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Novell Hasn't Forgotten Microsoft's Jab At WordPerfect

News came this week that the Supreme Court wouldn't block Novell's antitrust lawsuit alleging that Microsoft harmed Novell's office suite during the 1990s. Novell won $536 million in 2004 regarding Microsoft's actions against NetWare, and is still pressing its decade-old grudge against Microsoft for the decline and fall of WordPerfect. The difficulty
News came this week that the Supreme Court wouldn't block Novell's antitrust lawsuit alleging that Microsoft harmed Novell's office suite during the 1990s. Novell won $536 million in 2004 regarding Microsoft's actions against NetWare, and is still pressing its decade-old grudge against Microsoft for the decline and fall of WordPerfect. The difficulty I see in resolving this case is in deciding how much of the damage was done by Microsoft and how much was self-inflicted.WordPerfect entered the 1990s at the top of the word processing market. It had the market-leading WordPerfect 5.1 for DOS, which was almost an operating system unto itself. DOS had no built-in support for advanced printer functionality, but WordPerfect implemented its own proprietary set of printer drivers to create great output for almost every printer available at the time. The product had its own quirky but efficient user interface that took advantage of the IBM keyboard and offered a "clean screen" look.

WordPerfect made an early commitment to an OS/2 product, betting that IBM's operating system would be the PC's future. It didn't work out that way. Microsoft bolted from IBM's side when it released Windows 3.0 and snubbed OS/2. At the same time, Microsoft was developing its Office suite for Windows, including Word. WordPerfect's proprietary printer drivers and user interface weren't a good match with the graphics-and-mouse-heavy Windows GUI, and the company seemed slow to react to Windows' growth. Plus, die-hard WordPerfect DOS users could tell you that it wasn't the same as the product they knew by heart. Novell bought its Utah neighbor WordPerfect in 1994 to create a Microsoft Office competitor that included Borland's Quattro Pro spreadsheet, but gave up two years later and sold the suite to Corel.

When it came time to fail, Novell and WordPerfect got plenty of help. Microsoft's bundling of Windows and Office made it tough for Novell to sell its suite to computer makers. OEMs that stayed "pure Microsoft" were rewarded with better deals. To make things worse, e-mails show (PDF) that Microsoft actively tried to thwart its competitor's integration with Windows 95. In those e-mails, Bill Gates says:


I have decided that we should not publish these [Windows 95 user interface] extensions. We should wait until we can do a high level of integration that will be difficult for the likes of Notes and WordPerfect to achieve, and which will give Office a great advantage.

By the time that e-mail was written in late 1994, WordPerfect was already in trouble. It's clear, though, that Microsoft had no problem in using its operating system monopoly to kick WordPerfect while it was down. Whether this case goes all the way through trial or is settled out of court, I have a feeling that Microsoft will end up paying for its role in WordPerfect's downfall.