Judge: Microsoft's music player gaffe is 'concern'

Redmond never should have drafted marketing plan to force player makers to distribute only Windows Media Player, judge says.

Anne Broache Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Anne Broache
covers Capitol Hill goings-on and technology policy from Washington, D.C.
Anne Broache
2 min read
WASHINGTON--A federal judge scolded Microsoft on Wednesday for devising a marketing plan that would have forced portable-music player makers to package only Windows Media Player with their products.

"It seems to me that at this date, you should not be having something like this occur," U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly said at a status conference here, adding that she found the issue "one of concern."

As previously reported by CNET News.com, a recent federal court filing revealed that Microsoft initially drafted a marketing agreement with language indicating that manufacturers that signed on would be barred from supplying software other than the Windows product.

The company took quick steps to fix the agreement and never sent it out to manufacturers, as noted by the filing and U.S. Department of Justice attorneys at Wednesday's conference. An attorney for Microsoft, Charles Rule, said Microsoft regretted the mistake and that "a low-level business person" who was not fully aware of Microsoft's mandate was responsible.

Overall, attorneys on Wednesday said they were pleased with Microsoft's progress in complying with a consent decree the company entered into with the Bush administration in 2002 to settle a long-running antitrust suit.

Besides the music player document, much of the conference centered on one "bone of contention," in the words of attorney Stephen Houck, who was representing the group of California plaintiffs. Microsoft is "way off schedule" on one piece of its plan to provide more accurate and complete technical documentation to developers who license its communication protocol, Houck said.

That piece, known as "Troika," is an automated system designed to validate the accuracy of the technical documentation by comparing it to actual network traffic, according to Microsoft. The software giant originally projected a February 2006 completion date but said it underestimated the complexity and staffing levels involved. It now doesn't expect to wrap up the project until at least October 2006.

The news drew disapproval from Kollar-Kotelly, who said she wanted the project to be a priority, even if it meant hiring more people to do the job.

Rule assured the judge that Microsoft was making the project a top priority. "Nearly 9,600 pages of highly detailed documentation are available to licensees currently," he said, adding later, "No one has told us...that they have been unable to use the technical documentation."

Federal prosecutors said they plan to discuss the matter with Microsoft representatives in a meeting at the company's Redmond, Wash., headquarters early next month. Kollar-Kotelly called for a report from federal prosecutors on the status of the project by Nov. 18 and set Nov. 30 to discuss the findings in court.