Microsoft Backs From Media Player Scheme

In a bi-annual report to anti-trust regulators, Microsoft stated it is backing off from a requirement that prevented manufacturers from using competing media players if they used Windows Media Player (WMP).

One of the terms in the landmark settlement between the U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ) and Microsoft in 2002 was a ban against the Redmond, Wash., software giant forming any exclusive agreements.

But Microsoft’s marketing department apparently sent CDs containing the company’s media player application, as well as others, to portable music player manufacturers. If manufacturers decided to ship the CD with their product, the requirement was they could not distribute any alternative media players, such as Apple’s iTunes or Real’s RealPlayer.

Microsoft noted in the status report that WMP exclusivity was a draft specification requirement sent to a number of manufacturers, which was quickly modified. The new marketing effort, sent 10 days after the complaint was filed, allows manufacturers to include any software from third-party vendors if they decide to ship the Microsoft CD.

DoJ officials seem to be satisfied with the results and won’t press the issue, stating that while the event was unfortunate, “Microsoft took quick steps to correct this error.”

Teams from the DoJ and Microsoft work to ensure the measures adopted in the final judgment of their settlement are enforced and file a joint report on their status twice a year. An interim report was filed in June.

The DoJ has been keeping a close eye on its former courtroom adversary. Last year the government agency said Microsoft was “generally moving in the right direction,” despite hitches such as the company wanting to distribute licensee documentation only in Internet Explorer-compatible form.

Work remains in other areas of Microsoft compliance. A DoJ technical committee was formed earlier this year to improve the technical documentation in the Microsoft Communications Protocol Program (MCPP), a license program that lets third-party software developers work on the Windows OS.

Since March, the technical committee has found more than 550 issues in the MCPP, of which 200 have been resolved. The DoJ breaks down its issues — or service level goals, instituted in July — into three priorities, each with deadlines for compliance. Roughly fourth-fifths of the 550 issues were deemed medium priority, which requires resolution within 17 days.

According to the report, Microsoft has met its all its deadlines for issues brought up by the technical committee. However, there is still a backlog for any issues brought up before the service level goals were implemented. The MCPP joint effort is expected to run until July 2006.

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