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Brier Dudley's blog

Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.

March 7, 2007 at 10:25 AM

Feds still investigating Vista complaint

U.S. antitrust regulators still haven’t decided what to do about a complaint they received about the way Windows Vista handles middleware, according to a status report filed last night with the judge overseeing the case.

It must not be a pressing threat to competition in the tech industry. The complaint was received in November, and it may take another four months to investigate.

But it’s serious enough for the regulators to have obtained “significant additional information from Microsoft and the complainant.”

No other details were provided and the complaintant’s identity wasn’t disclosed.

I wonder if it’s a security vendor such as Symantec. That’s not the sort of middleware that’s been addressed by the case, but Symantec has complained publicly about Vista.

How Windows treats middleware was a key issue in both the U.S. and European antitrust cases against Microsoft. In Europe, regulators went so far as to require the company to ship versions of Windows without a bundled media player.

Despite the pending complaint, the report suggests Microsoft and regulators’ technical committee (TC) are working cooperatively to be sure Vista doesn’t create roadblocks for other software companies.

Microsoft’s portion of the report said 30 software companies were offered help dealing with Vista’s new middleware settings, and 26 opted to visit a special testing lab the company and regulators established in Redmond:

As discussed in Microsoft’s previous Supplemental Status Reports, Windows Vista handles middleware settings on a “per user” rather than the previous “per machine” basis. This change to the operating system necessitates that middleware ISVs change various settings in order to take advantage of the newly revised Middleware functionality in Windows Vista.

Accordingly, the TC and Microsoft have cooperated in various ways to encourage middleware ISVs to achieve “Vista-readiness” prior to the shipment of Windows Vista.

Microsoft worked closely with the TC to notify 30 ISVs identified by the TC in each of the four Middleware categories — “Internet browsers, media players, e-mail clients, and instant messaging” — of the need to prepare their middleware applications for Windows Vista and of the various opportunities made available to the ISVs by Microsoft and the TC, including a Vista-Readiness Lab in Redmond. Twenty-six of the 30 ISVs responded positively, taking advantage of or indicating interest in the offered opportunities. The four remaining ISVs that chose not to take advantage of the Vista-Readiness Lab are receiving support from Microsoft by e-mail and phone.

Another issue is the sharing communications protocols used by Windows. Microsoft was forced to license the protocols to competitors and explain how they work, but it’s taken years to produce adequate documentation.

The latest status report said the quality of the documentation has improved significantly, but regulators are concerned that Microsoft found additional protocols that weren’t disclosed before.

Microsoft determined that there are a number of protocols that must be documented in addition to those originally planned, either because they were added to Longhorn Server after the initial schedule was developed, or because

they were inadvertently overlooked in preparation of the original technical documentation and the schedule for the rewrite project. Plaintiffs are concerned that Microsoft has not been able to meet its original schedule and are particularly troubled that at this late hour in the program Microsoft is still discovering protocols that should have been included in the original documentation.

That sounds like the key issue that U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly will consider during a status hearing next week.

Comments | Topics: Microsoft, Public policy

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