James Barksdale, former CEO of Netscape and the US government’s first witness in the Microsoft antitrust trial, yesterday returned to the witness stand to urge a judge to impose tougher remedies on the software giant.

Netscape was on the losing end of the so-called ‘browser wars’ against Microsoft, and saw its market share for its Navigator browser, at 77 per cent in 1997, dwindle to around 10 per cent today.

Barksdale then and today blamed Microsoft for this decline in browser share.

He came to court to testify in support of the remedy sought by the nine states that have refused to sign the Bush administration’s proposed settlement. Dissenters believe the deal isn’t strong enough to protect new technologies and companies, as Barksdale’s company once was.

“[Netscape] Was the primary target of Microsoft’s anticompetitive behaviour; Navigator, our innovative product, never had the opportunity to complete its growth as a true platform for software development because Microsoft perceived Netscape as a threat to its desktop operating system monopoly,” wrote Barksdale in his prepared testimony.

The Department of Justice settlement contains a provision allowing PC makers to remove end-user access to Microsoft applications and substitute third-party applications. However, it will “do absolutely nothing to remove the code for this Microsoft middleware from the machine,” wrote Barksdale. As a result, Barksdale wrote, the proposed remedy will do “virtually nothing to enable developers of rival middleware products to compete.”

Consumer choice Microsoft lead trial counsel John Warden began laying the groundwork for an attack on this contention late yesterday afternoon, citing recent distribution announcements by Real Networks, the Seattle-based applications firm whose product competes with Microsoft’s media player.

Real Networks said in January that it had 250 million unique registered users, and late last year reached distribution agreements with Compaq for its media player.

“Didn’t you testify at the trial that Navigator was ubiquitous?” asked Warden, who cross-examined Barksdale at the original trial.

“It’s not anymore,” Barksdale quipped in court today.

The states’ proposed alternative remedy would prevent Microsoft from co-mingling middleware application code with the operating system – unless it also offers a stripped down version of the operating system.

The remedy doesn’t guarantee that a rival applications maker will gain ubiquity on the desktop, but it does allow consumer choice, Barksdale wrote.

The government’s proposed settlement falls short, Barksdale wrote, because it doesn’t stop the company from co-mingling applications and operating system code.