Microsoft Offers to Share Windows Protocols Past Deadline

By Peter Galli  |  Posted 2006-05-12 Print this article Print

Microsoft has agreed to a two-year extension of the licensing provisions required by U.S. antitrust litigation against the company, and is taking things a step further.

Microsoft has not only voluntarily agreed to an extension of the licensing provisions found in the final consent decree issued in the U.S. antitrust litigation against the company, but is now also promising to make those protocols available beyond that time frame. The software maker and the U.S. Department of Justice announced on May 12 that they had agreed to a two-year extension of the provisions related to Microsofts licensing program for communications protocols in the Windows desktop operating system. The original judgment was set to expire in the fall of 2007, so if the extension is approved by the court, it will expire in the fall of 2009.
The announcement formed part of the latest in a series of Joint Status Reports by Microsoft and the Department of Justice to Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, who issued the final consent decree in 2002.
The Department of Justices Antitrust Division, which enforces the final judgment in conjunction with antitrust enforcers from 17 states and the District of Columbia, said an extension is necessary due to the difficulties Microsoft has had in improving the technical documentation it provides to licensees. The final judgment required that Microsoft make available to competing server software developers, on reasonable and nondiscriminatory terms, certain technology used by Microsoft to make its server operating systems interoperate with client PCs running the Windows operating system. The judgment also required Microsoft to provide licensees with technical documentation designed to enable them to use this technology in their own server products so that those products work better with Windows. Microsofts ideas of "openness" in software licenses may not go far enough in the view of other software vendors, especially those in the open-source community. Click here to read more. But the Department of Justice has previously told the court it is concerned with the quality of the technical documentation provided, as well as with the length of time it is taking Microsoft to improve that documentation. "This extension will ensure that companies interested in licensing the communications protocols receive the benefit of complete and accurate documentation for the full period of time provided by the courts final judgment," J. Bruce McDonald, a deputy assistant attorney general in the Departments Antitrust Division, said. The European Union has also ordered Microsoft to share some communication protocols with its competitors and the Department of Justice wants the technical documentation being developed by Microsoft to be as consistent as possible, McDonald said. Microsoft general counsel Brad Smith said in a statement released on May 12 that the company had not only voluntarily agreed to the extension, but would also, even after the 2009 expiration, "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 operating system products." Microsofts Smith said the licensing of these protocols would now effectively become an ongoing part of Microsofts regular product development and business processes. "The extension of the communications protocols sections of the consent decree will enable all the parties involved to take the time necessary to establish an overarching specification that will govern the way in which technical documentation is written," he said. Once that specification is established, Microsoft will prepare protocol documentation that conforms to it and that will build on its documentation work to date, Smith said. "All parties agree that this is an important step in order to continue to enhance the documentation," he said. Will Windows Live be the answer to Microsofts antitrust problems? Read more here. Smith said Microsoft would also continue to make Windows source code available to licensees as a reference tool to assist in implementing the protocols, and that the company will create a new interoperability lab in which licensees can test and debug their protocols and obtain easy access to on-site Microsoft engineering assistance. "All of these steps should enhance the quality and comprehensiveness of existing and future documentation and will assist licensees, especially for companies that are less familiar with features in Windows," Smith said. But this is not the first time the company has promised new initiatives to appease critics and competitors of its response to both the U.S. and the European Commission judgments against it. Earlier in 2006, Microsoft, based in Redmond, Wash., received lukewarm response to its offer to license all the Windows Server source code that applied to the antitrust requirements set out in the European Commission judgment. Microsoft has also made changes to the protocol licensing program several times. Smith said the current program has 31 licensees and "has already resulted in the release into the marketplace of a dozen products based on the use of the technical documentation. … Todays steps will ensure that the program continues throughout the foreseeable future for the benefit of these licensees, as well as other companies that may be interested in making use of it in the future," he said. But others are not convinced. Bruce Lowry, a spokesperson for Novell, based in Provo, Utah, told eWEEK that the protocol extension and the other moves announced by Microsoft sounded promising. However, he said, "Essentially it all comes down to their implementation." "If this truly is a step that truly makes interoperability with the Windows platform more open, transparent and easy, then we welcome that. But the proof of all this will be in the details and the way it is implemented, and that all remains to be seen," Lowry said. Check out eWEEK.coms for Microsoft and Windows news, views and analysis.
Peter Galli has been a financial/technology reporter for 12 years at leading publications in South Africa, the UK and the US. He has been Investment Editor of South Africa's Business Day Newspaper, the sister publication of the Financial Times of London.

He was also Group Financial Communications Manager for First National Bank, the second largest banking group in South Africa before moving on to become Executive News Editor of Business Report, the largest daily financial newspaper in South Africa, owned by the global Independent Newspapers group.

He was responsible for a national reporting team of 20 based in four bureaus. He also edited and contributed to its weekly technology page, and launched a financial and technology radio service supplying daily news bulletins to the national broadcaster, the South African Broadcasting Corporation, which were then distributed to some 50 radio stations across the country.

He was then transferred to San Francisco as Business Report's U.S. Correspondent to cover Silicon Valley, trade and finance between the US, Europe and emerging markets like South Africa. After serving that role for more than two years, he joined eWeek as a Senior Editor, covering software platforms in August 2000.

He has comprehensively covered Microsoft and its Windows and .Net platforms, as well as the many legal challenges it has faced. He has also focused on Sun Microsystems and its Solaris operating environment, Java and Unix offerings. He covers developments in the open source community, particularly around the Linux kernel and the effects it will have on the enterprise.

He has written extensively about new products for the Linux and Unix platforms, the development of open standards and critically looked at the potential Linux has to offer an alternative operating system and platform to Windows, .Net and Unix-based solutions like Solaris.

His interviews with senior industry executives include Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, Linus Torvalds, the original developer of the Linux operating system, Sun CEO Scot McNealy, and Bill Zeitler, a senior vice president at IBM.

For numerous examples of his writing you can search under his name at the eWEEK Website at


Submit a Comment

Loading Comments...
Manage your Newsletters: Login   Register My Newsletters

Rocket Fuel