Antitrust regulators seek more commitment from Microsoft

Officials are questioning whether Microsoft is committed to meeting the requirements of its antitrust consent decree.

WASHINGTON-- Microsoft has made some progress developing a set of documents required as part of its antitrust consent decree, but the work could be accomplished much more quickly if the company took on a less grudging attitude, state and federal antitrust regulators said Thursday.

The comments were made during a status conference meeting held to asses Microsoft's compliance with the consent decree.

In June, regulators said that the "overview documents" Microsoft prepared did not sufficiently enable third-party licensees to create software interoperable with the company's operating systems. Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly agreed that Microsoft had to create a set of additional "system" documents that would give more information on the interaction between the protocols in a number of scenarios.

Microsoft has been working with a court-appointed technical committee to create a set of templates for the system documents. So far, they have reached an agreement as to what the first template--which encompasses most of the system documents--should look like.

However, the complicated process of finalizing the templates is taking longer than anyone expected. As stated in a status report released last week, the technical committee had to submit its own template design to Microsoft to work with because it was concerned the Redmond, Wash., company's template was not well-designed.

"I have to express my concern with this attitude that they're behaving as a volunteer," said Jay Himes, the antitrust bureau chief for the New York attorney general's office. "It fosters this sort of grudging commitment to get the system documents done."

He said the technical committee's implementation group has been called off all other tasks to support the template effort, and the committee dedicated more than 150 hours to meetings about the templates just last week.

"What we have today is the (technical committee) and its staff spoon-feeding the world's biggest PC company," he said. "Something about that just isn't right."

Representatives for Microsoft said the company is very committed to finishing the templates and the system documents. The company has assigned a significant number of senior engineers on the template project, said Bob Muglia, Microsoft's senior vice president of servers and tools.

"We understand that is a requirement," said Charles Rule, an attorney for Microsoft. "The delays have not been as a result of Microsoft taking a lackadaisical attitude,"

Still, Kollar-Kotelly questioned Microsoft's commitment.

"I do appreciate that these things are complex, but I think it's interesting the (technical committee) is able to do what's necessary and bring Microsoft along, and not the other way around," she said.

Muglia said the development of the system documents will undoubtedly go through next year, but that he could not present a final schedule for the project until the final template is completed. He said he could present a final schedule at the next status conference, slated for late January 2009.

Kollar-Kotelly urged all parties to resolve their differences to finish the system documents by November 2009, when the consent decree is set to expire .

"Something's missing here, and I'll leave it up to you to figure out what it is," she said.

 

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