WASHINGTON -- Microsoft Corp. used newly disclosed evidence Thursday to raise questions at its antitrust trial about how a rival executive described under oath the dwindling health of his company because of its battle with Microsoft.
James Barksdale, the chief executive officer of Netscape Communications Corp., testified in federal court in October that Microsoft had crippled his ability to distribute Internet software.
Weeks later, in a far healthier assessment, Netscape told its investment bankers its software was included on more than one-fifth the machines sold by the nation's computer makers and given away by almost one-fourth of the 20 largest Internet providers.
Netscape also told the bankers overseeing Netscape's $10 billion sale to America Online Inc., that computer makers were distributing its software for "no compensation," and that consumers were downloading roughly 160 million copies of the Web browser annually, according to documents made public Thursday.
That considerably more upbeat assessment of Netscape contrasts with Barksdale's testimony. The first trial witness in October, Barksdale was portrayed as the most recognizable victim of Microsoft's alleged aggression toward its software rivals.
Government lawyers contend that Microsoft wielded its influence among computer makers to discourage them from distributing Netscape's browser and, in some cases, paid Internet providers to give its own software to their subscribers rather than Netscape's.
Supporting those claims, Barskdale told the judge that computer makers and Internet providers represented more than half the total distribution for Web software in the industry, "and we're basically out of that."
But Microsoft charged Thursday that Netscape told its investment bankers more than twice as many new computers included its software than Barksdale had represented to the judge.
"I think I have seen numbers around -- this is a new PC shipped worldwide -- I believe it's around 10 percent," Barksdale testified in October.
But documents Microsoft cited in court Thursday, dated just weeks after Barksdale testified, showed Netscape telling its bankers, "Estimate client on 22 percent of ... (computer) shipments with minimal promotion."
Franklin Fisher, an economist testifying this week for the government, said Thursday he believed the numbers Netscape gave to its bankers might have been exaggerated.
Microsoft continued its courtroom efforts this week to show U.S. District Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson that AOL's purchase of Netscape illustrates competition in the high-tech industry is robust and federal intervention is not needed.
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