Opening Windows

Microsoft Corporation will reveal hundreds of pieces of proprietary computer code from its monopoly Windows operating system in the next several weeks to comply with an antitrust settlement it signed with the US Justice Department last year, the company said on Monday.

The software giant said the disclosures are part of its first steps to comply with the settlement that must still be approved by a federal judge and is still opposed by nine state attorneys general seeking stiffer sanctions.

Microsoft plans to disclose 385 pieces of computer code and internal operating rules, previously kept secret, that outside developers can use to write programs to run on Windows.

But Brad Smith, a Microsoft senior vice president, told reporters during a conference call that, “It is probably too early to really determine how this will affect us and how it will affect our competitors.”

A representative for California Attorney General Bill Lockyer said officials were awaiting industry comment to gauge the effect of the disclosures. “We obviously believe there needs to be tougher remedies,” said Sandy Michioku.

In its original case against Microsoft, the Justice Department and 18 states had accused the company of deliberately withholding computer code in Windows to hamper competitors.

Microsoft reached a deal with the Justice Department in November. Nine of the 18 states in the lawsuit agreed to sign on to the deal, but nine others are asking US District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly for tougher restrictions.

Microsoft said that, in addition to 272 pieces of code, it also would reveal 113 proprietary software “protocols” that computer server makers can license to make their machines work better with Windows desktops.

UNIFORM TERMS, CUSTOMISED WINDOWS

The company said new, uniform terms for the licensing of Windows went into effect August 1.
The terms would apply to the top 20 computer makers and be offered to other manufacturers.

Microsoft also said upcoming updates of the new Windows XP operating system will allow computer makers and consumers to add and remove access to some Windows features such as Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, Windows media player, and Outlook Express.

The provisions were central to Microsoft’s settlement with the Justice Department, which the department says is designed to let computer makers customise the machines they sell with more non-Microsoft software.

The Justice Department said it was reviewing the licensing terms for revealing the protocols “to determine whether they are compliant with the terms of the proposed consent decree.”

The dissenting states say their remedies would close loopholes in the Justice Department settlement and force Microsoft to sell a cheaper, stripped-down version of Windows, which could be customised by rival software makers.

In their final arguments before Kollar-Kotelly, the states said their most important demand was for Microsoft to disclose far more about the inner workings of Windows.

The nine states still pursuing the case are California, Connecticut, Florida, Iowa, Kansas, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Utah, West Virginia, plus the District of Columbia.

Microsoft’s critics in the computer industry were unmoved.

“They’re still retaining for themselves complete control over what they release, when they release it and what is suitable subject matter for release,” Ken Wasch, head of the Software & Information Industry Association said in a telephone interview with Reuters.

Wasch said that during the trial Microsoft took the position it was already disclosing enough technical information to software developers. “Were they lying to us then, or are they lying to us now?” Wasch said.

Microsoft representative Jim Desler said the company has always provided enough technical disclosure to software developers. “These are just additional disclosures, obviously required by the consent decree,” Desler said.

Microsoft has criticised the non-settling states’ proposal as radical and harmful to consumers.

Microsoft said on Monday there was one Windows “programming interface” and one server protocol it would still keep secret for security reasons.

In a landmark ruling on the case in June 2001, a federal appeals court dismissed parts of the government’s case, but upheld a lower court’s conclusion that Microsoft had used illegal tactics to maintain its Windows monopoly.

Microsoft has told the judge it would be catastrophic if other companies got too much access to the inner workings of the operating system.

It said that would allow them to “clone” Windows, prompting Microsoft to stop investing in research and development on the operating system. - Reuters

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