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Microsoft boss says he urgede-mail deletions

ANTITRUST James Allchin said under oath that he instructed workers to eliminate the electronic messages unless there was a good business reason to retain them

BLOOMBERG , WASHINGTON

Microsoft Vice President James Allchin has testified he told employees in 2000 to delete e-mails at a time when the company was appealing a court-ordered breakup, people familiar with his sworn testimony said.

Allchin was questioned under oath Feb. 13 by antitrust officials from nine states that are challenging a proposed antitrust settlement between the world's largest software company and the US Justice Department. Allchin said he instructed workers to eliminate the electronic messages unless there was a good business reason to retain them, the people said.

Allchin's statements about the e-mails were stricken by Microsoft from a transcript of his eight-hour deposition last month. In an uncensored portion of the testimony distributed yesterday on Microsoft's Web site, the executive acknowledged that he had become more cautious about what he writes since the antitrust case began in 1998.

"I probably matured quite a bit," he testified, according to the transcript. "Over time, we all get a little wise, and I think the first time I saw the stuff written, I said, hmm, that doesn't, doesn't reflect well."

Vivek Varma, a Microsoft spokesman, and Bob Brammer, a spokesman for the nine states, declined to comment on the content of the depositions.

Microsoft was ordered by US District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly to make public Allchin's deposition and statements by four other witnesses, including Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer.

The judge is holding hearings this week on the proposed settlement and will begin about two months of hearings next week on the nine states' demands for tougher controls to assure Microsoft isn't illegally preventing competition.

The nine states are seeking to force Microsoft to surrender control of its Internet Explorer Web browser. Nine other states that sued Microsoft are supporting the settlement with the Justice Department.

E-mails written by Allchin and other Microsoft executives, including Chairman Bill Gates, helped government antitrust enforcers prove that Microsoft illegally thwarted competition. The government relied on hundreds of e-mails introduced during the 78-day trial in 1998 and 1999.

A judge then ordered Microsoft split in two. An appeals court overturned the decision and ordered a new judge to come up with alternative remedies. The appeals court held that Microsoft illegally protected its Windows monopoly that runs 95 percent of the world's personal computers.

Allchin's 1996 e-mails were cited by the original trial judge as evidence the company bundled its Internet Explorer Web browser into the operating system to thwart a challenge from Netscape Navigator, a rival browser now owned by AOL Time Warner Inc.

Allchin said on Feb. 13 that company attorneys "have lectured us pretty hard" on being careful about what is put in writing. Allchin heads the group that developed Windows XP and its Internet software.

"I obviously didn't delete anything," he testified in a portion of the transcript that is followed by a long gap of censored material before the questioning turns to another subject.

In the proposed settlement, Microsoft has agreed to give computer makers freedom to promote software that competes with its products.

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