DoJ to Microsoft: What About Longhorn

Plaintiffs in antitrust suits filed against Microsoft by various states and the U.S. Department of Justice have begun asking about Longhorn.

Parties to the suits filed a joint status report on Tuesday, in advance of two status conferences scheduled for February 1. They revealed new concerns about whether Longhorn, Microsoft’s next-generation operating system slated for release in 2006, will honor the terms of the judgment.

The plaintiffs reported that they’d handed Microsoft a list of topics concerning whether Longhorn might raise new issues of compliance.

Microsoft agreed to hold regular briefings on its plans for Longhorn, with the first one scheduled for mid-February.

The technical committee completed testing of Windows XP Service Pack 2 to make sure it let OEMs and users select competing middleware, including browsers, e-mail clients, media players and instant messaging software. It concluded more information was needed.

In its part of the status report, Microsoft reported that Unisys Corporation and vBrick Systems, a provider of streaming video and video-on-demand software, had licensed the MCPP. The new licenses bring the total to 21. Unisys, a global IT services company, took out a general purpose server license. By now, six companies are shipping products that use the MCPP protocols: Cisco , EMC , NetApp, Starbak< VeriSign and Tandberg.

In the November 2001 final judgments negotiated between Microsoft, the DoJ and the various states, Microsoft was required to make available the communication protocols that let Microsoft middleware interoperate with the Windows operating system It also set up the independent panel that monitors the company’s business practices and releases reports such as yesterday’s.

In the report, the watchdog committee complained that the technical documentation offered to licensees of Microsoft’s server communications protocols still may not be good enough to actually implement the protocols — even after hiring Craig Hunt, author of several books on server administration, as a consultant. The licenses are offered under the Microsoft Communications Protocol Program (MCPP).

To make sure that the final documentation for those protocols is complete, accurate and usable, technical advisers will oversee a one-year project to create prototype implementations of tasks covered by the MCPP. At the same time, Microsoft will develop and release a series of protocol parsers for all the protocols available in the MCPP.

“We agreed to implement this project in order to complete the evaluation which ensures the technical documentation is accurate and complete,” Microsoft spokeswoman Stacy Drake said. Microsoft will pay for the prototyping project, but she would not disclose the amount.

The documentation will be revised and updated as the project moves along, and the parsers will be compared against actual network packets in the test environment.

Microsoft will continually release updates to its existing MCPP documentation as errors and omissions are identified.

Stressing that Microsoft believed the original documentation was complete and accurate, Drake said, “The technical documentation for the protocol licensing program is complex, and it’s never been done before. It’s very much an iterative process.”

This has been an ongoing battle for Microsoft. The monitoring committee raised concerns about the “completeness, accuracy and sufficiency” of the documentation provided to MCPP licensees. Microsoft delivered revisions last July and promised the project would be complete by September 2004.

In October 2004, the technical committee also asked Microsoft to offer the documentation in something other than its rights-protected HTML format, which has limited search capabilities and which can only be viewed with Internet Explorer. Microsoft has agreed to provide the documentation in Adobe PDF format by the end of Q2 2005.

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