July 16, 1998 6:30 PM PDT

Hatch wants Gates back

Microsoft critic and Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Orrin Hatch says it's time to move beyond browser software in examining the company's business practices, and he has scheduled a new hearing to do just that.

Dubbed "Competition in the Digital Age: Beyond the Browser Wars," Hatch's hearing will take place July 23. It will focus on a wide array of less-visible markets Microsoft has entered, including Internet commerce and high-end or "enterprise" computing, which corporations depend on to run Web sites, intranets, and other types of networks.

"With every day, we are coming to live and to work in an increasingly networked, technology-driven world," the Utah Republican said in a statement. "There is little question that Microsoft, which now controls the PC software market, is seeking to extend its desktop monopoly in effect to control these other technologies and, to a large extent, the network itself."

The statement did not detail particular Microsoft products to be discussed or witnesses that would be called. "We will not be looking at any specific niche [of the software industry,] but I expect [Microsoft's Windows] NT to be covered and enterprise software generally to be covered," said a judiciary committee staff member, who asked not to be named. The staff member said Sun Microsystems' Java programming language, which Microsoft is accused of trying to sabotage, also may be discussed.

Witnesses will be "largely if not entirely CEOs," the staff member said, adding that Microsoft's chairman and chief executive, Bill Gates, will be invited.

Microsoft spokesman Mark Murray said that executives at the company had yet to receive formal invitations to testify, and he added that it was unclear whether anyone from Redmond would appear as a witness, even if they were to receive invitations.

"We respect Sen. Hatch and the committee, and we've gone the extra mile over the past year to provide the committee with all of the information it's requested," noted Murray. "Given Hatch's continued attacks against the company, it's not clear that additional testimony from Microsoft will serve any useful purpose."

He added that Microsoft executives have tried to get more details from Hatch's staff about the hearing's agenda, but have so far been unsuccessful.

Hatch has been a vocal critic of Microsoft for some time. In early March, he held a hearing where Gates testified alongside Scott McNealy and Jim Barksdale, the top executives from archrivals Sun and Netscape Communications, respectively. (See related coverage)

The hearing focused primarily on Microsoft's alleged attempts to leverage its 90 percent market share in PC operating systems to promote Internet Explorer. At its conclusion, Hatch said it was clear Microsoft held a monopoly in the market for desktop computer operating systems and that the company had on occasion misused its dominance. The software giant vigorously contests that claim.

More recently, Hatch told a subcommittee earlier this month that Microsoft's foray into the cable television market may overshadow his concerns about the marketing of Internet Explorer.

He added he hoped the newest hearing would allow committee members to "learn more about the future direction of business and Internet-related software, the extent to which competition and innovation may be suppressed by existing and/or potential monopoly power, and to consider what basic principles of fair competition are necessary to facilitate continued growth and innovation in this important industry."

 

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