Microsoft, DOJ Lock Horns On Longhorn

Microsoft and representatives with the DOJ meet to make sure that the next version of Windows doesn't violate antitrust conditions.

On Thursday, Microsoft and individuals representing the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) met at Microsoft headquarters in Redmond to begin reviewing Longhorn to make sure it will comply with terms outlined in the final U.S. antitrust judgment against Microsoft.

The compliance-review process is commencing none too soon, some industry-watchers say. Microsoft is set to release a first "technical preview" of the client version of Longhorn in April. And company officials have been touting publicly for a few months some of the new major features — such as the Avalon presentation system and the Indigo communications subsystem — that Microsoft is planning to make the heart of its next major Windows release.

The DOJ and a handful of state governments settled their antitrust case against Microsoft in 2001. As part of the settlement, the plaintiffs and an appointed technical committee have been charged with monitoring Microsofts compliance with the settlement. Ascertaining that Longhorn, the version of Windows due in 2006, will comply with the settlement terms, is part of the oversight groups charter.

Neither the DOJ nor Microsoft would discuss Thursdays Longhorn meeting.

DOJ officials declined to comment. And a Microsoft spokeswoman reiterated Microsofts commitment to compliance, but wouldnt talk about Thursdays briefing.

"All development at Microsoft is done with full consideration and understanding of our obligations and commitment under the consent decree and final judgments. We think its important to be working closely and openly with the DOJ and states early in the Longhorn development process to address any questions and concerns now," said the Microsoft spokeswoman.

Neither the DOJ nor Microsoft would elaborate on potential areas of concern around Longhorn.

If the line of questioning by U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly during last weeks regularly scheduled compliance hearing is any indication, however, Microsoft will likely find itself defending its distribution and integration stances with Longhorn.

According to a source familiar with the exchange between the judge and DOJ attorney Renata Hesse, Kollar-Kotelly was interested in information on OEMs ability to configure PCs for Windows; how Windows currently handles middleware configuration; and how it exposes application-programming interfaces.

Judge Kollar-Kotelly also asked about Microsofts strategy for distributing various system-software components, specifically whether Microsoft is delivering them separately from Windows or makes them available only as an integrated part of Windows, said the source.

Microsoft looks to be sending a variety of messages. For Internet Explorer, the product that initiated the DOJs foray into antitrust proceedings against the Redmond-based company, Microsoft announced Monday that it will push out a browser refresh by July or August of this year. The move followed months of hemming and hawing over plans for an upgrade to the standalone browser before Longhorn.

Microsoft is set to make available a "preview" release of Longhorn at the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference in late April. Company officials have said Microsoft is planning to deliver a first Longhorn beta release this year.

Microsoft is making two of the main pieces of Longhorn — Indigo and Avalon — available on Windows XP and Windows Server 2003, in addition to integrating them into Longhorn. Microsofts decision to "modularize" these elements has led some company watchers to speculate that Microsoft is hedging its bets, in case it is forced to cut these systems from Longhorn as a result of legal proceedings.

Microsoft officials have denied that legal concerns are behind the decision to modularize Longhorn.

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