Timeline of Microsoft investigations
By CNET News.com Staff
October 25, 1999, 9:00 a.m. PT
Timeline Tangles between trustbusters and the
software giant date back to the beginning of the decade, and there may
be more to come.
of Microsoft's business practices
Federal Trade Commission begins investigating
Microsoft's software marketing practices. Focuses on the possible
anticompetitive nature of "tie-in" sales of applications
and operating systems.
Justice Department takes over the
Microsoft and Justice Department
reach a settlement that regulates Microsoft's marketing practices
through the year 2000. Microsoft agrees that OS licenses must not
contain conditions that apply to other MS software.
DOJ files suit to halt Microsoft's $2 billion acquisition of Intuit.
Microsoft and Intuit cancel merger
plans to avoid a legal fight.
U.S. District Judge Stanley Sporkin refuses to sign the '94 settlement,
saying it does not go far enough.
U.S. Appeals Court overturns Sporkin's decision.
U.S. District Judge Thomas Jackson approves the settlement.
Justice Department says that it will continue its investigation
of Microsoft. Looks at whether the MS plan to bundle Microsoft Network
with Win 95 is anticompetitive.
Under the 1995 court order, Microsoft is prohibited from forcing
computer makers to license any other Microsoft product as a condition
of licensing Windows 95.
Netscape files a complaint with
the Justice Department, alleging Microsoft used unfair and anticompetitive
practices in promoting its Internet Explorer browser. Netscape charges
that Microsoft offered computer makers a $3 discount on Windows
95 software if the vendor did not install Navigator. Microsoft denies
Justice Department requests documents from Microsoft regarding
its browser agreements with computer manufacturers and sellers.
Justice Department asks Netscape for documents for a formal investigation
of Microsoft. The investigation is still pending.
State of Texas launches a formal
antitrust investigation of Microsoft's business practices on the
Internet. It is the first state to conduct its own probe of the
Justice Department requests further information on Microsoft's
plan to acquire WebTV. Says it is part of its regular review of
State of Massachusetts begins an antitrust investigation of Microsoft.
Justice Department asks a federal court to hold Microsoft in civil
contempt for violating terms of the 1995 court order barring it
from imposing anticompetitive licensing terms on manufacturers of
personal computers. The DOJ seeks to impose a $1 million-per-day
fine if violation of the court order continues.
Texas files a lawsuit against Microsoft, charging the software
giant with interfering in the state's antitrust investigation.
In December, Judge Jackson issues a temporary order forbidding
Microsoft from requiring Windows 95 licensees to carry the Internet
Explorer Web browser. The company says it will appeal the order
and allows PC makers to choose an older version of Windows 95 that
is stripped of Internet features or a more updated version of the
operating system with Internet Explorer. Stripping out the IE 3
files from Windows 95, according to Microsoft, would make Windows
Six days after the Jackson's ruling, the Justice Department argues
Microsoft "flouted" the court's order. Government attorneys
again ask the judge to find Microsoft in contempt and impose a $1
million fine for every day it violates the order. Again, the case
focuses on whether Internet Explorer is an integrated part of Windows
or a separate product. Jackson says a court clerk uninstalled IE
3.0 in 30 seconds, but Microsoft contends that the uninstall program
deletes only the icon and a few files that make the browser accessible,
and that 97 percent of the IE code remains installed.
In another ramification of the case, Microsoft vows to fight the
appointment of visiting Harvard Law School professor Lawrence Lessig
as a "special master" assigned to collect and weigh evidence
on the grounds that the computer law expert named may be biased.
The company calls an email Lessig sent to a Netscape executive a
"smoking gun" and formally seeks his disqualification.
A hearing on Microsoft's compliance
with Judge Jackson's ruling reveals that the company and the court
differ on terms of compliance with the court order. The software
giant maintains that the government gave conflicting requests on
how it should obey the injunction and that it should not be found
In yet another setback for Microsoft, Jackson issues a sternly
worded order denying a motion to disqualify special master Lawrence
Lessig from the case. Analysts and court observers suggest that
the company's aggressive legal tactics may be backfiring, which
may lead the jurist to side with the government on some pivotal
issues. Lessig, meanwhile, insists on his impartiality in a sworn
Later in the month, the Justice Department and Microsoft announce
a settlement where the company agrees to immediately provide computer
vendors with the most up-to-date version of Windows 95 without the
desktop icon for Internet Explorer, resolving the hotly contested
contempt issue. Microsoft's appeal of Jackson's preliminary injunction
is still pending, however.
CEO Bill Gates says Microsoft settled its contempt-of-court charges
partly because of the press ridicule it endured after offering a
crippled version of Windows to satisfy a court order. Attention
once again is turning to the open-ended and high-stakes question
of what antitrust action will mean for Windows 98.
