Judge to hold tech hearing in Microsoft flap

The ongoing court wranglings between the U.S. Dept. of Justice and software giant Microsoft Corp. took something of a left turn Friday, when the federal judge hearing the Justice Dept. antitrust complaint set a meeting for Jan. 13 to decide just how hard it is to uncouple Microsoft’s Web browser from its operating system software.

U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson, in setting the date for the meeting (between technical specialists from both sides), noted in an aside that, with some help from court personnel, it took a mere 90 seconds for the judge to uninstall the company’s Internet Explorer browser from a computer running its Windows 95 operating system.

Lawyers rush in

Microsoft attorneys were quick to point out that “removing” the browser’s icon from Windows 95′s “desktop” actually removes less than 10% of the files associated with it. It is the company’s position that Jackson’s previous preliminary injunction, which compelled Microsoft to “decouple” the browser from the operating software, is impossible because the two sets of programs are tightly bound together.

Nevertheless, it is being widely surmised in the media that the Justice Dept. senses a weakness in Microsoft’s position, as it announced Friday it has retained noted antitrust attorney David Boies to work specifically on the Microsoft matter. Veteran litigator Boies not only successfully defended IBM from antitrust charges in the 1970s, he also helped the federal government prosecute erstwhile junk-bond kingpin Michael Milken in 1991.

Power players

And even heavier hitters lurk in the anti-Microsoft dugout, if back-channel rumors swirling around Washington prove true: News sources on and off the Internet are reporting that former Senate Majority Leader and 1996 Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole, who now works privately for a Washington legal/lobbying firm, has been retained by an anti-Microsoft tech coalition of Silicon Valley heavyweight companies.

There’s no official confirmation (or denial) of this yet; but Sun Microsystems, one of Microsoft’s fiercest rivals, reportedly has retained the services of another Washington insider: Jody Powell, White House press secretary during the Carter administration.

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