The group of states seeking stringent antitrust remedies against Microsoft Corp. are pressing forward on a concession made by Bill Gates Wednesday that existing Microsoft technology enables versions of Windows in which the operating system is unbundled from other features. An unbundled, or modular, version of Windows is one or the primary remedies the states are seeking.
In cross-examining Microsoft Vice President Christopher Jones Thursday, the attorney for the states, Kevin Hodges, asked why the model of Windows XP Embedded, in which companies are able to take the operating system and add applications of their own choosing, could not be used to comply with the remedy proposal. Gates conceded Wednesday that it would be technically feasible to use XP Embedded to build a stripped-down operating system that works with Office applications.
But like Gates before him, Jones maintained that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to unbundle the operating system from features like Internet Explorer for general-purpose computers. Microsoft markets XP Embedded to niche users for devices such as cash registers and automatic teller machines.
Jones focused his testimony on the first two provisions of the states remedy proposal, which require a modular version of Windows and the disclosure of APIs, communications protocols and other technical information. He argued that the proposal would prevent Microsoft from giving consumers a consistent, easy-to-use operating system.
Jones said that the range of OEM flexibility sought by the states would lead to confusion in the marketplace because it would not ensure that consumers would always see Windows as an option following the initial boot-up, even if a computer is marketed as a Windows product. When asked whether he believed OEMs would deliberately mislead consumers, Jones said he believed it was a possibility.
Jones maintained that consumers purchase Windows because they expect a consistent system. Displaying some of the same reluctance to acknowledge the ramifications of the liabilities found by the Court of Appeals that Gates had shown earlier in the week, Jones replied "no," when Hodges asked him whether in fact consumers purchase Windows because it is a monopoly.
In the proposed settlement that Microsoft signed with the Department of Justice in November, OEMs would have more flexibility than they have today in installing non-Microsoft software, but Microsoft would be required only to conceal middleware features, not to remove them.
In his written testimony, Jones cautioned that the security and reliability of Windows would be at risk if Windows were unbundled and combined with various third-party middleware. "The fragmentation of Windows will make the process of correcting any vulnerabilities that inevitably arise much more difficult and less effective," he wrote. "With multiple configurations of that operating system to take account of, it might take a week or even two weeks (or more) to issue a patch for the same security vulnerability."
Also, Jones warned, removing components would degrade the security of Windows unless they were replaced with components that provide the exact same functionality and security. "Given the large number of Windows users connected to the Internet and the number of security vulnerabilities that occur through Internet connections, the replacement of Internet Explorer with less secure Web browsing software could lead to serious problems for consumers," Jones told the court.
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