Microsoft delays on antitrust compliance requirements

Microsoft is behind schedule in complying with a court order to document its proprietary communications protocols, according to...

Microsoft is behind schedule in complying with a court order to document its proprietary communications protocols, according to US authorities monitoring its behaviour.

It also plans to release the documents in a file format that cannot be annotated and can only be used with Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser, the authorities said in a report published on 8 October.

Microsoft has agreed to review the documentation format and suggest alternatives within 60 days.

The report, which was written with the plaintiffs in the US government's anti-trust case against the company, is one of a series requested regularly by the US District Court for the District of Columbia to monitor Microsoft's compliance with the final judgment in the anti-trust case.

The judgment requires Microsoft to document and license its software communications protocols and to revise the terms under which it licenses its Windows operating system to PC makers.

In July, Microsoft said it would complete revisions of the documentation required by the court in the autumn, but may now have to extend work on a beta or test version of the new documentation into December.

The plaintiffs have three main areas of concern about the documentation.

Microsoft, asked to open up and document the interfaces to its communication protocols for licensees, has chosen to issue the documentation in a rights-protected file format called MHT, readable only with Internet Explorer. This means licensees can not annotate or effectively search the information

Microsoft defended its choice, saying it had put "very substantial effort" into converting all the documentation into MHT format because it can handle large documents and can secure the documentation. Microsoft said it has published the specification for MHT and it offers a free software development toolkit for the digital rights management system, enabling anyone to develop a new software application to decode and read the files using another browser.

The plaintiffs also questioned the completeness and accuracy of the documentation, saying it was of the utmost importance that Microsoft address the issue over the next 60 days.

Finally, the plaintiffs highlighted the complex and error-prone system for distributing the documentation over the internet. Microsoft has agreed to send the documentation to licensees on CD or DVD.

Microsoft has agreed to continue working on the documentation to meet the plaintiffs' concerns, even after this round of improvements is complete.

The company now has 19 licensees for its communications protocols.

The plaintiffs also raised continuing concerns about other Microsoft licences.

When Microsoft licenses PC makers to install Windows on machines they manufacture, it often grants them a discount to provide them with funds to help with their marketing.

At the request of the plaintiffs, Microsoft has agreed to clarify in its Market Development Agreement that advertisements for PCs sold without Windows need not include its tagline, and that PCs sold with more than one operating system, including a non-Microsoft operating system, may also include language recommending other operating systems.

Contracts for Microsoft's .NET Framework require that licensees ask Microsoft for permission before publishing benchmark testing results for the framework. The plaintiffs asked Microsoft to change it. Microsoft agreed to modify it to require only prior notice from licensees of their intent to publish, so that it can attempt to reproduce the results itself.

Peter Sayer writes for IDG News Service

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