October 26, 2005 11:51 AM PDT

Judge: Microsoft's music player gaffe is 'concern'

WASHINGTON--A federal judge scolded Microsoft on Wednesday for devising a marketing plan that would have forced portable-music player makers to package only Windows Media Player with their products.

"It seems to me that at this date, you should not be having something like this occur," U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly said at a status conference here, adding that she found the issue "one of concern."

As previously reported by CNET News.com, a recent federal court filing revealed that Microsoft initially drafted a marketing agreement with language indicating that manufacturers that signed on would be barred from supplying software other than the Windows product.

The company took quick steps to fix the agreement and never sent it out to manufacturers, as noted by the filing and U.S. Department of Justice attorneys at Wednesday's conference. An attorney for Microsoft, Charles Rule, said Microsoft regretted the mistake and that "a low-level business person" who was not fully aware of Microsoft's mandate was responsible.

Overall, attorneys on Wednesday said they were pleased with Microsoft's progress in complying with a consent decree the company entered into with the Bush administration in 2002 to settle a long-running antitrust suit.

Besides the music player document, much of the conference centered on one "bone of contention," in the words of attorney Stephen Houck, who was representing the group of California plaintiffs. Microsoft is "way off schedule" on one piece of its plan to provide more accurate and complete technical documentation to developers who license its communication protocol, Houck said.

That piece, known as "Troika," is an automated system designed to validate the accuracy of the technical documentation by comparing it to actual network traffic, according to Microsoft. The software giant originally projected a February 2006 completion date but said it underestimated the complexity and staffing levels involved. It now doesn't expect to wrap up the project until at least October 2006.

The news drew disapproval from Kollar-Kotelly, who said she wanted the project to be a priority, even if it meant hiring more people to do the job.

Rule assured the judge that Microsoft was making the project a top priority. "Nearly 9,600 pages of highly detailed documentation are available to licensees currently," he said, adding later, "No one has told us...that they have been unable to use the technical documentation."

Federal prosecutors said they plan to discuss the matter with Microsoft representatives in a meeting at the company's Redmond, Wash., headquarters early next month. Kollar-Kotelly called for a report from federal prosecutors on the status of the project by Nov. 18 and set Nov. 30 to discuss the findings in court.

20 comments

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Not a surprise
The Bush administration are pure corporate lackeys and MS wanted to see how far they could go, so they tried to force 3rd party vendors into using only MS crap. Luckily there is one judge not buying into it.

The judge is being too kind and should send a serious message to MS.

The ironic thing is that if MS would have been broken up the 2 parts would have been much stronger then the whole.

MS is a floundering giant with no will(other then to stay on top by force), no innovation, no plan. Computer users are finally getting wise and MS is losing market share, nearly across the board and so far new attempts in new markets have been met with disinterest or worse.

They tried this nonsense to see if it would get past the courts because the only way for MS to stay afloat is through strong arm tactics.

I have been saying it for years, and the last few years has shown it in some small ways, but the next 5 years will be shown more so: Microsoft can not compete on a level playing field.
Posted by Bill Dautrive (1179 comments )
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Excellent Analysis...
...very reasonable, based upon the facts.

Microsoft does seem to be floundering. And, quite a few industry-leaders have publicly been questioning Microsofts long-term potential.

However, I have heard that Microsoft is actively banking-on elements of "Trusted Computing" and industry-wide "DRM", as their final "ace in the hole" (...the ultimate "strong-arm tactic"..? ...both your PC-use and all Internet-access being completely dependent upon Microsoft-licensed products..?).

In fact, Microsoft has struck quite a few external-deals and does seem poised to have the upper-hand, ...if "Trusted Computing" can be rolled-out as Microsoft has indicated in their various "Road-Maps". Hardware, Media, networking and firmware, components are already being put into place. As well as, Microsofts apparently trying to block "alternate" software-compliance within the "...Trusted Computing" standards-committees.

Could we all soon be forced, through "Trusted Computing", DRM, and "Software as a Service" licensing, ...to run nothing but "Microsoft-approved" Computer-devices, and finally be required to pay Microsoft, their much-desired, continuous "rental-fee" for our computers to actually keep working, and be allowed to access anything?
Posted by Gayle Edwards (262 comments )
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Not quite
The plan reached the courts way after it was rejected by management. Your point would be valid if that wasn't the case, but that's what the judge found, thus the "light hand". Had she found the company actually attempted to execute on that plan, it would be a completely different matter.
Posted by Hernys (744 comments )
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Used The Wrong Word Template
The hapless "low level" Marketing Product Manager must have used the Microsoft global_domination template instead of the play_nice template. Darn it, now the Excel global_domination_profit template must be changed too.
Posted by Stating (869 comments )
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Funny comment
That made me giggle.
Posted by shoffmueller (236 comments )
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Break them up
Do the industry a favor and break up Microsoft. It's clear by now the company does not want to play on a level playing field.
Posted by R. U. Sirius (745 comments )
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RE
No company want a level playing field, they're constantly looking for a way to get the advantage over each other. Breaking Microsoft up might be good in the short time but what happens to their products and consumers who use them (which is still the majority). We broke up AT&T and now they're slowly merging back together again.
Posted by unknown unknown (1951 comments )
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Come on...
Are you telling me that you expect a company with 50.000 employees never have a single employee that proposes a plan that's anti competitive? No company, large or small, can ever go for decades without some employee having an idea that's wrong.
The plan was rejected by senior executives, and that's where a companys responsibility lies. Even Google said "do no evil", not "think no evil".
Or are you just an advocate of breaking up EVERY monopoly or near monopoly (so Segway would not be able to be the only that builds Segways, Apple would have to sell stuff from Creative, etc.)?
Yes, I'm a MS Fanboy. So what?
Posted by Hernys (744 comments )
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