One of the more elderly antitrust rows that Microsoft has had to deal with has kicked off this week.
The creator of WordPerfect, Novell, has finally got its day in court claiming that changes to Windows made its product dead in the water. Novell wants a billion dollars to go away.
The case has the Software King of the World, Sir William Gates III, taking the stand to explain why last minute changes to Windows 95 resulted in WordPerfect becoming a footnote in history while Vole’s own Office ruled supreme.
According to Associated Press, Gates told the court that the launch of Windows 95 was the most challenging and trying project Vole had ever done.
Novell sued Microsoft in 2004, claiming Redmond violated antitrust laws through its arrangements with other software makers when it launched Windows 95. It said that it had to flog WordPerfect for a $1.2 billion loss because of the Volish antics.
Gates said the problem was that Novell just couldn’t deliver a Windows 95 compatible WordPerfect program in time for its rollout. He was left with a choice – to either wait for Novell to pull its finger out and run the risk of Windows 95 not being around until 1996, or to go ahead with the release.
Anyway, the death of WordPerfect was not just because it could not run on Windows 95 in time. Gates pointed out that Word was better and ranked as number one in the market above WordPerfect.
There was a way around the problem which would have allowed WordPerfect to run on Windows 95 but Vole had to dump it because it would crash the operating system.
Novell insists that Gates ordered Microsoft engineers to reject WordPerfect as a Windows 95 word processing application because he feared it was too good and would kill off Word.
WordPerfect once had nearly half the market for computer writing programs, but its share quickly plummeted to less than 10 percent as Office took control. .
Novell attorney Jeff Johnson admitted that Microsoft had no legal obligation to provide advance access to the Windows 95 operating system so Novell could prepare a compatible WordPerfect version.
But he said that Vole enticed Novell to work on a version, only to withdraw support months before Windows 95 hit the market.
Microsoft lawyer David Tulchin told the court that Novell’s missed opportunity was its own fault, and that Microsoft had no obligation to give a competitor a leg up.
He pointed out that it was strange that Novell never complained to Microsoft at the time. It was only later that it moaned.
It looks like District Judge Frederick Motz is going to side with the Vole on this one. He asked Novell to explain why Microsoft would have to give a product to a competitor so it can be beaten.