Microsoft outlines changes to licensing programme

Microsoft has outlined changes to its communications protocol licensing programme, but critics questioned whether the...

Microsoft has outlined changes to its communications protocol licensing programme, but critics questioned whether the court-sanctioned antitrust remedy was working during a settlement decree status conference.

Microsoft lawyers outlined changes made to the Microsoft Communications Protocol Program (MCPP), including an extension of up to two years after the November 2007 date.

Companies interested in participating in MCPP will have until November 2009, or until the release of Microsoft's next server operating system, Microsoft lawyers told Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly of the US District Court for the District of Columbia Circuit.

The MCPP was the major issue during the hearing, which also dealt with making changes to Microsoft's technical documentation.

Critics of the licensing programme question itseffectiveness in generating competition among IT suppliers since a final judgment in the US government's antitrust case against Microsoft was approved by Kollar-Kotelly in November 2002.

To date, 14 companies have signed up for the programme, which makes available communications protocols in Microsoft's desktop operating systems used to interoperate with its server operating systems.

Microsoft made some changes, including removing some royalties, to the programme in January. The latest changes it detailed to Kollar-Kotelly were described in court documents released on 14 April.

Kollar-Kotelly praised the changes, but she questioned the speed at which Microsoft and the plaintiffs are agreeing to those changes and responding to other complaints.

"There's been continuing progress," she said. "Microsoft has responded to the requests... although in some cases I'd have liked us to move quicker."

Microsoft still enjoys a 90% market share in the browser and desktop operating system markets, said Stephen Houck, representing the California group of states which sued Microsoft in the antitrust case. The licensing programme's effect on competition is difficult to find, he said.

The changes to the programme are largely cosmetic, Ed Black, president and chief executive officer of the Computer and Communications Industry Association, said after the hearing.

But Microsoft lawyer Charles Rule defended Microsoft's efforts to respond to criticism. The three new licensees since January, including Sun Microsystems, show the programme is working, he said.

Microsoft is also committed to allowing the antitrust plaintiffs access to its proposed licensing agreement on its next server operating system by August 2007, he said, and the company will make technical support available to companies with questions on the MCPP's technical documentation.

Microsoft will also makes changes to the programme's technical documentation because of complaints about its complexity, Rule said. "Our door is open to talk about this, and we do it on a continuous basis."

Kollar-Kotelly scheduled the next settlement status conference for 19 July.

Grant Gross writes for IDG News Service

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