Licensing of Windows code to be extended

Microsoft has agreed to extend for a further two years a licensing programme that forms part of its 2002 antitrust settlement with the US Department of Justice. Rivals will now have access to communications protocols for Windows until November 2009.

The Department of Justice told the US District Court for the District of Columbia that an extension was necessary due to Microsoft’s difficulty in improving the technical documentation it provides to licensees.

The Department’s Antitrust Division made its views known as part of its Joint Status Report to Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly. Friday's status report was the sixth of the six-month reports requested by the court. The Antitrust Division enforces the final judgment in conjunction with antitrust enforcers from 17 states and the District of Columbia, which along with Microsoft joined in Friday's filing with the court.

The 2002 settlement requires that Microsoft make available to competing server software developers, on reasonable and non-discriminatory terms, certain technology used by Microsoft to make its server operating systems interoperate with client PCs running the Windows operating system.

Microsoft must provide licensees with technical documentation that is designed to enable them to use this technology in their own server products so that those products work better with Windows.

In past status reports, the Department reported to the court its concerns with the quality of the technical documentation Microsoft provides to licensees under this program and with the length of time it is taking Microsoft to improve that documentation.

After reviewing its progress in improving the technical documentation, Microsoft itself concluded that a broader “reset” of its efforts to improve the technical documentation would be more effective and efficient than continuing with the current approach.

The Government agreed, so Microsoft will rewrite significant portions of the documentation in an effort to substantially improve the overall quality of the documentation. As this project will take time to complete, and since the final judgment otherwise would expire in autumn 2007, the Department told Microsoft that it would be necessary to request an extension of the term of the final judgment from the court.

Microsoft has also agreed that the Department and state antitrust enforcement agencies may, at their discretion, apply to the court in autumn 2009 for an additional extension of all or part of the extended provisions of the final judgment for a period of up to three additional years, through November 2012.

Deputy Assistant Attorney General J Bruce McDonald said: "This extension will ensure that companies interested in licensing the communications protocols receive the benefit of complete and accurate documentation for the full period of time provided by the court’s final judgment."

According to Microsoft, the licensing program currently has 31 licensees. It says it has resulted in the release into the marketplace of a dozen products based on the use of the technical documentation.

The extension awaits court approval.