In March, the Federal 9th Circuit Court of Appeals issued an injunction barring Microsoft Corp. from including the technology—code-named Chimney—in an upcoming release of Longhorn, the next-generation version of Windows.
At the time, Alacritech Inc. requested an injunction that would have covered Longhorn itself, effectively stopping the operating system in its tracks, arguing that Microsofts development of Chimney infringed on Alacritechs patents.
Instead, the court released a limited injunction that barred Microsoft from using the Chimney technology.
The settlement frees Microsoft to continue developing the technology, which it now plans to release in early 2006 as a separate upgrade under the name Scalable Networking Pack for Windows Server 2003. Microsoft said it also plans to integrate the technology into future Windows releases.
Chimney is designed to improve the performance of network-intensive applications by shifting a significant portion of the load of managing incoming and outgoing data from the computers main CPU and memory to separate, specialized hardware. This would free up processing power for other tasks and reduce the amount of data passing through the computers main system bus.
This system would most benefit high-powered servers rather than desktop machines, though the increasing popularity of network-based storage could broaden its appeal.
According to a Microsoft spokesperson, Chimney is intended to push the limits of networking speed at the high end, not necessarily to increase performance across the board.
"Chimney is one way in which Microsoft is responding to customer interest in high-speed networking," the spokesperson said. "I would characterize it as evolutionary, rather than revolutionary, technology."
Under the settlement, Microsoft acknowledged San Jose, Calif.-based Alacritechs ownership of the technology that connects the Chimney software with specialized networking hardware, and agreed to pay an undisclosed fee and grant access to some of its patents in exchange for a license to use this technology.
Broadcom Corp. of Irvine, Calif., also agreed under the settlement to license the technology from Alacritech for the manufacture of networking hardware.
While acknowledging that other vendors might be able to construct hardware that could take advantage of Chimney without using its framework, Alacritech officials argued that this could be a daunting task.
"I would definitely recommend carefully examining the patent before trying to make a [network interface card] that doesnt use our intellectual property," said Joe Jervais, Alacritechs Director of Marketing.
Industry analysts have been reluctant to comment on the potential impact of the agreement without further demonstration of the new system in action.
"Patent troubles are a standard concern for Microsoft," said Matt Rosoff of Directions on Microsoft. "With Longhorn looming and development going fast and furious in Redmond, its hard to say if this is a significant technology or if Microsoft just didnt want to hassle with an injunction."