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Microsoft: Get Real!

EU Vs. Microsoft
AP
Two Microsoft executives on Monday brushed aside allegations from rival RealNetworks that Microsoft uses its Windows operating system to gain an unfair advantage in music player programs.

In earlier testimony in the antitrust hearings involving Microsoft, RealNetworks vice president David Richards said Microsoft's latest Windows XP operating system favors Microsoft's media player over RealNetworks products, sometimes over customer objections.

Microsoft official Linda Averett said RealNetworks' latest product, RealOne, has fewer of the problems cited by Richards.

Averett said some of the issues were due to bugs in Windows XP, but others were conscious design decisions by Microsoft aimed at making the program easier for consumers to use.

Richards objected to the "media bar" in Microsoft's Internet Explorer 6 Web browser, which can appear if a user clicks on a music file on a Web page. The media bar contains Microsoft's player.

"The IE6 media bar is an integrated feature of IE6 that provides user value," Averett said. "As such, it is not replaceable by third parties."

Averett said it is possible for RealNetworks to create its own media bar.

Nine states have asked a court to force Microsoft to release a modular version of its Windows operating system in which some features, like the Web browser and media player, could be removed and replaced with competitors' products.

The federal government and nine other states settled their antitrust case against Microsoft last year for lesser penalties.

The original judge in the antitrust case, Thomas Penfield Jackson, ordered Microsoft broken into two companies after concluding that it illegally stifled competitors. An appeals court upheld many of the violations but reversed the breakup order and appointed U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly to determine a new punishment.

Microsoft executive Will Poole, Averett's supervisor, concluded the testimony he began last week.

Poole said he could not cite any design changes to Windows XP as a result of the antitrust case. While the appeals court ruling came just moths before Windows XP was shipped to stores, Jackson's more severe decision came over a year earlier.

"I'm not aware of any specific design alteration that came as a result of the findings of the court," Poole said, in response to questions from states' lawyer John Schmidtlein.

Poole also said he could think of "no good business reason" why a computer manufacturer would choose not to include Microsoft's media player in Windows, other than a competitor paying a bounty to a computer maker not to bundle it.

Microsoft says that if the media player was removed, the broad scope of the states' proposals would mean that Windows would not be able to play any sound or video at all — which would break many multimedia programs.

The states counter that Microsoft would simply have to remove programs needed to play music downloaded from the Internet or CD recording capabilities. Several other firms make programs to do those functions.