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Microsoft used undocumented Windows APIs - Iowa testimony

By Simon Aughton

Posted on 15 Jan 2007 at 12:11

Microsoft used undocumented APIs that allowed its developers to write programs that worked better with Windows than competitors', according to the latest testimony in the Iowa antitrust action against the company.

The claim was made by software expert Ronald Alepin, giving evidence on behalf of the plaintiffs, as the court case resumed after its Christmas hiatus.

According to the plaintiff's account of the court proceedings, Alepin referred to a series of internal Microsoft emails, that he said showed that although these APIs (application programming interfaces) were provided to developers 'they were simply inserted into several megabytes of notes onto a CD-ROM, in a "very low profile" intended to "discourage" developers from using them and to provide enough "air cover" to allow Microsoft to say they were documented'.

In one of the emails a Microsoft product manager noted the number of 'hidden' APIs.

'All I can say is holy API batman...I'm not kidding...we are talking about literally 500-800 APIs here, no joke,' he wrote.

Alepin had earlier claimed that Microsoft ran special demonstration programs whose sole purpose was to crash rival products and alleged that the company had subverted developers who used Microsoft's version of Java 'thinking they were developing multi-platform applications, but were actually developing Windows-specific applications'.

The Iowa case - Comes v Microsoft - is attempting to show that Microsoft's business practices unfairly harmed consumers. The case has enjoyed widespread publicity after the plaintiffs submitted a 2004 email 'rant' from Microsoft executive Jim Allchin to CEO Steve Ballmer and chairman Bill Gates deploring the then-state of Windows development and saying that were he not a Microsoft employee he would buy a Mac. Apple CEO Steve Jobs added the quotation to his Macworld keynote last week, joking that the staff of Apple's Seattle store should be on the lookout for Allchin.

In its opening address last month Microsoft defended Windows' $50 price tag and rejected the argument that it depends on its monopoly of PC desktops to sell its software, instead insisting that it was the high quality and low prices of the company's software that drove consumer demand.

Having received permission from judge Rosenberg, the plaintiffs are posting daily court transcripts, admitted trial exhibits, and other information from trial at iowaconsumercase.org. Microsoft is also posting updates, on the legal news section of its website.

The case continues.

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