MS/DoJ: Video follies show browser removal tough

A recreation of Microsoft's botched video demonstration of flaws in a browser removal program for the Windows 98 operating system written by a government witness shows that a sophisticated user could still find ways of browsing the Internet.

But company engineers were unable to duplicate a key demonstration that was at the heart of the government's questions during the past few days about the credibility of the company's original video.

The 70-minute video played in US District Court wasn't as polished as the original, as it was filmed in real-time, without editing. It showed the difficulties in getting a dial-up connection in Washington, D.C., the tedium involved with loading software and rebooting, and only some of the original tests.

It was taped starting at 10:40 p.m. Wednesday, after company officials bought six new IBM ThinkPads, software galore, and hired television crews to film the demonstration. The courtroom was packed Thursday for the first time in months.

The results weren't as dramatic as the skilful cross-examination had been Tuesday and Wednesday. The company's battered witness, James Allchin, a Microsoft senior vice president in charge of Windows, was shown on the video accessing the Web site of bookseller Amazon.com and downloading information from the site. He also demonstrated how two Microsoft applications -- Money 99 and Microsoft Plus Deluxe CD -- malfunctioned after the Felten program was installed. In addition, a Windows Update Web site was disabled and the computer was thrown into a frozen mode during Allchin's demonstration.

"We were glad to have the opportunity to set the record straight," Microsoft spokesman Mark Murray said after court adjourned for the week.

But US Justice Department attorney David Boies, who has so skilfully picked apart Microsoft's first video, said that the new video still had some problems, namely that it failed to duplicate one segment of the test that showed Felten's program slowing down the operating system's performance. "As a 2.0 version, it was a 2.0 version which has some improvements over the prior version but still has some problems," Boies said, outside the courthouse. "It didn't address what was really the focus of the first demonstration, the alleged performance degradation of the Felten program on Win98."

Allchin, who concluded his nightmarish week on the witness stand Thursday, testified that he could not conduct the performance test because of the poor quality of the dial-up Internet connections in the Washington, D.C. offices of the company's attorneys, Sullivan & Cromwell, where the demonstration was filmed. In order to conduct the test scientifically, he said he would need two computers with stable Internet connections. The connections in the second video failed a few times during the taping.

"I believed it wasn't scientific," Allchin said, "and that's the only thing I would have believed."

Boies also pressed Allchin on why two government lawyers, Felten, and the computer scientist's two assistants were kept waiting in the law firm's office for more than two hours Wednesday night while the computers and video equipment were being set up.

"I'm not suggesting you were doing anything improper," said Boies.

"Sir," Allchin replied, "I wasn't involved in that. It would have been okay with me."

Allchin was watching his step as he had undergone an embarrassing two days of grilling after testifying to the validity of the tests on the original videotape, even though he was not shown conducting the demonstrations himself.

On Tuesday, Boies stunned the courtroom by pointing out to Allchin a discrepancy in Microsoft's original video demonstration that called into question whether delays shown on a personal computer were caused by the Felten removal program or by Win 98 itself. The damage to Allchin's credibility got worse on Wednesday when Boies proved to the court that several different computers were used during the filming of the demonstration, showing, for example, how an icon for the Microsoft Outlook e-mail program appeared in one frame and was gone in another.

The judge, at one point, asked Allchin, "How can I rely on it [the tape] if you can't tell me it's the same machine?"

At another point, Jackson said the discrepancies "cast doubt on the reliability -- the entire reliability" of the videotaped demonstration.

"It's very troubling," said Jackson, adding that he would have felt a "little better" if Allchin had made the test himself.

The judge then gave Microsoft the opportunity to redo the test with Allchin conducting the demonstration himself.

The videotape caper overshadowed the testimony Thursday morning of Microsoft witness Michael Devlin, president of an independent software company, Rational Software. Under an agreement between the government and Microsoft, Devlin, who had a scheduling conflict, was allowed to testify before Allchin concluded.

Microsoft's lead counsel, William Neukom, described the video caper as "a sideshow" and said Devlin's testimony was actually more important to Microsoft's defense as it showed the potential damage to independent software vendors of removing Web browsing capabilities from Windows 98.

Devlin testified in writing that the integration of Web browsing into the Windows 98 operating system has benefited some developers and customers. He added that, if IE is removed from the operating system some of his company's products -- and those of other companies -- will not function properly.

Devlin said in his 20-page testimony that, while his company works closely with Microsoft, it also works closely with IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Oracle, Sun Microsystems and other companies that have sent witnesses to testify on behalf of the government in its antitrust case against Microsoft.

He admitted under cross-examination that 55 per cent of his company's revenues now come from products written for Microsoft platforms, which is up from an estimated 10 per cent five years ago. In addition, he told the court that he has an agreement with Microsoft to allow them rights to his company's source code, even to build competing products. Microsoft officials later said the agreement is part of a "technology exchange" in which Microsoft also allows Rational rights to its dynamically linked libraries.

Devlin's testimony, which lasted less than two hours, made him the quickest witness to take the stand since this trial started in October.

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