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.

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