The Gates-Busters Open Up a Fourth Front

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Lucky for Bill Gates that he's the world's richest geek. Already saddled with three trials about existing Microsoft software, Gates now has to defend an operating system at the heart of what's supposed to be next year's Big Thing. Two days after the trustbusting main event got going again in Washington, Danbury-based Bristol Technology Inc. opened its own suit against the Redmond giant, claiming that Gates & Co. put the Seattle screws to their software business by withholding vital information when Bristol licensed MS's Windows NT system. "Now it's official -- all of Microsoft's browsers are now under legal assault," says TIME technology correspondent Chris Taylor. "But NT, because it's the core of the soon-to-be-shipped Windows 2000, is really the one that has the most bearing on the PC world."

Of course, all four trials -- besides the Washington and Connecticut versions, there's one in California over Java, and another in Utah about DOS (how's that for relevance?) -- talk about pretty much the same thing: Microsoft's leveraging its platform dominance into software dominance. Bristol (which makes a product called Wind/U that is meant to bridge the code gulf between Windows and a competitor, Unix, and vice versa) says Microsoft withheld the NT code to keep Bristol -- and Unix programmers -- out of the software game now dominated by Windows-viable products. Microsoft, unsurprisingly, denies the claim. But after Gates pulled the rug out from under his own defense team Thursday in Washington with an apparently contradictory piece in Newsweek, don't expect to see Gates appearing for the defense. "He's probably gotten a stiff talking-to from his lawyers about that," says Taylor. Microsoft has enough troubles already.