updated 11/3/2006 9:23:42 PM ET 2006-11-04T02:23:42

A district court judge in Iowa has ordered Microsoft Corp. Chairman Bill Gates and CEO Steve Ballmer to testify in person at a trial in Iowa later this month.

The company is facing a class-action antitrust lawsuit, which seeks up to $450 million for Iowans who have purchased the software maker’s products since 1994. The case claims anticompetitive practices by Microsoft caused consumers to pay more for its products that they would have otherwise.

Microsoft says its products have been successful because of their low cost and high quality.

“We believe that Iowa consumers and businesses received incredible value from our products at affordable prices,” said Microsoft attorney Rich Wallis.

A jury trial is scheduled to begin in Des Moines on Nov. 13.

(MSNBC.com is a joint venture of Microsoft and NBC Universal News.)

Polk County District Judge Scott Rosenberg said the request by plaintiffs’ attorney Roxanne Conlin to have Gates and Ballmer appear in person was not unreasonable.

“The requested witnesses are in important decision-making positions for the defendant,” he wrote in an opinion dated Thursday. “The jury should be allowed to view them live during both parties’ case presentation to observe their demeanor and help the jury to assess their credibility. This method of questioning by both parties will make the witnesses’ interrogation and presentation effective for the ascertainment of the truth.”

Wallis said the two executives had planned on appearing at the trial and the motion seeking a judge’s order was unnecessary.

“She was going to have the opportunity to ask any questions she wanted of Bill and Steve when they came to Iowa as part of our case,” Wallis said. “I think she wanted to call them first in her case and asked the judge permission to do so.”

Conlin said the judge’s ruling means they must appear when she calls for them and must answer questions she poses on topics of her choosing.

“The point was to have them come when I wanted them to testify,” she said. “We really do see this as a significant win for us.”

The Iowa case is one of a few remaining state antitrust cases against the Redmond, Wash.-based software manufacturer.

Conlin said the trial is anticipated to last six months, but Wallis doubted it would take that long.

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