Vista marketing draws antitrust complaints

A marketing program designed to improve the Microsoft Windows operating system has drawn complaints from hardware makers and others, government attorneys told a judge Wednesday.

A correction was made to this story. Read below for details.

WASHINGTON--Government antitrust attorneys said on Wednesday that they continue to receive complaints from hardware makers and other companies about Microsoft's business practices, even as the software giant has stepped up its efforts to cooperate with the state and federal authorities overseeing its antitrust consent decree.

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In the more than six years since the department has been enforcing the consent decree, it has received the largest number of complaints from third parties about a particular Windows Vista marketing program run by Microsoft, said Steven Houck, who represents the state of California. The U.S. Justice Department and a number of states said in a court filing last week that complaints were received "from several companies that manufacture and sell a variety of products that work with Windows."

Microsoft has taken actions to change the marketing program since hearing about the complaints but not all concerns have been eliminated, Houck said at a status conference meeting held in a district court to assess the company's compliance with the decree.

The marketing program was developed in response to consumer dissatisfaction with Windows Vista, explained Microsoft attorney Charles Rule.

"It's an issue Microsoft was very concerned about, and Microsoft is going to address those issues very directly, and hopefully successfully, in Windows 7," he said.

In the meantime, Microsoft developed tests to try and make Windows Vista run more efficiently. The company asked original equipment manufacturers and independent software vendors to run the tests.

"The purpose of this was to improve the performance of PCs for consumers," Rule said.

Microsoft attempted to create incentives for the other companies to run the tests by offering marketing dollars in exchange for tests with successful results. However, the software company received complaints from regulators and the other companies that such incentives could be discriminatory and has altered the program.

"Marketing dollars will not be tied to the outcome of those tests," Rule said. "We continue to refine the program so it reaches the objective of making PCs more attractive to consumers."

Microsoft's actions "did move things in a positive direction," Houck said, "but we still have been hearing from (independent software vendors) and (original equipment manufacturers) that they continue to have concerns about these programs."

The Redmond, Wash.-based company has also made progress developing a set of documents that would enable third-party licensees to create software interoperable with the company's operating systems. Four months ago, regulators complained the software maker was dragging its feet in creating the documents, but it has since stepped up efforts and has turned in four to regulators for review.

Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly expressed concern that Microsoft would not be able to resolve the thousands of technical documentation issues that have cropped up with respect to the documents describing communications protocols licensing. Microsoft acknowledged more will arise as it develops technical documents for Windows 7. Regulators, though, said it was too early to tell whether that would keep the company from resolving all the issues before the consent decree expires in November.

Regulators also noted at the conference that Microsoft resolved an undisclosed complaint, filed by a third party wishing to remain confidential, regarding cross-platform gaming. To settle the matter, Microsoft agreed to provide additional compliance training to Windows employees who work with hardware vendors. One of Microsoft's executives will also make a statement at an industry meeting within the next two months regarding the company's commitment to support game developers on Windows, whether they choose to develop for other platforms as well.

Microsoft assured the judge that its recently announced layoffs would not affect its ability to meet the objectives of the consent decree.

Correction 11:51 a.m. PST: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified a state of California lawyer as a U.S. Justice Department lawyer.

 

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