RealTime IT News

Microsoft, DoJ Resolve Latest Antitrust Dispute

WASHINGTON -- The Department of Justice (DoJ) said Tuesday Microsoft is "generally moving in the right direction" in its compliance efforts with the landmark 2002 antitrust settlement between the company and the DoJ.

Earlier this month, the DoJ complained in a required status report that Microsoft wanted to distribute documentation for licensees in a rights-protected file format, derivative of HTML, that can only be used with Microsoft's Internet Explorer (IE) browser.

"I think we have resolved the distribution issue. It's one more thing we can check off the list," DoJ attorney Renata Hesse told U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, who was holding a quarterly compliance status court session.

As a result of the complaint, Microsoft agreed to provide new documentation versions and regular updates to licensees on CD-ROMs, as well as through the current online method.

Microsoft attorney Charles Rule told Kollar-Kotelly the protected document format, known as MHT, could be viewed through browsers other than IE, although he was not aware of any other browsers that supported MHT. Microsoft also said it offers a free software toolkit for developers to decode and read the MHT files using another browser.

"The company rewrote the technical documentation first for eBooks and then we looked around for more flexibility and security and decided on MHT," Rule said. "Both sides are working in good faith."

Microsoft contends MHT offers the best available combination of navigational and usability features, a familiar viewer interface, ability to handle large document files and security of the documentation.

The 2002 settlement between Microsoft and the DOJ requires Microsoft to license parts of its Communications Protocol Program (MCPP) technology so competitors can develop competitive products that work seamlessly with Windows. Rule said 19 companies have so far licensed the MCPP protocol.

Since the last report to the court in July, Microsoft said it has implemented changes to the MCPP to incorporate feedback from the technical committee monitoring Microsoft's compliance. The 40-page beta MCPP specification was distributed to approximately 100 individual users at licensee companies.

The MCPP documentation beta version, according to Microsoft, includes a number of new features, such as a searchable index, text search capability, an "ever present" table of contents and enhanced error codes.

Microsoft, with the approval of the technical committee, has extended the beta documentation to Nov. 15 and now says it may be as early as next year before a final version is ready.

"It's taking much longer than any of us had hoped," Hesse said.

Rule told Kollar-Kotelly that "we're always going to be improving documentation," but Microsoft is aiming for a January completion date of the MCPP documentation.

Along with the MCPP documentation, the DoJ also complained in the compliance report about confusion among OEMs about Microsoft's Market Development Agreement (MDA). Under the terms of the MDA, Microsoft provides marketing funds in the form of discounts on each copy of Windows to OEMs whose print advertisements and Web sites promote Microsoft's operating system.

One such arrangement requires OEMs to place a tagline like "[OEM] recommends Windows XP Professional." At the DoJ's request, Microsoft has clarified the meaning of its tagline policy so that OEMs selling computers without Windows do not have to run the tagline, and OEMs that offer both Windows and a competing operating system may use the tagline but are not required to do so.

The next court compliance hearing is set for Jan. 21, 2005.