The attorneys general of six US states sent a letter to Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer Friday, alleging that the company's upcoming release of Windows XP proves that Microsoft constantly and consistently abuses its market power. Interestingly, none of the six states--which include Arkansas, Maine, Montana, New Hampshire and Rhode Island--are among the states currently allied against Microsoft in federal court. Microsoft says that lobbyists for rival AOL actually crafted the "tactless" letter. But the states say that's not the case, and they stand behind their denouncement of the company's business practices.
"We are concerned that Windows XP may involve additional unlawful attempts by Microsoft to maintain its \[OS\] monopoly," wrote Vermont Attorney General William Sorrell in the letter. "Microsoft may have constructed this new product without due regard for relevant legal rulings and without due regard for other issues involving consumer choice and consumer privacy. We want to add our voices to those calling on Microsoft to remedy the antitrust problems that are now evident. We agree with our colleagues, the litigating states and the federal government, that any anti-competitive aspects of Windows XP should be addressed." Attorneys general for the five other states co-signed the letter.
Microsoft and its allies were quick to denounce the letter as an AOL ploy because a former attorney general who now represents Microsoft rivals such as AOL and Oracle wrote the original. "This is just the latest and lowest attempt to prolong and even expand this saga," said the Association for Competitive Technology, which Microsoft sponsors. "It's a shame that AOL has this much influence in the process," a Microsoft spokesperson said Friday. "That doesn't seem to be in the best interest of consumers." AOL, however, denied any role, and Vermont's Sorrell said that the states had asked Microsoft to present their side of the story before they officially submitted the letter. Microsoft did so, but the states remained unconvinced.
"The concerns that are addressed in the letter are concerns that I had and five other \[attorneys general\] had as a result of the information made available to us by Microsoft, by Microsoft's competitors, and based on our own analysis," he said. "The reality is, I would say the document was changed a minimum of 70 percent \[from\] what \[was originally\] provided. We went through 20 revisions, easily, even in the last few days."
The addition of six other states allied against Microsoft comes at a hard time for the company, which is desperately trying to settle its antitrust case with the government after learning that the government's proposed remedies are likely to be as problematic as a breakup. The two sides have spent the last week attempting to resolve the case before it heads back to trial. But although the government says it will involve Windows XP and other recent developments in the next phase of the trial, it has already announced that it won't seek to block that product's release. Windows XP-based PCs head out from major PC makers today, and the software will be available in retail locations beginning October 25.