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Judge questions Microsoft project delays

Posted by iNext - 2005-10-27

A U.S. District Court judge monitoring Microsoft Corp.'s antitrust settlement with the U.S. government scolded company lawyers today because the company recently announced a lengthy delay in a project to improve technical documentation for its communications protocols.

Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia questioned why Microsoft has pushed back the completion date of one of two technical documentation projects announced in February from early 2006 to October 2006 or later. The two projects were intended to help Microsoft comply with the judge's order to share proprietary communications protocols, part of the settlement Kollar-Kotelly approved in late 2002.

"If it's an issue of resources, then put them in," Kollar-Kotelly told Microsoft lawyers during an antitrust compliance hearing. "Do what it takes to get it done."

The judge also questioned why Microsoft had proposed to portable music player manufacturers that if they shipped Windows Media Player in their software packages, they could include only it and no competing media software. The exclusive proposal, made during the past three months, violates the antitrust settlement, Kollar-Kotelly said.

"This should not be happening at this point in the decree," Kollar-Kotelly said. "I realize people make mistakes, but this should not be happening."

Microsoft reversed course on the exclusivity proposal after it received an outside complaint and issued a final draft to media player companies days later, Microsoft lawyer Charles "Rick" Rule said. The proposal was made by a low-level employee at Microsoft, and the company promptly informed music player manufacturers they weren't required to honor an exclusivity agreement, he said. Microsoft reported the complaint to the U.S. Department of Justice, he said.

"At this point, I believe there's no lingering doubt about the nonexclusivity of the program," Rule said. "We regret this happened ... but we took immediate corrective action."

Kollar-Kotelly questioned why internal controls at Microsoft didn't catch the Media Player proposal. It's likely Microsoft would have caught the proposal if it hadn't received a complaint, Rule answered.

Kollar-Kotelly spent most of the hearing focused on delays in the technical documentation project. The judge ordered Microsoft to license its communication protocols to other IT vendors as part of the November 2002 antitrust settlement between the company and the U.S. government. The quality of the technical documentation for those protocols is one of the major remaining issues in the settlement, an one lawyer for the plaintiffs complained that the company hasn't lived up to the agreement. 

TEL AVIV—Microsoft Corp. Chairman Bill Gates said on Wednesday the software giant faced growing competition from companies in China and India but, for now, the strength in those countries lies in software services.

Gates, on his first visit to Israel, said Israeli companies would also confront increased competition from China and India.

"There will be competitors for Microsoft and for Israeli companies coming out of those countries although today the success, particularly in India, has mostly been in the software services area, outsourcing work, doing call centers and things like that," Gates told a news conference.

In contrast, Israel, along with the United States, is focused on inventing new, patented products and software, he said.

"India and China will try and be in those product areas as well, but so far it's mostly been in the service-oriented activities," he said.

Gates said the technology drive in China and India would expand the global customer base for technology products.

Gates also welcomed competition from Google Inc., the Internet search company.

"They're one of our newest competitors. It's a great thing for us to have a broad range of competitors," Gates said.

"Internet search as it is today will be dramatically better in a few years whether it's us or Google, we're both going to be making dramatic improvements there."

Microsoft faces competition in about half the sectors in which it operates. In the other half—areas such as Internet television and speech recognition—Microsoft is driving the frontier, Gates said.

The billionaire founder of Microsoft said the company was interested in writing software wherever software could add value.

"That's taken us into the car now. Think about how you can interface with mapping and communications and entertainment in the car," he said.

"It's taken us into the video-game area which is very software-driven although we have to do hardware there as well. It's taken us into the phone."

Microsoft is also seeking to develop "user centric" software platforms that enable people to move between various devices without having to manually move the information, he said.

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