DoJ anti-trust settlement with Microsoft makes progress

The US Department of Justice says it is finally making progress over the long running anti-trust case against Microsoft. There had been concerns that the software giant was continuing to spin out its compliance with the settlement it reached with the Federal Government in 2002.

The issue had been brought to a head in October last year when a judge rapped Microsoft in moving too slowly towards compliance. The judge and others had complained that Microsoft was putting too many obstacles in the way of third parties trying to gain access to Windows code.

The dispute mirrors the recent problems that the European Commission has been having with Microsoft over the licensing of certain APIs for Windows Server, after its own ruling in 2004. Following EU pressure, the recent Microsoft announcement that it intended to open up Windows Server code, has helped break the logjam in the US.

The latest DoJ status report says that Microsoft has made ‘a constructive proposal’ over the licence. Under the new Microsoft plan, it will offer an optional royalty-free addendum licence that will permit the licensee to reference, use and sometimes directly copy Microsoft’s Windows server source code. Microsoft will also provide online and in-person training to licensees to assist them in using the source code.

Although the DoJ has not finished its examination of the small print in Microsoft’s proposals it says Microsoft’s draft could make it possible for licensees to use the source code without undue fear of falling foul of the company’s legal department.

Even if the issue of Windows licensing is settled there is still a long way to go in the settlement. The DoJ report notes that there are still a huge number of problems to be resolved. So far the DoJ committee overseeing the agreement has submitted over 1,000 issues to Microsoft. As of the beginning of this month, more than 700 issues have not been satisfactorily addressed. Of these, two-thirds are classified as medium priority, with the remaining issues split between high priority and low priority issues.

Microsoft’s dispute with the DoJ goes back to the so-called ‘browser wars’ of the 1990s. The company is alleged to have threatened PC manufacturers with changes to their Windows licence if they installed the rival Netscape browser on their machines. Although no final judgement was made in the case, the DoJ and Microsoft came to an agreement which included opening up the operating systems to rival developers.

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