An internal Microsoft memo released at the software giant's antitrust trial Thursday showed the company has considered charging an annual fee to computer users for its Windows operating system starting in 2001.
The potentially explosive revelation helps bolster charges that Microsoft's monopoly in operating systems harms consumers.
The memo last December to Bill Gates, Microsoft chairman, from Joachim Kempin, Microsoft's senior vice president for sales to personal computer makers, said the proposal to charge consumers annually was "the best thing long-term" and noted: "We have increased our prices over the last 10 years, (while) other component prices have come down and continue to come down."
The federal government and 20 states have charged that Microsoft Corp. illegally maintained its monopoly in operating systems and used that monopoly to compete unfairly against Netscape Communications Corp. in the market for Internet browsers.
In other developments:
The federal judge presiding over the Microsoft antitrust trial seemed to agree with prosecutors that Gates was being evasive, answering with "I don't knows" and long pauses throughout his videotaped deposition.
"I think it's evident to every spectator that, for whatever reasons, in many respects, Mr. Gates has not been particularly responsive to his deposition interrogation," U.S. District Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson said in a private meeting Thursday with the attorneys.
Jackson dismissed Microsoft complaints that Justice Department attorneys improperly were playing brief excerpts of Gates' testimony, culled from 20 hours of questioning over a three-day period last summer, rather than a single, long clip.