By Dan Jones in Washington At the antitrust trial in Washington, Microsoft Corp attorney John Warden yesterday pursued a line of questioning about last year’s deal between America Online Inc, Netscape Communications Corp and Sun Microsystems Inc that drew little new insight from unruffled AOL witness Steve Colburn and, once again, irked Judge Jackson. Warden […]
By Dan Jones in Washington
At the antitrust trial in Washington, Microsoft Corp attorney John Warden yesterday pursued a line of questioning about last year’s deal between America Online Inc, Netscape Communications Corp and Sun Microsystems Inc that drew little new insight from unruffled AOL witness Steve Colburn and, once again, irked Judge Jackson. Warden attempted to tackle Colburn over issues such as how the deal will affect browser market share; how AOL had attempted to manage Microsoft’s perceptions of the deal; and if the emergence of new non-PC internet devices would naturally end Microsoft’s desktop monopoly. However, most of Warden’s cross- examination failed to hit its target as Colburn coolly sidestepped the traps the attorney set for him.
The apparent lack of relevance in the questioning also irritated the Judge who intervened when Colburn was presented with an undated draft document concerning synergy ideas about the merger between Netscape and AOL. You’ve got to have a witness that can give it some context, Jackson said after Colburn said that he had never seen the document, that’s just a free floating document that doesn’t prove anything, said the judge. Free floating documents proved to be the order of the day, with a sizeable proportion of the commercially sensitive documents about the AOL/Netscape/Sun deal being issued under seal.
The upshot of the deal between AOL and Netscape, Warden argued, was that AOL now has the power to shift browser market share, tipping the scales 70/30 in Netscape’s favor, where Microsoft and Netscape have roughly equal share today. Colburn agreed that this was the case, but pointed out AOL is still under contract to Microsoft to use its browser as the main AOL client. AOL, Colburn insisted, was not principally interested in the Netscape browser software but in its Netcenter portal – the second largest after AOL’s own. Nevertheless, Warden continued with his theoretical line of questioning, asking if AOL could integrate the Netscape browser with its client software and the firm could offer a one click change between browsers on its web site. He said that the Raptor/Gecko embedded browser that Netscape had worked on for AOL was now a viable alternative to Internet Explorer 5 for AOL’s client. Colburn agreed to all this but pointed, once again, to the Microsoft deal.
Warden then moved on to a very forward looking line of questioning, asking Colburn about the possibility of the PC and desktop operating system – the source of Microsoft’s monopoly – being replaced by a new breed of thin client internet enabled devices. AOL, Sun and Netscape are all actively involved in this drive towards new platforms – AOL is looking at bringing out a range of devices under the banner AOL Anywhere using Java technology from Sun and browser software from Netscape. Warden highlighted this emerging trend with a letter from Woody Mewborn at Sun, which talked about a technology dislocation coming with the move from client/server computing to client and services computing. Colburn admitted that he’d be guessing if he was to interpret what that meant. Would you agree that there’s another technology dislocation occurring? Warden asked. No, it’s more of an evolution, Colburn replied. He said that he didn’t think that the PC would be replaced as the device around which everything will center, rather that there would be many more devices to connect to that hub.
Warden spent the morning cross-examining Colburn on how AOL had tried to manage perceptions of the deal, asking Colburn whether he had made a study of the effects of swapping the Microsoft IE client in the AOL browser with Netscape software – would AOL lose its position on the Windows desktop? Colburn said that he hadn’t because AOL had already extensively examined the consequences of such an action and decided to stick with IE. We’d done the analysis and it made sense to stay with IE, he said.