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Justice Department Kicks Off Microsoft Antitrust Court Case

By Rajiv Chandrasekaran
The Washington Post
WASHINGTON

The Justice Department and 20 states kicked off their antitrust case against software giant Microsoft Corp. Monday with claims that company chairman Bill Gates, the world's richest man, was a ringleader in illegal efforts to crush competition.

Reading from dozens of his confidential electronic-mail messages and playing video clips of him on a larger-than-life screen, government lawyers tried to depict two faces of Gates: in taped depositions, a cagey executive who maintains he did no wrong; in private e-mail, a ruthless tycoon who will do whatever it takes to squash his rivals.

In particular, government lawyers tried to show in opening statements Monday that Gates played a key role in setting the agenda for a June 1995 meeting between Microsoft and executives from Netscape Communications Corp., a Silicon Valley company that will figure prominently in the trial.

The government alleges that Microsoft executives felt threatened by Netscape's hot new software for "browsing" the Internet and at the meeting urged the upstart firm not to make a version of the product that would work with Microsoft's widely used Windows 95 operating system for personal computers. Microsoft was producing a browser of its own for Windows 95.

Gates is not scheduled to testify at the non-jury trial, being held in a District of Columbia federal courthouse. But in the day's most dramatic moment, Justice Department attorney David Boies played four video clips of a deposition of Gates, who was slouching in a large leather chair as he answered pretrial questions from government lawyers.

In one of the excerpts, a visibly testy Gates maintained that he did not play a part in setting up the meeting with Netscape. "I had no sense of what Netscape was doing," Gates said. In another segment, Gates said that "the first I heard of that meeting and somebody trying to characterize it in a negative way was in the Wall Street Journal."

Microsoft will deliver its opening arguments Tuesday before U.S. District Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson.