shipped with icons on the desktop, Microsoft icons have to be added.

If there are any icons, asked Hodges, "you want more icons?"

Jones defended that agreement and said it gives end users access to new capabilities of Windows. But Jones also acknowledged that desktop space is valuable real estate.

An XP feature probed by Jones was the desktop wizard cleanup function that automatically queries end users 14 days after the PC is first booted about whether they want to remove little-used icons from the desktop.

Hodges charged, through his question, that this feature "makes it more difficult" for PC users to use applications that compete with Windows.

Jones disagreed, and said two weeks is enough time and the wizard was a clear enough service to allow end users to decide whether to remove the icon or not.

One state remedy would require Microsoft to make Internet Explorer open source, as well an application that could be stripped from the system. But Jones insisted that the browser could not be separated out because there is no distinction between the browser and Windows operating system.

"Web browsing functionality is operating system functionality," said Jones.

Gates said the remedies sought by the nine states that have refused to back the Bush administration settlement would create a wide range of problems for his company that would lead to pulling Windows from the market, loss of its intellectual property and taking away the company's incentive to innovate.

Read more on Operating systems software