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Monday, 23 June 2008 08:51

US DOJ keeping firm eye on Windows 7 and IE 8

A new ‘joint status’ report – half authored by US states and the DOJ from an enforcement viewpoint, and half authored by Microsoft from a compliance viewpoint – has been released. It shows the progress made so far in keeping Microsoft  “in compliance” with the antitrust judgements made against it. How’s it going?

The US Department of Justice, in conjunction with several US states known as the “New York Group” and the “California Group” (the Plaintiffs) has filed a new report, co-authored with Microsoft (the Defendant).

Entitled the “Joint status report on Microsoft’s compliance with the Final Judgments”, it’s an interim report relating to “recent enforcement activities”.

Section II of the report discusses the “Plaintiff’s efforts to enforce the Final Judgements”, while Section III of the report discusses “Microsoft’s efforts to comply with the Final Judgments” – with neither side necessarily “adopting the views expressed by the other”.

What this means is that work Microsoft is doing with Windows 7, Internet Explorer 8 and the Microsoft Communications Protocol Program (MCPP) which covers interoperability between programs and platforms is being scrutinised by the Plaintiffs to ensure that these future versions comply with the “Final Judgment”, with Microsoft now offering to once again give monthly updates, instead of quarterly updates, on its efforts.

There is evidence that Microsoft has been co-operating, but in some instances has reverted to a bit of a “go slow” which has been noted, with Microsoft asked to quicken its pace once more and make its reports much easier to understand.

The Plaintiffs have appointed a “Technical Committee” (TC) of its own to “review the results of Microsoft’s project to rewrite” technical documentation relating to the MCPP, which has been described in detail in previous reports, and is letting Microsoft know what it thinks, and what additional work it still needs to do.

The TC is also conducting “ongoing testing of Windows Vista, Vista Service Pack ("SP") 1, XP SP 3, Windows Media Player 11, Internet Explorer ("IE") 7 and the IE 8 beta, to discover any remaining middleware-related issues.”

They’re also looking at builds of Windows 7 that Microsoft has provided to “conduct middleware-related tests in an effort to assure that bugs fixed in Vista do not re-appear in the next operating system, as well as to assure Final Judgment compliance generally.”

In addition, the TC's “on-going review of Windows' treatment of middleware defaults is being expanded to include an operating system source code scan in an effort to determine whether some commonality in the code accounts for default overrides. The TC also is investigating certain default browser overrides, which Microsoft asserts arise from reasonable technical requirements that competing browsers apparently do not implement. The TC will discuss its findings with Microsoft once this inquiry is concluded.”

This extends to IE 8 in beta, and the TC is even talking to PC manufacturers and OEMs to ensure that default mechanisms in Vista and other options available to OEMs are sticking to the Final Judgments.

Continued on page 2.

Given that government scrutiny is something no-one enjoys, and Microsoft has been made to pay millions of dollars in fines by different government authorities around the world, it’s not surprising to see Microsoft making things difficult for its taskmasters while still staying within the bounds of the rules.

Apparently Microsoft’s documentation work has been progressing relatively smoothly, but Microsoft has removed some of the protocols it had covered in previous versions of the document, something the TC had expressly asked Microsoft not to do without consulting the TC first when the same situation had occurred in the past.

The TC has also asked Microsoft to provide a way to easily highlight the differences between each version of the documentation it is supplying, so the TC can quickly see what changes have been made, and what things Microsoft may have removed, as “the absence of version-to-version change information complicates product development”.

The report notes that “Microsoft was receptive to the TC's suggestion and will work with the TC to develop an effective mechanism to track changes to the documentation” but it does sound like someone at Microsoft is playing silly buggers in an attempt to complicate matters for the TC, and the joint report is a way for the TC to give Microsoft a slap.

In addition, while Microsoft used to supply monthly updates, it changed to quarterly updates, which annoyed the TC because of the time-lag, and so Microsoft has agreed to go back to the monthly update schedule.

Microsoft is also developing a list of 19 documents which will appear in draft form in March 2009, with the final versions due in June 2009. These “system documents” will “provide more detailed information on the interaction between the protocols in a number of complex scenarios.”

Microsoft is also making it easier for anyone to get the MCPP technical documentation (for interoperability), removing the need to sign an MCPP license first. Microsoft is also publishing :online a list of the patents and patent applications that it claims apply to each protocol in MCPP and has made available a license for these patents.”

As part of the MCPP interoperability efforts, Microsoft advised that it had held a “file-sharing plug-fest [in] the first week of June 2008.

This event was the largest plug-fest thus far. The following entities attended: Apple, Inc.; SAMBA; SNIA; Sun Microsystems, Inc.; Blue Coat Systems, Inc.; EMC Corporation; Isilon Systems, Inc.; and NetApp. Microsoft received positive feedback on this event. Additionally, Microsoft is planning two plug-fests for later in 2008 (for Media Streaming and Active Directory).

So, the heavy scrutinisation of Microsoft continues unabated, something that clearly isn’t fun. Let’s hope it’s a force for good that results more interoperable, compatible and better versions of Windows 7, Internet Explorer 8 and other Microsoft software for all who want to use it.


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Alex Zaharov-Reutt

One of Australia’s best-known technology journalists and consumer tech experts, Alex has appeared in his capacity as technology expert on all of Australia’s free-to-air and pay TV networks on all the major news and current affairs programs, on commercial and public radio, and technology, lifestyle and reality TV shows. Visit Alex at Twitter here.



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