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Microsoft licensing programme needs to be improved, report says

The Microsoft Communications Protocol Program (MCPP), designed to foster the development of non-Microsoft software products, has been criticised for not working as it intended.

The MCPP lets competitors gain access, under a licence agreement, to the protocols that Microsoft's PC operating system uses to interoperate with its server OSes.

So far, the MCPP does not seem to have produced licensing deals that will give rise to broad competitors to the Windows desktop, according to the latest Joint Status Report by 16 states and the District of Columbia on Microsoft's compliance with the November 2002 antitrust settlement 

The programme appears to have turned off some potential licensees who might become important competitors.

The states added that the programme is too complex. The licence is longer than most Microsoft licenses and the royalties are complex. The scope of how the licencees can use the protocols is limited and hard to understand.

The states asked Microsoft to fix the licensing programme by helping potential licensees understand the terms, shortening the licence and extending the scope of use, so that additional Microsoft licences would not be necessary for what the licensees want to accomplish.

Microsoft said it will soon release a much shorter licence agreement, as well as to make approximately two dozen protocols available on a royalty-free basis, and make certain others are available for a fixed fee. It said it has made full compliance with the final judgement's requirements a "top priority for the company".

Massachusetts, which has not settled with Microsoft, slammed Microsoft in harsher terms in another filing, saying the company is violating the settlement by, among other things, charging excessive prices for the protocols under the MCPP. A Microsoft spokeswoman called the accusations "unsubstantiated".

The settling states - New York, Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, North Carolina, Wisconsin, California, Connecticut, Florida, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Utah and the District of Columbia - interviewed the 11 existing licensees using the MCPP as well as potential licensees that have not taken advantage of it.

Those that have signed licences so far seem to be developing a narrow set of products, and at least three of them had prior licences with Microsoft for the same or similar technology.

"The MCPP licences may simply represent a continuation of both the status quo and the business choices Microsoft made before the finding of liability and the imposition of a remedy," the states said.

The states have also received a complaint about the technical documentation Microsoft gives the licensees. That complaint is being dealt with mostly by the Technical Committee appointed in the 2002 settlement, the filing said.

Meanwhile, the states have reached what they called a satisfactory conclusion to another complaint regarding the "Shop for Music Online" feature in Windows XP.

It takes users to the Microsoft Internet Explorer browser rather than the user's preferred browser. Though it did not necessarily agree with the plaintiffs, Microsoft does plan to remove the override of the user's preferred browser through a Windows Update in February or March.

Stephen Lawson writes for IDG News Service


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