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Microsoft To Publish 385 Windows APIs, Protocols To Make Antitrust Case Go Away

In an effort to comply with its proposed consent decree with the U.S. Department of Justice, Microsoft announced the official enactment of uniform licensing terms for OEMs on Aug. 1, and an expansion of its technical disclosure efforts including plans to reveal 385 additional Windows application programming interfaces and proprietary communications protocols.

Microsoft

Microsoft plans to publish hundreds of new, previously secret Windows 2000 and Windows XP APIs later this month, royalty free. About 100 proprietary communication protocols will also be disclosed but available to competitors and others for a licensing fee beginning Aug. 6, said Brad Smith, senior vice president and general counsel of Microsoft, during a conference call on Monday. He noted that the price list will not be published but is not intended to be a big revenue generator.

Finally, Microsoft released last week Windows 2000 Service Pack 3 and plans to release Windows XP Service Pack 1 in late August or mid-September. Both service packs offer compliance with the decree by making changes to the Windows user interface that makes it easier for users to remove Microsoft middleware and add and use competitive middleware from AOL, RealNetworks and others.

The announcements, which follow the scheduling terms of Microsoft's proposed consent decree with the government last fall, comes just weeks before the U.S. District Court rules on additional, more harsh remedies proposed by nine non-settling states.

When questioned, Microsoft's chief legal counsel acknowledged that the company's expanded efforts to disclose more technical information is an attempt to placate irate attorneys general who are not satisfied with the proposed consent decree as written, but not to influence the pending decision of U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly

"It is certainly the case that the changes we are making are changes we are obligated to make under the decree. It's fair to say that it's hard to imagine we'd be licensing our communications protocols or disclosing internal interfaces in absence of this decree," said Smith. "We have deadlines, obligations and responsibilities under this decree. These things have been unfolding for many, many months independent of the timetable in the courthouse. We're doing this for one reason, and one reason only--to meet the terms of the consent decree."

Yet, later, Smith said the efforts were a gesture toward putting the antitrust case to bed in the United States and with pending litigation with the European commission. "It's an opportunity to build a more constructive relationship with the government and in the industry," Smith said. "We believe we're off to a good start. ... We have not to date reviewed terms of the protocol licensing program with the European commission. But we're more than prepared to do so."

The effort to disclose the additional APIs and protocols will effect full compliance with Section 3D of the consent decree and is intended to stifle industry concerns that Microsoft would attempt to exploit loopholes in the agreement to thwart competitors in the future, said Smith. It will enable solution providers, systems integrators and ISVs -- including Microsoft competitors -- to more tightly integrate their applications with the Windows client and server operating systems and give the next-generation .Net platform a better chance in the marketplace, analysts said.

Microsoft plans to publish 272 additional Windows internal interfaces not previously disclosed on the MSDN Web site on Aug. 28, he said. The new round of internal interfaces, which have not been shared before under Microsoft's shared source licensing program or available to competitors, will specify hooks into important middleware embedded in the Windows client and server middleware including Internet Explorer, Windows Media Player, Windows Messenger, Outlook Express and Microsoft Java Virtual Machine. Microsoft has made available virtually all the internal interfaces in Windows 2000 and Windows XP.

"It may help generate more enthusiasm among ISVs to develop to .Net in the future if they have more equal opportunity to compete against Microsoft in applications, but it will likely add some pressures on the company to help ensure that the apps are certified and maintain compatibility to the additional APIs exposed as OS upgrades emerge," said George Weiss, vice president and research director of the Gartner Group. "My view is that Microsoft's OS environments need to run more open-source software apps, appear to be more open in its APIs and retain the loyalty and enthusiasm of its partners on which the lifeblood of Windows and .Net will depend and to compete more effectively with Linux."

The company has opted to withhold just one key Windows API, a Windows file protection API, to prevent hackers and those with malicious intent. The API allows for the replacement of "critical" Windows system components, said Charles Dejong, director of business development for the Windows Platform Group.

Microsoft's legal counsel said on Monday that the additions to the uniform OEM licensing agreement and API and protocols adhere to the company's five new principles and new company charter for corporate responsibility as dictated by CEO Steve Ballmer, which calls for an end to litigation and the fostering of more industry cooperation.

Still, competitors are awaiting full review of Microsoft's expanded API disclosures before rendering judgment. However, at least one longtime nemesis was suspicious. "Novell has made it clear that we don't believe the settlement Microsoft reached with the DOJ is sufficient to change Microsoft's behavior," said Bruce Lowry, a spokesman for Novell, which has claimed for several years that it cannot compete effectively with Microsoft because of undisclosed APIs on the Windows server. "Microsoft has indicated today's steps are an effort to fulfill the conditions of this settlement that we consider flawed. The DOJ settlement is related to ongoing litigation in which Novell has been involved via testimony, so we're not prepared to comment."

One solution provider said the move to make many more Windows APis available will help channel partners and ISVs add value, but it may make it more difficult for customers to upgrade seamlessly. "If they are going to do this, it potentially could be helpful. More access means more opportunity to leverage capabilities already available in the OS, " said Keith Landers, CTO of ExtremeLogic, a key Microsoft Certified Gold Partner. "On the other hand it makes it harder for Microsoft to continue to provide versions that upgrade seamlessly from OS to OS version. But I would give it a thumbs up."

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