Microsoft Shows Openings, DoJ Not Impressed

By: Ron Miller

Microsoft’s legal troubles with the Department of Justice continued this week when a technical committee charged with overseeing compliance found problems with the documentation supplied with licensed Microsoft server protocols.

The documentation is part of the final outcome of the landmark DoJ settlement that requires Microsoft to make key parts of its operating system easier for rivals to license.

But over the last several weeks, Microsoft has show signs of opening up by offering a new, free Visio XML schema, opening its knowledge base to partners for the first time, involving its Most Valuable Professionals (MVPs) more in product development and releasing the source code for its Windows Installer XML (Wix) under the Common Public License (CPL).

At the same time, the Redmond, Wash.-based software vendor has been clearing its plate of costly lawsuits with Sun Microsystems and InterTrust, in a series of moves Yankee Group analyst Laura Didio sees as part of an overall plan to change public and market perceptions about the company.

“It’s all part of an overarching, concerted effort for Microsoft to recast itself as a good citizen. They are trying to be high tech good citizen rather than being perceived as a market bully that doesn’t care about folks,” Didio said.

Jupiter Research Analyst, Joe Wilcox also sees this as part of an effort by Microsoft management to move forward, while maintaining some semblance of control of the process.

“Many people have asked me why Microsoft is settling so many lawsuits. One reason is that the company’s current management wants to dispatch problems originating under the older regime. But there is another — one thing common to all the settlements — companies agreeing to license Microsoft technology. I believe the most recent status report reflects one of the ways Microsoft hopes to benefit from the settlements,” Wilcox said.

In the status report, the technical committee overseeing Microsoft indicated in addition to problems with the server protocol documentation, there were open licensing issues around the so-called “non-assertion of patents provision.” The DoJ status report states that Microsoft recently announced that it was removing the non-assertion provision from future OEM licenses, but this has no effect on current or past OEM licenses already in effect. The technical committee is investigating if this inhibits the ability of OEMs to assert patents against Microsoft regarding features and functionality already in Windows XP.

Wilcox thinks Microsoft might have covered itself enough by taking on two high profile protocol clients in Sun Microsystems and America Online .

“Remember that trustbusters raised concerns about the protocol licensing program. Now, Microsoft has two high-profile companies — Sun and AOL — as protocol participants. Both companies settled with Microsoft and agreed to license the company’s technology,” Wilcox said.

One thing Microsoft has been doing to open up its software is to embrace XML , which they did with the release Office 2003. The company also launched its Microsoft Open and Royalty-Free Office 2003 XML Schema Program and Thursday they released the Microsoft Office Visio 2003 XML schema called DataDiagramML.

Bobby Moore, the product manager for Microsoft Office Visio 2003, says Microsoft made the Office XML schema available for free because it makes sense from a business perspective, rather than a political one.

“It wouldn’t make sense to leverage XML in terms of making Office a client with access to the back end and then charge for the schema. Those are counter productive goals, Moore said.

Wilcox, however, sees Microsoft’s XML strategy as another way for the company to maintain control.

“Licensing the schemas certainly offers some customer benefits. But I see the tactic as more of a way of protecting Microsoft’s traditional, file formats by encouraging wider adoption of Microsoft’s proprietary XML schemas and support for XSD. If Microsoft truly wanted to deliver maximum benefit to customers, it would open up the schemas rather than license them on a royalty-free basis,” Wilcox said.

Didio thinks it’s just a case of Microsoft seeing the market for what is and reacting to it. “Microsoft is pragmatic enough to know this isn’t 1990 and they can’t freeze the market. They have competition and they have customers demanding they open up,” Didio said.

She blames Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly for the current confusion because she has not been explicit enough with Microsoft and left them too much wiggle room to comply in a piecemeal fashion, then react to the complaints.

“If I’m Colleen Kollar-Kotelly and I’m overseeing Microsoft after a long protracted battle, you have to be smart about how you deal with them because no vendor is going to give the keys to kingdom and be compliant right away. They need to give them a clear framework about how they do it,” Didio said.

News Around the Web