With Friends Like These, Who Needs Enemies?

On March 17, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that an antitrust lawsuit brought by Novell in 2004 against Microsoft may go forward, once again putting the corporation in the glare of antitrust scrutiny. Microsoft had challenged the suit, claiming that the statute of limitations for Novell’s complaint had expired. Microsoft also argued that by staying out of the market for operating systems, Novell did not have standing to bring an antitrust case against Microsoft. Nevertheless, the Justices denied Microsoft’s request to bar the suit.

Although they are partners now, Novell and Microsoft have a contentious history, especially related to the word processing battles of Word vs. WordPerfect, which was for a time owned by Novell. Novell claims that Microsoft withheld from it technical information about Windows 95 that rendered its WordPerfect program unable to compete with Microsoft Word. One steamy (okay, steamy by software standards) bit of evidence from the suit — an incriminating email written by Bill Gates:

“I have decided that we should not publish these extensions. We should wait until we have away to do a high level of integration that will be harder for likes of Notes, WordPerfect to achieve, and which will give Office a real advantage. . . . We can’t compete with Lotus and WordPerfect/Novell without this.”

WordPerfect subsequently lost an enormous share of its market to Word, and Novell has moved on from word processing software to customizing the Linux operating system.

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