Justice, Microsoft duke it out in cyberspace

Anyone with access to the World Wide Web can download the U.S. government's documents in its antitrust case against Microsoft Corp.

But anyone who decides to download the U.S. v. Microsoft case documents from the Justice Department Web site (www.usdoj.gov) will need a very large disk drive and an appreciation of techno-irony. DOJ opted to put its filings and pleading in WordPerfect 5.1 rather than the more popular Microsoft Word.

And they are massive files: 40M or more. Anyone who wants to tap into the raw material of the hottest antitrust case of the computer era since U.S. v. IBM Corp. will need a lot of free space or a stack of Zip drive disks. Storage problems aside, the amount of raw legal material from the case available on the DOJ and Microsoft Web sites illustrates the revolutionary changes wrought by Web browser and server technology, one of the larger issues at the heart of the antitrust case.

Legal cases such as U.S. v. Microsoft attract a heap of attention, not only from the press but also from industry, the legal community and academia. In pre-Web days— just a few years ago— obtaining legal complaints and filings would have required labor-intensive trips to a court clerk's office and hefty copying fees. Web technology allows individuals to avoid the court trip and lets them print out copies ad infinitum, paying only for paper and toner.

The Uniform Resource Locator for the Microsoft antitrust documents is so complicated that it may be wise to first tap into the DOJ main page and then drill down to the antitrust page to bookmark the relevant Microsoft pages.

This can be done with a few painless mouse clicks from the well-organized and uncluttered main DOJ page. Go to the bar on the left side of the page and click on the Publications and Documents bar, which takes you to the opening page of that section with a link bar on the top. Click on the Legal Documents button, which will pop up a list of cases filed by the various DOJ divisions. The Antitrust Division is on the top. Hit the Cases button under antitrust, and you will zip to an alphabetical list of cases. The U.S. v. Microsoft antitrust case is easily found.

From there you can access the complaint filed by DOJ on May 18 as well as supporting briefs. The section allows you to read the documents or download the WordPerfect files for later perusal. Legal paper junkies, beware: The document section of the DOJ Web site has references to many unrelated cases, such as the intriguing U.S. v. Mrs. Baird's Bakeries Inc.

Microsoft offers an equally comprehensive set of its legal documents in the Press Passes section of its Web site (www.microsoft.com/corpinfo/default.htm) under the headline "Innovation v. Intervention." This section offers a link to an index of the company's documents in the case, and you can download the company's briefs formatted in Microsoft Word.

Both the DOJ and Microsoft Web sites also offer what could be easily dubbed "cyberspin" on their respective cases by offering downloadable statements and articles. Here, Microsoft clearly outpaces DOJ, serving up articles in its Press Passes section by Bill Gates that originally appeared in The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. The statements have far more zip than the statements by Justice antitrust chief Joel Klein and Attorney General Janet Reno on the DOJ press page.

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