Antitrust regulators scrutinizing Windows 7, IE 8

Evaluation part of ongoing compliance in wake of 2002 antitrust ruling.

Antitrust regulators are evaluating the forthcoming Windows 7 and Internet Explorer 8 as part of ongoing activities to ensure Microsoft is in compliance with the final judgment in two landmark antitrust cases that involved individual states and the U.S. government.

Microsoft and antitrust regulators also said they were concentrating on revising and extending documentation the software company is making available as part of its Microsoft Communications Protocol Program (MCPP). Release schedules are also being finalized.

The details were revealed in a joint status report update filed Tuesday. The plaintiffs, including New York, California, Florida and a host of other states, authored half the report, with a focus on enforcement, while Microsoft authored the other half with a focus on its compliance.

The update is the first since the previous status report issued Feb. 29, which is to stand for six-months, according to the report released by the United States District Court for the District of Columbia.

The compliance reviews are part of a November 2002 consent decree, which was extended earlier this year into 2009.

The technical committee (TC) set up by the plaintiffs and led by Craig Hunt, a technical expert from California, said it is continuing to evaluate Internet Explorer 8 to discover "any remaining middleware-related issues." Internet Explorer and its integration with the Windows operating system was a central focus in the antitrust cases. As part of the final judgment in the cases, Microsoft must disclose middleware interfaces and service protocols.

The TC also wrote that Microsoft had recently given it access to the latest build of Windows 7 for review. The TC said it would validate compliance and conduct "middleware-related tests" to ensure bugs fixed in Vista don't find their way into Windows 7.

The TC said it would expand its review process of middleware defaults by examining operating system source code and default browser overrides.

The TC also highlighted three issues, first noting that Microsoft had again removed some protocol elements when revising technical documents and advised that any changes need to be discussed with the TC to ensure "stability" of the documentation.

The TC also suggested a change-tracking process, which Microsoft said it would work to develop.

In addition, Microsoft agreed to revert to publishing documentation more frequently after changing from a monthly to quarterly schedule.

Microsoft said it would publish by the end of March 2009 a set of 19 overview, or system, documents explaining how its MCPP protocols work together even though it feels the current documentation complies with the court's final judgment.

The final versions of the documents will be available to licensees in MCPP by June 2009.

The TC also praised Microsoft for publishing the technical documentation and reducing royalties, and requested consistency in its new licenses for patents that relate to MCPP.

For its part, Microsoft focused on the portion of the final judgment that requires it to make available certain technologies that ensure its server operating system interoperates with client PCs running Windows. Part of the requirement includes providing licensees with technical documentation so third-party server products can work just as well with Windows-based PCs.

Microsoft said 49 companies have licensed patents for communications protocols and 14 have shipping products under MCPP.

The company also said that since the last status report in February that it worked with two MCPP licensees in its Interoperability Lab and garnered "positive feedback," and held a file-sharing "plug-fest" in early June with Apple, SAMBA, SNIA, Sun, Blue Coat Systems, EMC, Isilon Systems and NetApp.

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John Fontana

Network World

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