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US Antitrust Judge Takes Issue with Microsoft Compliance

US District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, who oversaw Microsoft's antitrust settlement with the US government, said this week that she is unimpressed with the software giant's recent moves. At issue are two bits of settlement non-compliance. First, Microsoft has moved too slowly to provide technical information to competitors. Second, she was outraged at Microsoft's recent attempt at demanding that portable media device makers bundled the company's Windows Media Player (WMP).

Regarding the technical information, Microsoft said that the release would be delayed until October 2006, about 9 months later than the previous estimate. Microsoft has codenamed its effort to get this information out as "Troika." But naming the project was about the only thing the software giant has delivered in a timely fashion. "This needs to get done," Kollar-Kotelly told Microsoft attorneys during a regularly scheduled progress conference call Wednesday. "If it's a question of resources, put them in."

Microsoft claims that Troika is harder to implement than originally thought. Lawyers told the judge that the equivalent of 30 full-time employees are working on Troika. But lawyers representing the US states who joined the federal government's settlement called this delay their "principal bone of contention" with Microsoft's settlement compliance, noting that Microsoft has done "absolutely nothing" to deliver any technical information to competitors who have signed license agreements for that data. Microsoft says it has made nearly 9600 pages of documentation available and that no licensees have said that they could not use that documentation.

Kollar-Kotelly saved a special bit of wrath for Microsoft's aborted plan to require that its hardware partners bundle only WMP with their portable media devices. Microsoft's plan, dubbed Easy Start, was designed to either give consumers a simple experience, or shut out competing players from RealNetworks, Apple, and other companies, depending on whom you ask. Surprised that Microsoft would attempt such a maneuver in the wake of its antitrust troubles, Kollar-Kotelly referred to the plan as "a chink in the compliance process." "It seems to me that at this date, you should not be having something like this occur," she said. "\[This is\] of concern." Federal lawyers called the event "unfortunate."

Microsoft, as you might expect, has its own spin. The company said that the plan came from a "low-level business person" who was unaware of Microsoft's antitrust obligations. Microsoft lawyers noted that the company was sorry the proposal ever reached hardware makers and chalked up the experience to "a lesson learned," the lesson, presumably, being that you can't get away with everything. But fear not: Representatives from the federal government said they would help Microsoft train employees about antitrust compliance. Overall, they said, they are happy with Microsoft's antitrust compliance to date.

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