DOJ keeps an eye on Longhorn development

US antitrust enforcers have started to track Microsoft's development work on Longhorn, the successor to Windows XP, in a move to...

US antitrust enforcers have started to track Microsoft's development work on Longhorn, the successor to Windows XP, in a move to ensure that the supplier will not violate the final judgment in the government's antitrust case.

The US Department of Justice and several US states involved in the case are particularly interested in any changes that Microsoft might make in Longhorn related to default settings and "middleware", or applications associated with the operating system, such as web browser and media player software.

As part of the final judgment, Microsoft has to make it easy for users and PC suppliers to remove access to Microsoft middleware products and select competing products instead. Additionally, Windows cannot be programmed to automatically change the configuration of icons, shortcuts or menu entries installed by a PC supplier.

"Early attention to these issues will enable plaintiffs and Microsoft to address any potential concerns in a timely matter, before the final structure of the product is locked into place," the filing said.

The filing is a joint status report on Microsoft's adherence to the final judgment in the DOJ's antitrust case against Microsoft, made in 2002. The judgment was entered after Microsoft settled the case with the DOJ and several US states in 2001.

Microsoft has provided the antitrust authorities with information on the development of Longhorn and discussions about the future operating system release have begun, according to the filing. Longhorn is expected to be released in 2006, and a first beta of the product is slated for release in early 2005.

A technical committee for the DOJ and the states is also testing the upcoming Service Pack 2 for Windows XP for compliance with the final judgment. The work includes running hundreds of tests to check the behaviour of Windows in relation to third-party middleware products. Similar tests will be done with Longhorn, according to the filing.

The joint status report also discusses continuing issues regarding Microsoft's compliance with the final judgment in the antitrust case, including the Microsoft Communications Protocol Programme (MCPP) and Microsoft's licensing terms for PC suppliers.

The MCPP makes Microsoft's Windows communications protocols available to third parties. Microsoft started licensing its protocols through the programme in August 2002, and the programe has been revised several times since then in response to comments from the DOJ.

Microsoft is still working on simplifying the technical documentation associated with the MCPP, which it agreed to do in April after complaints were received by the DOJ. Microsoft is also expanding the MCPP programme with technical support,.

Additionally, the DOJ and the settling states are now satisfied that Microsoft's removal of so-called "nonassert provisions" in the licenses for PC sellers resolves any compliance concerns in that area. The provisions prevented licensees from suing Microsoft over patents related to Windows.

One remaining concern over the MCPP is that Sun Microsystems still has not signed an agreement it made with Microsoft. The agreement was announced on 1 April and Microsoft expects it to be signed later this month.

Joris Evers writes for IDG News Service

Read more on IT legislation and regulation