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Antitrust suit from Beyond the Grave hits MS for $1m

Top level MS execs set out to undermine Bristol, Unix - judge

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Judge Janet Hall's ruling that Microsoft used deceptive business practices, that these were approved at the highest levels within the company, and that Microsoft executives had been less than truthful in their testimony, puts last year's verdict in the Bristol antitrust trial in a certain context. The trial was a 'victory' for Microsoft in that it was concluded that there was no antitrust case to answer, but now Judge Hall has made her views on the company's conduct abundantly clear by hitting it with a punitive damages penalty of $1 million.

That's the highest ever such award made in Connecticut, and it casts a rather harsher light on Microsoft's spin that it had been 'vindicated' by the verdict. In fact, in the antitrust case Microsoft was acquitted because the jury decided that Bristol's lawyers had failed to prove the existence of a "relevant market" for technical workstations or departmental servers; the question of whether or not its relationship with Bristol and its executives had been decent, honest and truthful therefore did not arise.

Judge Hall evidently reckons that Microsoft and its execs were no such things, and old-stagers may draw some parallels between this case and Judge Barton Phelps' Intel-AMD adjudication way, way back. Then, Phelps made it crystal clear he reckoned the Intel high command had acted utterly despicably, but that they hadn't broken the law, and anyway AMD had been asking for it by being so dumb (we paraphrase somewhat), so there wasn't much he could do about it.

This time around Microsoft has been nabbed for breaking the law, and Judge Hall's findings might just give Bristol the opportunity to resume hostilities on the antitrust front. Hall says Microsoft deliberately used deceptive business practices, that top level executives were involved, and that its intent had been to undermine Unix.

It had first worked with Bristol, then once the fish was hooked, had pulled the trigger. The court also found that Microsoft had deliberately withheld a Windows licence agreement, vital to Bristol's development, from the company.

This is all stuff that Bristol said was the case, but Microsoft denied, during the trial. One therefore feels tugged to conclude that the case Bristol put forward then was an accurate representation of events, while Microsoft's case was not.

In which case (if you'll pardon the expression), what happened? Last year Bristol was effectively skewered by a "verdict form" which was intended as an aid to the jury in reacking its verdict. Question 1 read: "Has Bristol proven that a relevant market exists for operating systems for technical workstations?"

A similar question was posed for servers, and if the answer was no, there was no case to answer. The jury was apparently unable to grasp the existence of such markets, therefore Microsoft got off. But maybe only so far...

Related stories:
Bristol case: how MS escaped the guilty verdict
Official: it's legal to screw Unix
How MS used the WISE Trojan Horse against Unix

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