Eleven state attorneys general subpoena Microsoft for documents relating to
its upcoming release of Windows 98. In addition, the appointment
of special master Lessig is suspended by a federal appeals court,
pending further review.
Gates agrees to appear at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing
on competition in the computer industry headed by Sen. Orrin Hatch
(R-Utah), who has been critical of Microsoft's business practices.
Hatch also invites Netscape chief Jim Barksdale and Sun Microsystems
CEO Scott McNealy.
A Texas judge dismisses a suit in which the state's attorney general
accused Microsoft of illegally interfering with an ongoing investigation
into the software giant's business practices.
Antitrust enforcers appear to be blanketing the Internet provider
industry with subpoenas, searching for evidence that Microsoft is
using its dominance in PC operating systems to corner new markets
created by the Net. Online providers America Online, MCI Communications,
EarthLink Network, and Sprint all confirm they have received subpoenas.
Following a face-to-face meeting
between state attorneys general and Justice Department officials
in San Francisco about possibly joining forces against the software
giant, 27 states file a brief in federal appeals court in Washington
supporting the Justice Department's antitrust case against Microsoft.
Gates tells a packed Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on competition
in the computer industry that "technology is ever-changing,"
pointing to his company's ability to leapfrog IBM as a reason why
Microsoft should not be held to antitrust laws applicable specifically
to companies that overwhelmingly dominate their industries. Chief
executives Barksdale of Netscape and McNealy of Sun disagree, saying
Microsoft must be held to a different standard because it is a monopolist.
Microsoft quietly backs away from some of the deals that drew much
of the government's scrutiny in the first place, dropping restrictions
involving its Internet Explorer browser with computer makers, content
providers, and ISPs. Redmond executives say they are not reacting
to any government pressure and that decisions on any IE promotional
deals are routine--and routinely changed.
DOJ regulators send out another
round of civil subpoenas as they return their attention to computer
makers in their investigation of Microsoft. Moreover, sources add
the Justice Department is looking at other issues as well, including
the marketing of Windows NT, Microsoft's actions in the Java market,
and its partnerships with Internet content providers.
Microsoft modifies hundreds of contracts with content companies
worldwide to remove provisions that limit their ability to promote
browsers made by competitors such as Netscape. The contracts dictate
terms content providers must adhere to in order to be placed on
Microsoft's Active Channel Bar. Later in the month, the company
gives computer makers the option of shipping a version of Windows
98 that hides the controversial Active Channel Bar.
Turning up the political heat on Microsoft, conservatives Bob Dole
and Robert Bork announce a group--which includes players outside
the technology industry, as well as Redmond rivals Netscape and
Sun--to lobby against the software giant for allegedly anticompetitive
In federal appeals court, Microsoft continues to hold its ground
by arguing that in issuing a preliminary injunction separating the
company's Web browser from Windows 95, Judge Jackson overstepped
his legal authority. The Justice Department counters that the judge
had "inherent authority" to make his ruling. The three-judge
panel gives no indication as to when it might release a ruling.
In a surprise announcement, Texas's
attorney general, once a lead investigator, says he is rethinking
taking any antitrust action against Microsoft. The news follows lobbying
by Texas computer sellers who warn that a lawsuit could be bad for
their businesses. Despite the lobbying efforts by Microsoft and its
allies, the Justice Department and 20 states file suit in federal
court in Washington. The two suits--one filed by the Justice Department
and the other filed by the states--largely take aim at alleged anticompetitive
actions by Microsoft against Netscape. Both suits also discuss Microsoft's
business practices, such as its plan to compete against Sun Microsystems'
Java programming language. The suits eventually are consolidated and
the trial is set for September 8.
A federal appeals court unanimously
overturns a lower court's order that had required Microsoft to offer
its Internet Explorer browser separately from Windows 95. The ruling
challenges a key legal theory that Microsoft is illegally tying
IE to Windows 98.
The government then increasingly emphasizes allegations extending
beyond the browser market. Both sides begin to wrangle about details
surrounding the case, including what evidence should be introduced
and when the trial should start. At the urging of both sides, the
judge delays start of trial--three times.
The government adds new allegations
concerning Java and other technologies that may threaten Microsoft,
including media software made by Apple Computer and instructions for
chips made by Intel. Microsoft accuses the government of trying to
"ambush" it weeks before trial is to start. Judge Jackson
denies Microsoft's motion to dismiss the case.
In a court filing, the government
says it intends to call two new witnesses: Sun cofounder James Gosling
and Apple software executive Avadis Tevanian. Microsoft repeatedly
criticizes the government for allegedly rewriting its original case.
The software giant asks for an additional delay in the trial and is
1998 to June 1999
Testimony phase of the landmark trial
Both sides present final oral arguments
and await the judge's first ruling. Those findings, while not a ruling,
could reveal the direction the judge is going and what conclusions
of law he might reach.