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States still probing Microsoft Office, after all

July 27, 1998
Web posted at: 12:30 PM EDT

by James Niccolai

(IDG) -- Only a shortage of time and personnel--not a lack of evidence--forced the 20 U.S. states and the District of Columbia to drop their investigation of Microsoft's business practices related to its Office software suite, a spokesperson for the New York attorney general's office said Thursday.

The states, in tandem with the U.S. Department of Justice, are investigating whether Microsoft improperly used the power of its Windows operating system to leverage its way into other software markets, and whether it acted illegally to maintain its market share of Windows.

The states also had alleged that Microsoft engages in unlawful business and licensing practices related to its Office software suite and Outlook Express application, but on July 17 dropped that portion of its lawsuit in order to focus its investigation on Windows.

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That decision was prompted by the impending arrival of the September 8 trial date for the antitrust suit. The states are continuing their investigation of Office and Outlook Express, said Molly Conkey, spokesperson for New York Attorney General Dennis Vacco, who has been leading the states' charge.

"The fact that we are going to court in September doesn't preclude us from continuing the case" against Office and Outlook Express, Conkey said. "Some people said it was the case that there wasn't enough evidence, but it's purely an issue of time and manpower constraints."

But Conkey declined to say whether the states will launch a separate antitrust lawsuit against Microsoft focusing on other software besides its operating system, nor would she say explicitly if other subpoenas have been issued in the Microsoft Office investigation since Friday.

Attorney General Vacco "said on Friday he would be issuing further subpoenas this week. Well, now it's this week," she said.

New York has assumed leadership of the states' investigation of Microsoft. Stephen Houck, assistant attorney general and chief of the antitrust bureau in the New York State attorney general's office, will be acting as chief litigator on behalf of all the states when the trial gets under way, Conkey said.

Attorney General Vacco has a particular interest in the Microsoft case in part because he wants to "protect" Silicon Alley, Conkey said, referring to the area of New York City that has earned a reputation as an east coast version of California's Silicon Valley because of its concentration of high-tech firms. In addition, a greater proportion of New York's residents are computer users than in other U.S. states, Conkey said. James Niccolai is a San Francisco correspondent with the IDG News Service, a PC World affiliate.

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