Red Hat exec back on stand at remedy hearing

If Linux is a true threat to Microsoft's desktop Windows monopoly, then Red Hat's chief technical officer, Michael Tiemann, is one the nonsettling states' most important witness.

Tiemann returned to the witness stand today in the Microsoft antitrust trial's remedy phase. He was there to make the case for porting Microsoft's Office suite to other operating systems such as Linux, explain the need for mandatory distribution of a compliant version of Sun Microsystems Inc.'s Java, and justify the call that Internet Explorer code be made open source.

Porting Office to Linux would make that operating system attractive to enterprise customers, Tiemann said.

"Office is the albatross around Red Hat's neck," Tiemann wrote in his prepared testimony. "The first question that prospective customers ask when I approach them about switching to Linux is whether they could still run Office if they made the switch."

Tiemann reiterated that position on the witness stand today, saying Office for Linux would do a "tremendous" amount to expand Linux's desktop adoption. Red Hat Linux has about 2 percent desktop market share, he said.

But Microsoft attorney Stephanie G. Wheeler attacked Tiemann's assertions from a number of directions, arguing through her questions that the success of vendors of operating systems is linked to their investment in research and development in applications.

Citing financial filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, Wheeler pointed out that Apple Computer Inc. spent US$431 million on research and development in fiscal year 2001, Sun spent more than $2 billion and Microsoft spent $4.3 billion. Red Hat spent $18.8 million last year, she pointed out.

Tiemann said Red Hat relies on third parties to develop applications that run on Linux. The witness and attorney sparred over whether Sun's Office product, StarOffice, is interoperable with Microsoft's Office. Wheeler cited material from Sun's Web site promising interoperability, but Tiemann argued that "the fact that they [Sun] promise that doesn't make it true."

Under the state's remedy proposal, Microsoft would be required to auction Office licenses to independent software developers to create versions of Microsoft Office that would run on operating systems other than Windows.

"The porting of Office holds the potential to jump-start some notion of competition in the desktop operating system market," wrote Tiemann.

Tiemann said he's "fairly certain" that Red Hat would bid on one of these licenses to port Office to Linux.

During the antitrust trial that began in October 1998, Microsoft attorneys pushed to convince Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson that Linux was a threat. Since then, Linux has done well in the server market, but it has made no headway in denting Microsoft's desktop monopoly because PC makers won't install it, said Tiemann.

Tiemann's written testimony doesn't offer concrete proof that fear of Microsoft is keeping PC makers from selling Linux desktop machines. Representatives of those companies "rarely will articulate that fear of retaliation from Microsoft," wrote Tiemann. That fear is left unspoken but " is often conveyed -- like the 'skunk' in the room or the low-hanging black cloud."

But the states may have some evidence. States' attorney Brendan Sullivan, in his opening statement, said the states have evidence about Microsoft's concern about Dell Computer Corp.'s desktop Linux offering.

Tiemann is expected to be followed on the stand later today by Gateway Inc. counsel Anthony Fama, who will argue that Microsoft's new uniform contract licensing terms would increase the software giant's leverage over Gateway.

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Patrick Thibodeau

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