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January 24, 2006

DoJ criticizes Microsoft delays as EC gives it more time

Microsoft Corp has been criticized by the US Department of Justice for its failure to meet US antitrust remedy technical documentation submission guidelines but has been given more time by the European Commission to respond to a threatened $2.4m daily fine related to EC antitrust remedies.

By CBR Staff Writer

The US Department of Justice has complained that Microsoft’s failure to keep to service level guidelines in its response to issues raised by the court appointed Technical Committee is impacting the committee’s ability to carry out prototype implementation projects as well as the provision of technical documentation to Microsoft Communications Protocol Program, MCPP, licensees.

Since approximately mid-November, Microsoft has fallen significantly behind in responding to technical documentation issues submitted by the TC, stated the DoJ in a court filing. Currently, Microsoft’s inability to meet the SLGs interferes with the TC’s ability to pursue its prototype implementation project and impairs the TC’s ability to complete the project in a timely manner. It also means that MCPP licensees are receiving corrections and other edits to the technical documentation later.

MCPP was created by Microsoft in August 2002 ahead of a court-mandated settlement with the DoJ and states as a means of licensing Windows client protocols to third parties. The independent Technical Committee was created as part of the 2001 settlement agreement to enforce Microsoft’s disclosure of APIs for its communications software and middleware to any and all third parties.

Microsoft acknowledged the current problems and the steps it is taking to correct them in a recent status report but has not detailed the seriousness of the current situation, according to the DoJ.

Microsoft needs to dramatically increase the resources devoted to responding to technical documentation issues in order to get its performance under the SLGs back on track, it added.

In its own filing earlier this month Microsoft stated that it was experiencing substantial difficulties finding and hiring competent employees with the necessary experience in and training for these highly-specialized tasks but was stepping up efforts to boost its documentation team.

The DoJ also criticized Microsoft’s description of the installation of the Technical Committee’s test lab in India, which will be used to evaluate network traffic as part of its ongoing testing and validation effort.

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While Microsoft’s status report noted the equipment necessary to capture data from test runs has been installed successfully at both testing laboratories in India, it failed to mention that the Technical Committee had designed the initial monitoring system incorrectly due to the inaccurate information it had received from Microsoft, according to the DoJ.

The DoJ noted Microsoft’s cooperation in reconfiguring the monitoring system, but added that the reconfiguration may or may not have resulted in a fully successful installation. If the latter is the case, a delay is virtually certain it added.

There was better news for Microsoft from the European Commission, which has agreed to give the company until February 15 to respond to threatened fines after it was accused of not providing adequate documentation that would allow non-Microsoft work group servers to achieve full interoperability with Windows PCs and servers.

Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes threatened the company with a daily fine of 2m euros ($2.4m) in late December following a scathing review of Microsoft’s technical documentation work from the EC’s monitoring trustee, computer science expert Professor Neil Barrett.

Microsoft was originally given five weeks to respond to the European Commission’s Statement of Objections against it, giving it an original deadline of January 25. The company has the right to an oral hearing, following which the Commission will make a definitive assessment.

Microsoft did not respond to requests for comment on either the DoJ’s criticism or the European Commission’s extended deadline but has announced that it will host a press conference Wednesday related to the EC investigation.

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