US Antitrust Officials Praise Microsoft for Protocol Licensing

In sharp contrast with the never-ending criticisms and increasingly baseless investigations it faces in the European Union (EU), Microsoft is finding a surprising level of support from antitrust officials in the US. As part of a regularly scheduled status report on the software giant's 2002 US antitrust settlement, US federal and state antitrust officials recently praised Microsoft for its efforts to lower the cost of royalties associated with licensing its technologies to third parties.

In the jointly-filed status report, antitrust officials from the US Department of Justice (DOJ) and several states said that the "substantial reduction in royalties are positive steps \[that will\] promote interoperability with Windows clients."

Microsoft announced in February that it would release thousands of pages of technical documentation related to core protocols and products such as Windows, Office, SQL Server, Exchange Server, and SharePoint Server, and then released the first batch of 14,000 pages of documentation in April. This information is available free of license or royalty. Microsoft also released information about protocols that are covered by its patents, which it made available at "reasonable and non-discriminatory terms, at low royalty rates." Additionally, Microsoft agreed to not sue open source organizations that created non-commercial implementations of its patented protocols.

A technical committee has overseen Microsoft's antitrust settlement since 2002 and is now performing a review of a beta version of Windows 7, the next major release of Microsoft's desktop OS. The committee performed a similar review of Windows Vista.

It's interesting to contrast Microsoft's relationship with US antitrust officials--with which Microsoft battled for years before settling--with its relationship with similar officials in the EU. Whereas the US has clearly moved on and can both work with the software giant and even praise it when it does the right thing, such niceties are apparently beyond the abilities of Neelie Kroes and the EU's European Commission (EC). In recent months, she has awarded Microsoft's decision to release its proprietary document formats as international standards by, of all things, investigating whether Microsoft's document formats are anticompetitive. And Kroes has publicly recommended that EU governments ignore Microsoft's products and use open source solutions instead.

Kroes, too, is overly-sympathetic to Microsoft's competitors, especially if they're from Europe. It seems that no complaint is too small to not warrant a massive investigation. A typical example: The EC is now investigating Microsoft's bundling of Internet Explorer (IE) with Windows because Norwegian browser maker Opera claims act this has harmed its business. What Opera can't explain, however, is how two other independent Web browsers--Mozilla Firefox and Apple Safari--have both surpassed its own product in the market during the same time period. If the past is any indication, Kroes and her cronies will ignore this inconvenient truth and institute another round of unnecessary accusations, court battles, and fees.

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