WASHINGTON -- Trying to undermine government portrayal of the nation's computer makers as victims of an overzealous Microsoft, a senior Compaq executive is crediting the software giant with making computers easier to use, more reliable and less expensive.
John T. Rose, the next witness in the Microsoft antitrust trial, also disputes the government's characterization of several disagreements with Microsoft Corp., including one that threatened the future of Compaq Computer Corp., the world's largest maker of personal computers.
"Compaq has not agreed with every position asserted by Microsoft, nor has Microsoft always agreed with our views," Rose said.
In 17 pages of written testimony made public today, Rose acknowledged that Compaq was wrong in 1996 when it removed from some computers easy access to Microsoft's Internet software included within its Windows operating system.
Microsoft objected and threatened to stop allowing Compaq to include Windows on its computers, which would have been catastrophic for Compaq's business. The government has used the episode at trial to illustrate what it considers to be Microsoft's heavy-handed tactics toward the nation's computer makers.
But Rose explained that Compaq removed the graphical icon for Microsoft's Internet browser software under a 1995 agreement with America Online Inc. stipulating that AOL's Internet icons would be the only ones easily accessible to consumers.
Rose, who was senior vice president and responsible then for all Compaq's desktop computers, told the judge he wasn't aware of the company's obligation to America Online until after Microsoft complained. Microsoft was correct to object, he said.
"The removal of the Microsoft icons was contrary to an understanding I had reached with Microsoft in August 1995," Rose said.
Rose also disputed government efforts to portray Microsoft as illegally restrictive toward ways that computer makers can modify Windows, such as offering a customized interface to allow consumers to run their software.
He said Compaq quit offering its own such program, called Tabworks, "because it generated significant support costs and because we were satisfied that Windows 95 ... was more user-friendly."
Microsoft doesn't prevent Compaq from selling machines with Internet software from rival Netscape Communications Corp., Rose said.
He acknowledged that Compaq since 1993 hasn't regularly sold computers using any operating system other than Windows, but he said that was a choice dictated by consumers.
"If there were insufficient customer demand for a different operating system for personal computers, Compaq would consider licensing that operating system," Rose said.
The price that Compaq pays for Windows is less than 5 percent of the cost of a $1,500 computer, Rose said, adding that his company pushes Microsoft "to provide Windows to Compaq at the lowest possible price."
To speed the trial, the judge has asked witnesses from both sides to submit their testimony in advance. The government is expected to begin questioning Rose on Wednesday.