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Even if Microsoft Corp. officers all the way up to Bill Gates did engage in anti-competitive practices in the mid-'90s, Novell Inc. made poor decisions that led to the decline of the Utah company, an attorney said Tuesday as a federal court trial opened that pits the two companies in a high-stakes lawsuit.

David Tulchin denied in opening arguments in Salt Lake City that Microsoft had engaged in anti-competitive behavior. But even if it had, he said, the Provo-based company was to blame for a $1 billion loss related to Novell's mid-'90s purchase of faltering WordPerfect and the spreadsheet Quattro Pro in a bid to go head-to-head with the software giant.

During the first full day of what's expected to be a seven-week trial in the lawsuit brought by Novell, the attorney asked the 12-member jury not to award any money. WordPerfect and then Novell failed to grasp until it was too late that the graphical operating systems that began with Apple and then Microsoft's Windows 3.0 were the future of personal computing, he argued. The Utah companies were slow adapting their software, he added, also pointing out that Novell had waited 10 years after it was allegedly harmed to file the suit.

"These products were in decline all the way along, and Novell made it more so with its decisions," said Tulchin.

But in his opening argument, Novell attorney Jeff Johnson displayed a number of emails and documents from Microsoft, including some sent to and from Gates. He said the documents supported his contention that Microsoft intentionally tried to stifle Novell's word processor and spreadsheet because it feared the competition would harm sales of Microsoft's Office suite and ultimately make its operating systems less relevant.

At the heart of Novell's case is a 1994 decision by Gates to exclude several pieces of software called application programming interfaces in Windows 95, a move the Utah company said was aimed at preventing WordPerfect and the PerfectOffice suite from using a special folder system. Johnson showed the jury a Gates email from 1994 in which he decided not to include the APIs in Windows 95, mentioning competition with WordPerfect.

"Microsoft seriously crippled Novell's ability to produce a competitive product in a timely manner," said Johnson.

The trial marks the last of a number of antitrust claims against Microsoft that stretch back to 1990s, when the Department of Justice sued it over allegations it was engaging in anti-competitive practices.

At least 25 lawyers from both sides populated the Salt Lake City courtroom presided over by federal Judge J. Frederick Motz of Baltimore, who has been overseeing the antitrust cases against Microsoft.

Tulchin said Gates, who was CEO of Microsoft in the mid-'90s and remains as chairman, would testify later in the trial about why he made decisions affecting Windows 95 that Novell contends hurt its WordPerfect and Quattro Pro businesses, which led to a $1 billion loss.

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