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Microsoft To Publish Windows APIs

Microsoft announced Monday it would disclose a variety of Windows technical information that the company said would bring it in line with the settlement it reached with the Department of Justice (DoJ) last fall.

Chief among the changes is the disclosure in the coming weeks of 272 internal application programming interfaces (APIs) and licensing of 113 communications protocols that would allow competitors to design application that interoperate with Microsoft's ubiquitous Windows operating system.

Also, Microsoft announced Windows XP Service Pack 1, which Microsoft began beta testing early this summer, would be available by early September. The service pack is designed to give computer makers and consumers the ability to avoid Microsoft five middleware programs: Internet Explorer, Outlook Express, MSN Messenger, Windows Media Player, and Microsoft's Java Virtual Machine.

Microsoft announced the changes in response to a number of upcoming deadlines imposed on the company in its settlement with the DoJ in November. Nine states and the District of Columbia rejected the settlement, saying the remedies would do little to stop Microsoft's anti-competitive behavior. U.S. District Court Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly recently heard closing arguments in the holdout states' antitrust suit. She is expected to rule on the case in early fall, either certifying the settlement or imposing a more onerous remedy advocated by the states.

"That settlement has not yet been approved but under the stipulations we filed in the court, Microsoft is obligated as a company to move forward to meet our obligations," Microsoft general counsel Brad Smith said in a conference call.

Microsoft will disclose the 272 APIs on Aug. 28, publishing them on its Microsoft Developer Network Web site. The 113 internal communications protocols will be made available for licensing beginning tomorrow, Smith said, along with 5,000 pages of background information for developers. Microsoft declined to reveal pricing for the protocols, and the company said it would require non-disclosure agreements for any company interested in licensing them.

While Microsoft would not reveal the pricing structure for protocol liceneses, it said some would be available for as little as $5 per server.

"We feel very confident these prices are reasonable," Smith said.

Of the protocols Microsoft identified, Smith said the company would only withhold two: an API for Windows file protection and a secure remote procedure call (RPC) protocal.

"There is an unprecedented breadth to the licensing involved," Smith said.

Microsoft director of business development for its Window Group, Charlie DeJong, said the company needed to withhold the file-protection API out of concern for virus attacks, while the RPC was found to have a security hole that would leave user open to malicious attacks. Microsoft issued a patch for the security hole, and DeJong said the protocol for a later version of the RPC would be made available.

"The exceptions are clearly not swallowing any of the rules," said Smith, answering Microsoft critics who said the company would use loopholes in the Justice Department settlement to avoid disclosing critical Windows information.

Al Gillen, research director at IDC, downplayed the effects of Microsoft's move. "This is not a panacea," he said, pointing out that the software giant would continue to set conditions in licensing agreements.

The XP Service Pack is designed to answer the charges that Microsoft forces computer makers and user to choose its programs over those from rivals. For example, it will include on Windows a new start menu button called "set program access and defaults" that allows users four choices: computer-maker's settings; Microsoft only; non-Microsoft only; and customized. The default choice is customized.

The new options could help computer manufacturers, who can now choose third-party middleware, as well as rival manufacturers of Microsoft products like AOL Time Warner and RealNetworks.

Also, Microsoft said it rolled out its new uniform licensing agreements with computer makers on Aug. 1, as mandated in the settlement. Smith said the agreements give computer makers more flexibility, expanded warranty protection, and further patent indemnification.

While acknowledging Microsoft would not have made these changes on its own, Smith said the company was committed to repairing its bullying reputation.

"We need to take these kind of steps if we are going to win back the confidence of people in the government as well as the industry," he said.

Still, Microsoft's moves could be washed away Judge Kollar-Kotelly's ruling. The states have pushed for more widespread remedies, including forcing Microsoft to publish its Windows source code. Despite instructions from Judge Kollar-Kotelly to pinpoint a possible compromise, Microsoft's lawyers stood pat, repeating the company's mantra that it could not yield any more than it had in the DoJ settlement.