Microsoft, Feds Extend Antitrust Oversight

The technology company agreed to extend its licensing and documentation of desktop communications protocols by two years, stemming from the antitrust settlement agreement Microsoft and Justice have in place.

Due to concerns by the federal government that Microsoft has lapsed considerably in complying with terms of its 2002 antitrust settlement, oversight by the government will be extended to November 2009. Microsoft agreed voluntarily to that extension.

California Attorney General Bill Lockyer said the agreement will help the settlement achieve “important objectives of marketplace and consumer protection.” Eighteen states including California, and the US Department of Justice, were parties to the agreement.

Microsoft’s work on developing the communications protocols needed by third-party application providers to interoperate with Microsoft’s software had been found to be “of limited use” to competitors.

To fully comply with the settlement, Microsoft needs to completely rewrite the protocols they have created to date.

General Counsel Brad Smith for Microsoft said “even after the expiration of these provisions of the consent decree, it will continue on a voluntary basis to document and license the communications protocols in the Windows desktop operating system that are used to interoperate with Windows server OS products.”

Smith also said the company would continue to make Windows source code available to licensees under the settlement program’s provisions.

Microsoft will also establish an interoperability lab where licensees can test the protocols and obtain assistance from Microsoft engineers on-site.

Internet Explorer formed part of the issue drawing scrutiny from Justice and the states involved. With IE 7 available in a public beta version, users of that beta can use a search box built in to the browser for the first time.

The inclusion of a search box had search engine leader Google crying foul.

“We don’t think it’s right for Microsoft to just set the default to MSN. We believe users should choose,” Google’s Marissa Mayer said in an April report. It has since been found that the default changes to Google or Yahoo in IE 7 if that PC’s user has downloaded software from either company.

Our test found IE 7 beta 2 defaulting to Google in the search box upon installation, rather than MSN Search. We had downloaded the Google Toolbar for Firefox in a previous test.

Antitrust reviewers had no issues with Microsoft’s search box, a component they had been examining closely. Court documents reported IE 7 has “a relatively straightforward method for the user to select a different search engine from the initial default.”

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