Judge Rules Microsoft Did Not Kill Novell WordPerfect

US District Judge Frederick Motz has wrapped up an epic legal saga, ruling that software company Novell did not have enough evidence to prove that Microsoft used anti-competitive practices in the 1990s to kill Novell’s  WordPerfect Office Suite.

Novell had accused the company of crippling WordPerfect, by deliberately removing Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) which it used from windows 95, even though they were present in the beta version of the operating system.

The decision was made in federal court on Monday, after the jury failed to reach consensus on the case eight months earlier.

WordPerfect – decline and fall

Utah-based Novell, now a subsidiary of Attachmate, is best known as the one-time owner of the SUSE Linux business, but had its greatest success as the maker of the NetWare networking operating system in the 1980s. In the 1990s it engaged in a lengthy and doomed struggle with Microsoft, attempting to compete with the software giant on every front, including buying Unix to compete with server versions of Windows, such as Windows NT.

Novell also bought WordPerfect, the previously dominant word processor package, then losing share to Microsoft Word, which had been combined with other packages into a suite designed to compete with Microsoft Office. Novell bought WordPerfect in 1994 for $1.5 billion (£960m). Just 18 months later, it was forced to sell the ailing company to Corel for $146 million (£93.5m). Corel still tends WordPerfect’s remnants.

Despite its short ownership of wordPerfect, it was Novell that sued Microsoft, years later in 2004, claiming that Microsoft had deliberately made Windows 95 incompatible with WordPerfect to strengthen the position of its own Word 95 and Office suite. The lawsuit included six antitrust violations, out of which five never made it to trial. Novell sought at least $1.3 billion (£830m) in compensation on the single remaining charge.

Novell accused Microsoft of making fundamental changes to the operating system, in order to push its competitor out of the market.

“All WordPerfect wanted was to compete with Microsoft Word and Office on a reasonably level playing field,” Novell attorney Jeff Johnson told jurors in closing arguments last December, as reported by Utah news site KSL.

However, after eight years, Novell was unable to prove that Microsoft had orchestrated the fall of WordPerfect.

“Although Novell presented evidence from which a jury could have found that Microsoft engaged in aggressive conduct, perhaps to monopolize or attempt to monopolize the applications market, it did not present evidence sufficient for a jury to find that Microsoft committed any acts that violated (antitrust laws) in maintaining its monopoly in the operating systems market,” wrote Motz in his ruling.

Microsoft has welcomed the decision, saying it is happy to put this matter “to rest”. Novell Vice President Jim Lundberg said that the company still believes it has a case, and will appeal against the ruling.

Last year, Novell was acquired by IT management company Attachmate Group, and SUSE Linux was spun out as a separate business unit.

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Max Smolaks @maxsmolax

Max 'Beast from the East' Smolaks covers open source, public sector, startups and technology of the future at TechWeekEurope. If you find him looking lost on the streets of London, feed him coffee and sugar.

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