Fourteen-Year-Old Email Comes Back To Haunt Microsoft

Dennis Faas's picture

The Supreme Court has ruled that Microsoft must defend itself against allegations it unfairly tried to undermine rivals as far back as the mid-1990s. The case stems from a 2004 lawsuit by software firm Novell, which claimed Microsoft "deliberately targeted and destroyed" its word processor WordPerfect and spreadsheet Quattro Pro.

Novell alleges that Microsoft targeted the programs because they could run on non-Windows PCs. By making these programs less popular, Microsoft allegedly tried to make Windows a more attractive operating system.

This week's case is the result of the 2004 lawsuit, which itself came about through a previous federal anti-trust case that ruled Microsoft illegally protected Windows. In its defense, Microsoft argued that because Novell didn't produce an operating system, it couldn't bring a case on this basis. Novell's response, which the Supreme Court backed, was that previous cases involving Netscape's Navigator Internet browser and Sun's Java system had established that software producers could still be harmed by Microsoft's actions.

The Novell case will now go to court where, if judges rule against Microsoft, it could have to pay up to three times whatever financial damages Novell can prove it suffered. (Source:

Novell's specific allegation -- which may sound familiar to anyone who has read about Microsoft's recent EU fines -- is that the Redmond-based company kept secrets about software compatibility and Windows 95. Their evidence includes a 1994 email from Bill Gates ordering colleagues to delay handing over the information because such a delay would make for a competitive advantage.

Novell also says Microsoft discouraged hardware manufacturers from including WordPerfect or Quattro with Windows-compatible machines. At one stage, WordPerfect was the best-selling word processor, ahead of Microsoft's own Word. (Source:

Ironically, Novell and Microsoft have been working together on other projects since 2006.

It's tough to predict how this case will turn out; judges may rule that Novell have waited far too long to claim any damages.  However, this week's ruling does confirm that anti-trust laws can apply to individual programs as well as operating systems.

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