Microsoft came off lightly at the first of its anti-trust meetings, suffering only a mild rebuke from the judge while the software giant's critics accused it of making nothing but cosmetic changes in response to their complaints.
The hearing was effectively Microsoft's initial parole meeting following the anti-trust agreement reached between it and the US government last year. The court wanted to know how much community work the company had done.
In response, Microsoft outlined changes to its communications protocol licensing program (MCPP), including an extension of up to two years beyond the November 2007 enforcement and the removal of some royalties to the licensing program made in January.
It said it had committed to allowing the anti-trust plaintiffs access to its proposed licensing agreement on its next server operating system by August 2007, and it would make technical support available to companies with questions on the MCPP's technical documentation.
But the other side questioned whether the anti-trust remedy of forcing Microsoft to make some of its software protocols available to competitors was working at all, and pointed to the fact that it has had almost no effect on competition in the market - Microsoft still enjoys a 90 percent market share in the browser and desktop operating system markets.
Only 14 companies have signed up to the licensing program so far and the quality of information has been heavily criticised, making Microsoft's offer to extend the scheme somewhat redundant. The changes to the program are largely cosmetic, Ed Black, president and chief executive officer of the Computer and Communications Industry Association, said after the hearing. The two-year extension of the licensing program is the equivalent of rearranging deck chairs on a sinking ship, he said.
However, Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly of District Court for Columbia came down on the side of Microsoft and praised the changes to the licensing program, although she questioned the speed at which Microsoft was responding to complaints. "There's been continuing progress," she said. "Microsoft has responded to the requests ... although in some cases I'd have liked us to move quicker."
With regard to Microsoft continued control over the browser and OS markets, Kollar-Kotelly said: "At this point, it's difficult to measure its impact on the marketplace," she said.
Microsoft lawyer Charles Rule defended Microsoft's efforts. The three new licensees since January, including former Microsoft foe Sun show the program is working, he said. "We have continued our efforts to evangelize the MCPP program," he told the judge.
Kollar-Kotelly scheduled the next settlement status conference for 19 July.
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