American States drop complaint against Microsoft Office, Outlook Express

Attorneys general from 20 US states and the District of Columbia today narrowed their antitrust case against Microsoft Corporation by dropping claims related to the company's Office suite of software and the company's Outlook Express application.

While Microsoft wasted no time to call the amendment a very positive step for the company, the states' lead attorney, New York Attorney General Dennis Vacco, said in a statement that the amended complaint is "tightening the focus of the case".

The case was filed in May and subsequently combined with a similar case brought against Microsoft by the US Department of Justice.

While the amended complaint filed in federal court in Washington D.C. continues to allege that Microsoft engages in several anticompetitive practices, it drops two specific charges made when the case was originally filed.

Specifically the states no longer claim that Microsoft makes it difficult for computer sellers to license software made by competitors and no longer claim that Microsoft was illegally tying its Outlook Express e-mail application to its Windows operating system.

In a statement, Vacco said that the amended complaint "severs the claim relating to Microsoft's conduct regarding its Office productivity suites as a result of time and witness limitations set by the court".

However, in the statement Vacco also said that the amendment "allows the states to devote their full resources to preparing for trial on Microsoft's conduct relating to Web browsers and operating systems while continuing their investigation into Microsoft's conduct regarding Office productivity suites".

While the states for now are dropping the Office related claims, they may reappear under the current antitrust suit.

"We will continue to investigate Office and will issue more subpoenas," said Vacco's spokeswoman Mollie Conkey. She added that under the schedules set, which calls for the trial to begin on Sept. 8 the attorney generals decided to narrow the case, based on discovery work done over the past few weeks.

"We believe that the strategy behind Microsoft's business tactics was to protect the enormous profits generated by its Windows operating system monopoly from the competitive threat posed by Internet Web browsing technology," Vacco said in a statement.

Nevertheless Microsoft felt vindicated by the motion today.

"Today's action, combined with the recent appeals court decision means that several major elements of the case have been eliminated," said Microsoft spokesman Tom Pilla. "We've said all along that the states' allegations about Office licensing and Outlook Express were completely unfounded," he said, adding that the company is glad the accusations have been withdrawn.

An appeals court last month ruled in favour of Microsoft in a separate case brought by the DoJ last year. The appeals court overturned an injunction that prevented the company from requiring computer makers that use its Windows 95 operating system to also use its Internet Explorer Web browser.

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