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It's round two for Novell v. Microsoft

Four days after Novell Inc. of Waltham received half a billion dollars from Microsoft Corp. to settle an antitrust complaint, Novell has filed another antitrust suit against its giant rival.

Novell, which makes networking and directory software based on the Linux operating system, charged that Microsoft used its monopoly over desktop computer operating systems to crush WordPerfect, a word processing program that Novell sold during the mid-1990s.

"Microsoft abused its monopoly power in the PC operating systems market to suppress the sales of WordPerfect and Novell's related office productivity applications," according to the complaint filed yesterday in US District Court in Utah. The Novell complaint said that while WordPerfect held 50 percent of the word-processing software market in 1990, its share had fallen to less than 10 percent in 1996.

Novell had acquired WordPerfect for $855 million in 1994, planning to use it as the core of an office software suite that would challenge Microsoft Office. But Novell's strategy failed, and by 1996 the company sold WordPerfect to the Canadian software company Corel for $186 million.

A federal court in 2001 found that Microsoft had violated antitrust laws by using unfair business tactics to maintain the dominant position of its Windows operating system. In its lawsuit, Novell uses findings of that case to argue that Microsoft used its Windows monopoly to hinder WordPerfect. For instance, Novell alleges that Microsoft withheld vital technical information about how Windows works. This prevented Novell from improving its software, which ran on Windows-based machines.

Microsoft issued a statement challenging the merits of Novell's lawsuit. "Through this lawsuit, Novell seeks to blame Microsoft for its own mismanagement and poor business decisions," Microsoft said. "The record is clear that bad decisions and business mistakes are the reasons WordPerfect fell out of favor with consumers. It's also unfortunate, and surprising, that Novell has just now chosen to litigate over a business it owned for a very short time and that it sold more than eight years ago."

On Monday, Novell and Microsoft revealed a settlement of a separate antitrust dispute. Novell had threatened to sue over Microsoft business practices that had allegedly harmed Novell's NetWare network operating system. To resolve the dispute, Microsoft agreed to pay Novell $536 million in cash.

Hiawatha Bray can be reached at bray@globe.com.

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