Government: Microsoft progress 'limited' in antitrust compliance

Friday, October 24th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Microsoft Corp. has made only limited progress toward licensing some of its software technology to rival companies, one of the most important provisions of the antitrust settlement negotiated with the Bush administration, government lawyers told the trial judge.

In court papers filed in preparation for an oversight hearing Friday, lawyers for the Justice Department cautioned they were not yet asking U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly to intervene.

But hinting that the controversial antitrust settlement may not be working out, the lawyers acknowledged, ``further steps may need to be taken in order to effectuate the goals of the remedy.''

The judge told lawyers at a hearing in July that she was ``very, very concerned'' about how few companies have agreed to pay Microsoft to use its proprietary technology in their own products.

The licensing requirement was considered central to the settlement, since it would prevent Microsoft from locking out rival companies from developing products that communicate with computers running Windows software.

To entice more companies to license its technology, Microsoft previously agreed to reduce from $100,000 to $50,000 a prepayment from competitors, and has agreed to reduce the price it charges rivals so that it collects 1 percent to 5 percent of the revenues of the software that includes its technology.

But since that change, only four more companies have signed licenses with Microsoft, including the Utah-based SCO Group Inc., which has separately threatened to sue companies using the Linux operating system unless they pay a licensing fee.

The three other Microsoft licenses since July cover only special-purpose products.

In the court papers, the government also raised concerns that Microsoft is trying to use its control over Windows to influence how customers buy their music online.

The lawyers told the judge about a design feature of Windows that compels consumers who buy music online to use only Microsoft's Internet browser that steers them to a Web site operated by the company. The design ``may be inconsistent'' with the settlement, the government said.

The dispute centers on a design feature in Windows XP called ``Shop for Music Online,'' which lets consumers purchase compact discs from retailers over the Internet. When consumers click the link to buy music, Windows opens Microsoft's browser software even after consumers specify that they prefer using rival browser software.

Microsoft has said it will continue working with the government to resolve the dispute but does not believe the design is illegal, noting that the feature requires Windows technology not supported by rival Internet browsing software.