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Novell Puts Bill Gates On Witness Stand

Microsoft chairman expected to undergo cross-examination on charges that he conspired to kill WordPerfect and Quattro Pro, in case dating back to 2004.
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Attorneys for Novell are expected to cross-examine Microsoft chairman Bill Gates Monday in a federal courthouse in Utah, where jurors are hearing Novell's claim that the software giant used anticompetitive means to quash Word competitor WordPerfect and Excel rival Quattro Pro.

U.S. district court judge J. Frederick Motz, who is presiding over the case in Salt Lake City, may also rule Monday on Microsoft's request, submitted Friday, to dismiss the case.

Novell sued Microsoft in 2004, claiming the software maker "deliberately targeted and destroyed" its WordPerfect word processor and Quattro spreadsheet franchises because they were compatible with non-Windows operating systems. Novell also charged that Microsoft banished WordPerfect from the Windows 95 rollout in an effort to drive the application into obscurity.

"Microsoft abused its monopoly power in the PC operating systems market to suppress the sales of WordPerfect and Novell's related Office productivity applications," Novell stated in its original complaint. "Bill Gates, Microsoft's chairman and [at the time] chief executive officer, targeted Novell's applications by name in documents recording Microsoft's anticompetitive schemes," Novell charged.

[Get the background on this long-running dispute. See Supreme Court Won't Block Novell's Microsoft Lawsuit.]

Microsoft has said it excluded Novell's apps from Windows 95 because they were unstable and caused Windows to crash. The argument mirrors the late Steve Jobs' reasons for banning Adobe Flash from Apple's iOS operating system.

Novell sold WordPerfect to Corel in 1996 at a loss of $1.2 billion, according to the company's court filings. The program has been become somewhat of a relic in the wake of Microsoft's dominance of the desktop applications market. Novell itself was acquired by Attachmate in April.

The tortuous tort is now in its seventh year and has bounced back and forth between district and appeals courts. A federal appeals court revived the case earlier this year. By refusing to hear the case, the U.S. Supreme Court in 2008 left standing a lower court's ruling that Novell could proceed with the antitrust lawsuit against Microsoft.

In 2007, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit upheld a district court's ruling that Novell's lawsuit could proceed.

Ironically, Microsoft and Novell have since become software market allies in the years since Novell filed the action. In 2006, the two vendors forged a partnership under which Microsoft resells Novell's SUSE Linux software and services.

Novell and Microsoft also worked out a $536 million settlement in 2004 to resolve Novell's claim that Microsoft plotted to ruin the market for the Novell NetWare operating system.

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