Judge may have to force open Windows

The US government “remains concerned” that Microsoft is making it difficult for rivals to access Windows despite being ordered to open up its software to competitors last year.

In a report presented to US district judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, who presided over the settlement of the long-running Microsoft case, the US government says the court may have to force Microsoft to account for the delay in opening itself up.

The news came as speculation mounted that Microsoft is considering paying a special dividend worth $10-billion either as a one-off or spread over successive quarters.
The company refused to comment.

Analysts believe it is increasingly likely that Microsoft will seek to make use of its cash pile following last year’s settlement with the US government which has removed much of the uncertainty surrounding the company’s future.

Although a handful of private lawsuits remain, Microsoft recently settled one of its potentially largest suits, with internet browser firm Netscape.

The company had alleged that Microsoft was using anti-competitive practices to ensure that its own browser, Internet Explorer, gained a stronger position on PCs than Netscape’s Navigator product. The dispute was settled in May as Microsoft paid AOL, Netscape’s owner, $750-million and pledged to work more closely with the company.

Last November’s court settlement brought to a close a long-running dispute with US states. In that settlement, Microsoft promised to license certain pieces of technology “on reasonable and non-discriminatory terms” to rivals.

This was seen at the time as playing a key role in loosening Microsoft’s grip on the computer market. It was designed to ensure that rival’s software would work on computer systems running Microsoft’s operating system.

Without this measure, the court said last year, the rest of its judgement could prove “prematurely obsolete”.

In its report on Microsoft’s compliance since the ruling the US government said it has received a number of complaints about Microsoft since November.

While Microsoft has made a some changes to its original licences, “plaintiffs remain concerned about the royalty structure and rates proposed by Microsoft”. The concerns raised by the US government echo complaints made recently by some of Microsoft’s rivals including Sun Microsystems.

The report also points out Microsoft’s progress in making it easier for PC users to access software programs designed by its rivals while using a computer running its Windows operating system.

In response to concerns raised by its rivals, Microsoft has changed the way PC makers and computer users can access a tool—known as set program access and default or SPA&D—which enables them to move other people’s software on to the Windows start button. Originally the SPA&D tool was “submerged” within a sub-menu of the Windows’ start button—which PC users go to first in order to launch programs on their PC, but in the latest versions of Windows that tool will pop-up on the start button. - Guardian Unlimited Â

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