WASHINGTON -- Microsoft accused archrival AOL Time Warner of engineering a letter sent on behalf of six states that criticized the soon-to-be-released Windows XP operating system.
The states, which are not involved in the current Microsoft antitrust suit, sent the letter to Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer this week.
The attorney general who signed the letter, William Sorrell of Vermont, confirmed that the original draft was written by a lobbyist who works for Microsoft critics, but he had no apologies.
Windows XP includes many features that replace competitors' stand-alone products and will reach users as early as next week. It has been criticized by prosecutors and competitors.
Microsoft and government prosecutors said this week they were talking about a settlement. A federal judge will set a schedule for penalty hearings on Sept. 28.
Sorrell wrote that Windows XP "may involve additional unlawful attempts by Microsoft to maintain its operating system monopoly."
"Microsoft may have constructed this new product without due regard for relevant legal rulings, and without due regard for other issues involving consumer choice and consumer privacy," Sorrell wrote on behalf of his state as well as Arkansas, Maine, Montana, New Hampshire and Rhode Island.
An electronic copy of the letter reveals that the original author is Jeffrey Modisett, a former Indiana attorney general. Modisett's current employer represents Microsoft rivals Oracle and AOL Time Warner. The head of ProComp, an anti-Microsoft group, said Modisett formerly worked for the group as a lobbyist against Microsoft.
Microsoft spokesman Vivek Varma blamed AOL Time Warner for the letter.
"It's a shame that AOL has this much influence in the process," Varma said. "That doesn't seem to be in the best interest of consumers."
In an interview, Sorrell shrugged off that criticism. He said both competitors and Microsoft showed Windows XP to Sorrell's staff and were given an opportunity to present their points of view.
"The concerns that are addressed in the letter are concerns that I had and five other (attorneys general) had as a result of the information made available to us by Microsoft, by Microsoft's competitors and based on our own analysis," Sorrell said.
Sorrell said his interest in Windows XP was sparked when a fellow attorney general asked him what he thought of the case. A member of his staff attended a presentation by Modisett, who was known to represent Microsoft rivals, and Modisett provided a proposed draft of a letter.
But Sorrell said he and the other five attorneys general changed the letter "a minimum of 70 percent" beyond what Modisett originally wrote.
Modisett did not return repeated phone messages.
AOL said the company had nothing to do with the letter.
Mike Pettit, who heads ProComp, said he and Modisett have talked with several state attorneys general who aren't a party to the antitrust case. ProComp is financed by Microsoft rivals such as Oracle, Sun Microsystems and Netscape, now part of AOL Time Warner.
Sorrell had strong words for Microsoft and referred to reports that a group paid for by Microsoft used the names of dead people in a supposedly grass-roots campaign to lobby Utah's attorney general.
"To say that Microsoft can do what it wants to influence (attorneys general), and Microsoft competitors should be hamstrung and not be able to do that: frankly I just don't buy it," Sorrell said.
"Since my name's on the letter, I'll stand behind it."
On the Net:
Vermont attorney general: http://www.state.vt.us/atg/
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