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Microsoft `blurring’ truth, Hatch says

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Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, is throwing legislative bricks at Windows 98-maker Microsoft, which is run by the world's richest man, Bill Gates.

Hatch said during a Senate speech Friday that Microsoft has been deceptive during a probe by his Judiciary Committee into whether it is violating anti-monopoly laws.So, he announced he will hold a new round of hearings after the Senate returns from its July 4 recess into whether Microsoft is trying to create a monopoly on access to the Internet. The company already has a near-monopoly on computer operating systems.

"It is about whether one company will be able to exploit its current monopoly in order to control access to and commerce on the Internet," Hatch said.

The Judiciary Committee and the Justice Department have been looking, among other things, into whether Microsoft uses improper methods to exclude Internet browsing software (except its own) from its Windows-operating programming.

If competing software makers, such as Netscape, cannot gain access to the Windows package that comes installed on most new computers, it is difficult for those companies to sell their product.

Hatch complained that instead of forthrightly answering questions posed by his committee and the Justice Department, Microsoft has "seen fit to deploy a massive PR (public relations) campaign grounded in spin control and misdirection."

He says it appears that Gates and Microsoft officials also may have deceived his committee in hearings it held last March.

For example, Hatch said his committee had sought information about what it had heard were restrictive contract terms that Microsoft imposed on various Internet firms wanting inclusion in Windows.

"Microsoft has consistently sought to avoid (acknowledging) the existence and implications of these contract terms," Hatch said.

But on the eve of Hatch's hearings, Microsoft announced "it would no longer enforce these restrictive contract provisions, instead of explaining why these provisions were legal," Hatch noted.

However, Hatch said, the Justice Department found months later in its continuing probe "that Microsoft in fact continues to enforce them with respect to the biggest Internet firms such as America Online and Compuserve."

Hatch also said that computer manufacturers have complained privately about strong-arming by Microsoft but are terrified to testify "because they depend totally on Microsoft's underlying operating system to run their machines."

Hatch added, "All Microsoft has to do is delay the delivery of that underlying operating system . . . a week, and they could be multi-millions of dollars in the hole as others get an unfair advantage."

He said some such companies report "that they have been warned (by Microsoft) that they had better not cooperate with the committee." But the senator called on them to do so at upcoming hearings to force "Microsoft to have some answers for us."

Hatch said he hopes "Microsoft chooses to be somewhat more candid with the American people than it has been to date . . . I think they should be heard on the record, rather than through carefully orchestrated, multimillion PR campaigns that are more concerned with blurring the true facts than explaining them."

Hatch said that if Microsoft's techniques are legal and proper, "I would expect Microsoft to be happy to explain them."

One of Microsoft's major competitors is Novell, based in Hatch's home state of Utah.