By William Fellows Microsoft Corp could easily give Windows 98 consumers greater ability to choose which browser they use to surf the web, according to the testimony of US Government expert witness professor Edward Felten, a Princeton University computer science professor. Microsoft does not currently offer a mechanism to remove Internet Explorer web browsing from […]
By William Fellows
Microsoft Corp could easily give Windows 98 consumers greater ability to choose which browser they use to surf the web, according to the testimony of US Government expert witness professor Edward Felten, a Princeton University computer science professor. Microsoft does not currently offer a mechanism to remove Internet Explorer web browsing from Windows 98, it argues that IE is now integral to the system. But during the course of a very lively day in court, Felten demonstrated how, by using a 600-line prototype removal program he wrote with a couple of assistants, he was able to create a version of Windows 98 – it could be characterized as ‘Windows DoJ’ – without the Internet Explorer browser. The prototype removal program does not affect Windows 98 from booting, its stability or the function of third party applications, he claimed. Microsoft SVP Jim Allchin who had seen the program before his September 29 testimony certainly made no mention of any problems the program raised when he appeared in court. Moreover, a user or OEM can combine it with a choice of web browser, such as Netscape Navigator, and have Netscape used as the default in all of the two dozen or so instances when Windows 98 calls a browser. The one place this does not work is for use in updating Windows 98 itself. Microsoft refuses access on its Windows Update service to non-Microsoft browsers. Microsoft lead attorney, William Neukom explained that Netscape is unable to access the Windows Update site because it does not support ActiveX controls, used by the site’s update function, even though Neukom claimed that ActiveX has been turned over to an industry standards body. He was referring to The Open Group, from which little or nothing’s been heard since 1996. Moreover even when the prototype program removes the browser function, Windows 98 could still access the Windows Update site to download new features. However, compatibility was broken on December 4 when Microsoft posted the beta release of IE 5 to the Windows Update page. Because Felten has, in the words of Microsoft spokesperson Mark Murray, monkeyed around with the code – and removed some IE features – it is not possible to utilize the Windows Update service for IE and an error message results. Microsoft could easily change it, Felten said. Microsoft, he said, received the code to his program over the Labor Day holiday weekend. Government lead attorney David Boies called Felten’s evidence: devastating, and said it clearly showed that there’s no technical justification for what Microsoft has done, which is to prevent consumer choice. The law says companies with market power can’t tie two products together. It’s illegal. The government used Felten to demonstrate how, contrary to what Microsoft says, IE is not an integral part of Windows 98 and that is therefore in violation of part 2 of the Sherman antitrust act and the 1995 Consent Decree in which it agreed not to artificially tie products together. Felten had, in an earlier video demonstration, shown how IE 3 and 4 can be removed from Windows 95 using the uninstall tools which are provided as part of the Windows system, but that it is not possible to disengage IE from Windows 98 despite the similarity of the web browsing experience OEM System Release 2.5 (Windows 95). Felten cited the testimony of the government’s previous expert witness Professor David Farber who had explained that IE keeps popping up in your face because of hard coding IE in Windows 98.
Keys, not the car
While Microsoft appeared to take a beating in court yesterday, senior corporate attorney David Heiner, leading for the Microsoft bench for the first time in this trial, argued that far from removing IE from Windows 98, all Felten had done was to hide IE from the user. He removed the keys but not the car, insisted Microsoft’s Mark Murray. What Felten could not do was to point directly to which out of Windows 98’s 14 million or so lines of code is directly responsible for web browsing. That’s because, Microsoft argues, concepts developed for web browsing had now been integrated into the operating system. Moreover Felten, Microsoft said, was unable to show how IE and Windows 98 are different or where they are different. Microsoft also claims that Felten’s program makes the Windows 98 HTML rendering engine work 200% to 300% slower, though Judge Jackson will have to wait until Microsoft calls its own witnesses to better gauge the validity of the claims. What Felten’s program does is to remove the desktop IE icon, the iexplore.exe program file, modifies some shared libraries and changes the Windows registry. It removes just 90Kb of Windows 98’s 143Mb code base but makes no changes to the source code itself. Felten is the only government expert witness to have been granted access to Windows 98 source. Felten agreed the program does not remove some files which are also key to web browsing in Windows 98, but said those same files are also used for additional tasks. He said the program was not to designed demonstrate how files could be changed: Microsoft can give users the choice of web browsing. Whether code is hidden or removed is not important, he argued. Boies said that if Felten had been given more time, or if it had been the scope of his effort, Felten could probably have stripped all of the IE code from other DLL files but that this was not necessary for his demonstration.