Microsoft announced today that it will implement four provisions from its proposed antitrust settlement with the US Department of Justice (DOJ), even though a federal judge has yet to decide whether to accept the agreement. Microsoft said that it decided to implement these provisions now because the company's agreement with the DOJ includes certain timeline milestones, and four of those milestones occur this month.
"Although the proposed settlement has not been entered by the District Court, Microsoft has agreed to implement certain provisions of the settlement agreement while the court process is pending," the company wrote in a statement. Brad Smith, Microsoft's senior vice president and general counsel, said that the company will implement the following provisions:
Deliver Windows XP Service Pack 1 (SP1) this summer. Smith said that the company is on track to ship SP1 this summer and later noted that the release will ship on or after August 28. XP SP1 includes a UI change that lets end users and PC makers hide access to five key middleware components--Internet Explorer (IE), Outlook Express, Windows Media Player (WMP), Windows Messenger, and Microsoft's Java Virtual Machine (VM). Based on feedback from beta testers, PC makers, and the DOJ, Microsoft will make additional changes to XP SP1 to make the product's middleware-hiding feature "even more clear to users."
Disclose several internal interfaces, or APIs, in Windows. On August 28, Microsoft will publicly disclose more than 270 internal interfaces related to the five previously mentioned middleware components. Smith said that Windows uses these interfaces to trigger functionality that the middleware products expose. The company will release this information on the Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN). "None of these interfaces have previously been disclosed," Smith said.
Launch a new communications protocol licensing program. Part of Microsoft's proposed settlement requires the company to start a communications protocol licensing program by August 6--tomorrow--and Smith said that the company will comply. Windows desktop OSs use these protocols to communicate with Windows Server OSs. Smith noted that Microsoft will disclose 215 interfaces to licensees, although the company recently publicly documented more than 100 of these. However, in compliance with the DOJ agreement, Microsoft will require third parties that want to license these protocols to sign a nondisclosure agreement and pay royalties. "This is valuable technology," Smith said, "and it represents a lot of the value in Windows Server. But we're going to license them for reasonable terms, a royalty, and ensure that our intellectual property is protected." Smith said that the licensing program is task-based; licensees can pick the base protocols plus any combination of 12 protocol tasks, including file serving, print serving, and streaming media. "This is a novel licensing program," he said, "the first of its kind."
Enter into new contracts with PC makers and other OEMs. This requirement actually went into effect August 1, but Smith addressed complaints that PC makers such as Gateway raised earlier this year that the new licenses let Microsoft essentially steal intellectual property. Based on those complaints, Microsoft made several changes to its licenses and expanded the company's patent-identification responsibilities. "This means we have explicit obligations to uphold our partners' intellectual property," Smith said.
Microsoft's decision to implement part of its proposed settlement without a judicial order is somewhat controversial because Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly is currently reviewing both the Microsoft/DOJ agreement and a more stringent set of remedy proposals the nine so-called nonsettling states recommended, and she's expected to render a decision soon. Microsoft, as I'm sure you'll recall, was found guilty of violating US antitrust laws and of harming consumers, competitors, and even its own partners.