Microsoft Returns Fire

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WASHINGTON: See Microsoft try to spin itself out of a tight corner! Watch the software giant's No. 1 foe, Netscape supremo Jim Barksdale, detail with relish what he'd like to see the government do with Redmond! These and other gaudy attractions were on display at the Capitol's most popular courthouse Tuesday, as the antitrust trial of the future entered its second heart-stopping day. After the Justice Department pulled a courtroom coup with a withering display of what appeared to be perjurious statements from Bill Gates, Microsoft's lawyers had to backpedal hard in their own opening remarks. Top attorney Bill Neukom hoped to prove the excerpts were taken "dangerously and unreliably out of context" -- just like half the government's case, if Microsoft is to be believed.

Once that was over, it was Barksdale's turn. The browser boss was intended to be the DOJ's star witness; he was also prepared to rush in where the feds dare not tread by talking about possible remedies, should Microsoft be found to have transgressed antitrust law. The appropriate solution? Not suprisingly, Barksdale wants the court to forever split Windows from Internet Explorer, making the bundling of the two illegal. This is, however, little more than a pipe dream -- not only have antitrust judges been historically reluctant to tamper in product design, but the court of appeals ruled last June that the Windows/IE package seems to be "a genuine integration." Netscape's chief is quite a showman -- and there's plenty of smoke and mirrors involved.