WASHINGTON - Consumer advocates, high-tech consultants and rivals of Microsoft Corp. railed against the giant computer software-maker Thursday as an out-of-control monopoly that should be reined in by the government.
"Imagine going into a shoe store and being told there is only one shoe you can try on," said Gary Reback, a California lawyer who has argued in cases against Microsoft.
"One size fits all. That's what we have in the desktop computer industry today," he said in a speech at the Ralph Nader-sponsored conference, "Appraising Microsoft and Its Global Strategy."
Microsoft officials and their allies gathering at the same Washington hotel said the Nader conference was a media event staged by competitors who have been unable to knock Bill Gates' empire from its place atop the industry.
Robert Herbold, Microsoft's executive vice president, said in a letter to Nader Thursday: "It is regrettable that you appear to have aligned yourself with a small band of Microsoft's detractors whose apparent goal is to enlist the government's assistance in their efforts to compete with Microsoft."
Herbold said Reback's boss, Larry Sonsini, is a director of Microsoft competitor Novell Inc., and owns 54,100 shares of Novell stock.
Executives for other Microsoft competitors also were on Nader's panels, including representatives from Netscape and Sun Microsystems.
Nader criticized Microsoft chief executive Bill Gates and his top executives for refusing repeated invitations to speak to the conference.
"It's like they think they are immune to public scrutiny," Nader told reporters at a news conference later Thursday. "What are they afraid of? What is Bill Gates afraid of?"
Microsoft's Herbold responded, "For us to participate in this kind of environment would be like walking into an ambush with sharpshooters on every hilltop."
At issue is Microsoft's alleged attempts to use its popular computer operating system, Windows, to corner the market on Internet access by including free versions of its Internet Explorer software.
The Justice Department filed suit last month, accusing Microsoft of violating a 1995 consent decree barring the company from anti-competitive practices. It seeks fines of $1 million a day and accuses Microsoft of threatening personal computer-makers with terminating their license for Windows if they alter Internet Explorer software.
"If monopolized markets abound in high tech, shouldn't the government step in?" asked W. Brian Arthur, an economics professor at the Sante Fe Institute also on the Nader slate.
"The wonderful, wild spirit of innovation in America needs to have free rein ... . But let us keep these horse races fair," he said.