November 21, 2006 10:47 AM PST

Justice Dept.: Vista satisfies antitrust deal

Microsoft's soon-to-be-released Windows Vista operating system does not appear to raise antitrust concerns, federal and state prosecutors said Tuesday in a court filing.

In a periodic joint status report, required as a part of Microsoft's 2002 antitrust settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice and state plaintiffs, the government attorneys said a technical committee charged with overseeing the software giant's compliance had found no outstanding issues after "extensive testing" of Vista and Internet Explorer 7.

According to the report, Microsoft and the technical committee have been offering a downloadable program that is designed to help Microsoft's competitors in the fields of Web browsers, e-mail and instant-messaging clients, and media players to make their programs "Vista-ready" before the new operating system ships.

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The program serves as a single source for all the registry settings needed for applications "to attain equal visibility on Windows XP and Vista systems," the technical committee said. The program's goal is to reduce the chance that people will experience difficulties in changing default software to non-Microsoft products, for instance. It also aims to make it easy to locate third-party applications in the start menu, desktop, task pane and other commonly used surfaces, after installing them.

Microsoft said it had also contacted 30 competing software makers and had invited them to work alongside company engineers at its Redmond, Wash., campus lab for Vista Readiness.

Since the last status report filing in May, government attorneys said they received 25 complaints alleging antitrust concerns about competing middleware but said they concluded that none of those gripes had merit.

Although the matters were not raised by U.S. regulators, some possible antitrust repercussions of security and file-formatting features in Vista were recently flagged as concerns by European and Korean regulators. Microsoft said last month that it had implemented changes that address those complaints.

The latest status report said Microsoft appears to be making some progress on what has become one of the thornier components of the settlement: rewriting documentation for licensees of its Microsoft Communications Protocol Program. The MCPP, another requirement of the antitrust settlement, is designed to help third-party developers create software that works with Windows.

But government attorneys said they remain worried about the project staying on track. Microsoft has already endured scolding for alleged "foot-dragging" on that front from the plaintiffs and the federal judge presiding over the case, who ultimately approved a two-year extension for that project's deadline.

"Microsoft's full commitment will be essential if the project is to stand any chance of producing complete and accurate documents on the schedule that Microsoft has provided to the court," the government wrote in its portion of the status report.

In a separate battle in Europe, Microsoft faces a Thanksgiving Day deadline for completion of a similar documentation project.

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