December 8, 1998 4:00 PM PST

Microsoft paints Farber as out of touch

WASHINGTON--Engaging in an esoteric, day-long debate over the definition of an operating system, Microsoft today tried to portray a government witness as an academic whose views are out of touch with the realities of the business world.

David Farber, a professor from the University of Pennsylvania hired by the government, claims that operating systems typically are distinct from the applications that run on top of them, and that there is no technical necessity for the bundling of Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser with Windows. As the trial here resumed after a four-day break, Microsoft attorney Steven Holley challenged the computer consultant's view that Internet Explorer is an application that has been "welded" on to Windows 98.

"What business people refer to as an operating system is far broader than what you are saying is an operating system, correct?" Holley asked Farber at one point.

Farber told the court that there was a difference between definitions offered by marketers and technicians and that "marketing terms can be sweeping." By way of example, Farber noted that Windows comes packaged with games and other software that clearly is not a part of the operating system.

"If you include everything out of the box, then you include games like solitaire," he explained.

What's more, Farber contended that Hadi Partovi, Microsoft's own programming manager, conceded in sworn testimony that Internet Explorer was separate from Windows. "Your own employee calls it an application," Farber told Holley. None of the portions of Partovi's deposition made public so far contain such a statement.

The debate about where to draw the line between the operating system and its applications goes to the heart of the cases filed by the Justice Department (DOJ) and 19 states. They contend that Microsoft folded its browser into its dominant operating system as a way of crushing competition from Netscape Communications. Microsoft's defense is that Internet Explorer is an integral part of the operating system, just like utility features such as memory allocation and disk sweepers.

Microsoft's day in court In writtentestimony released yesterday, Farber argued that there is no technical necessity for Microsoft's bundling of Internet Explorer with Windows. He also testified that forcing the browser on people who only want Windows is likely to create "inefficiencies" for computer manufacturers, software developers, and end users.

Much of today's debate touched on what is known as dynamically linked libraries (DLL), which are collections of Windows files that various applications call on to perform tasks. Seeking to show that Internet Explorer is an integral part of Windows, Holley identified 13 such files containing Internet Explorer code that cannot be removed from Windows without destroying its functionality.

Farber agreed that the files could not be removed, but said the DLLs were "general purpose" files that are not a part of the Web browser. Internet Explorer is "an application that's welded into the box," Farber told the court.

Despite the challenging technology involved, U.S. District Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson appeared to understand the topic. "If [a DLL file] were truly part of the operating system, is there any reason why Internet Explorer, which did not itself contain that code, could not invoke it?" he asked Farber.

Still, Jackson appeared to grow weary with Holley's questions concerning DLL files, telling the lawyer to move on at one point. As the cross-examination continued, Holley's voice grew hoarse, prompting Jackson to cut the questioning short for the day.

Although Farber was influential in building the Internet, he has little experience in operating system design for personal computers, a point Holley seized on earlier in the day.

"Other than a very high level of generality, you do not know anything about the internal workings of Windows 95 or Windows 98, do you?" Holley asked. Farber admitted he has no expert knowledge concerning the products.

Still, Farber said that an operating system is, in essence, "a vault" in which only very basic functions should be permitted. Those functions See CNET Radio: Our Man in Washington include coordinating a computer's memory with its disk drives, monitors, and other devices. Farber contended that "large parts of the Internet do not belong in the vault" because they make the computer vulnerable to security breaches.

Holley's cross-examination of Farber is expected to continue tomorrow. The next witness scheduled to take the stand is Sun Microsystems vice president and Java developer James Gosling, whose testimony was interrupted by Farber's due to a scheduling conflict.

 

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