Microsoft Not Complying With Antitrust Deal, Says Watchdog

An analysis by ProComp, an industry group formed to keep an eye on anti-competitive behavior, alleges that Microsoft has not kept up its end of the bargain when it comes to the deal it struck with the federal government. The analysis, sent in the form of a letter to the Justice Department and the Attorney-General, reveals at least six perceived violations of the requirements set out in last yearis settlement.

The crux of the matter lives in Section III of the agreement, which requires Microsoft to allow users to "enable or remove access to each Microsoft Middleware product" - that is, products such as Internet Explorer, Media Player, Outlook Express, and the Java virtual machine. The letter, available as a PDF document, details the exact nature of these violations.

Section III. H. of the SRPFJ mandates Microsoft to ?allow end users (via a mechanism readily accessible from the desktop or Start menu such as an Add/Remove icon) and OEM?s (via standard pre-installation kits) to enable or remove access to each Microsoft Middleware Product.? Microsoft chose to comply with this provision through release of Service Pack 1 for Windows XP on September 9, 2002. We can now judge whether Microsoft is in compliance.

Service Pack 1 includes a new utility called ?Set Program Access and Defaults.? This utility is touted as the new breakthrough mechanism by Microsoft which will allow consumers to actually be able to exercise meaningful choice. The feature purportedly allows users to choose between three configuration options for middleware products.

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Upon close examination of Service Pack 1 for Windows XP (and Service Pack 3 for Windows 2000), it can not be argued that Microsoft made even a good faith effort to comply with the letter, not to mention the spirit of Section III. H. of the SRPFJ. With all due respect, the statement by Microsoft?s General Counsel, Brad Smith, that the company ?erred on the side of reasonableness in interpreting the decree? is simply not credible.

The problems that ProComp sees in Microsoftis behaviour include the following:

  • SP 1 is a large download and introduces many bugs. Users and OEMs are not offered an alternative way to download the Set Program Access utility. Microsoft is also aware of the fact that OEMs do not plan to include SP 1 in their machines.
  • Purchasing the SP 1 CD costs $9.95, which is significantly more than the cost of manufacture and shipping.
  • The utility is required to be placed in a promiment place on the Start menu, or on the desktop. Neither of these are done adequately (Set Program Access lives in the All Programs menu), nor does the utility appear as part of the "Add/Remove Programs" control panel which many Windows users are familiar with.
  • There is no online help for Set Program Access, and the utility is difficult to use. Alternative programs are not identified as choices - it is either "Microsoft" or "Non-Microsoft."
  • Opening files in the iMy Musici folder launches Internet Explorer, even though another browser has been selected as default and the useris access to it has been removed.
  • Access to Microsoftis Java alternative, Common Language Runtime, cannot be removed.

In a Washington Post article yesterday, Microsoft spokesman Jim Desler said that the program was made available to developers before its release, that proComp should have aired their concerns then, and accused ProComp of "playing politics."

You can find out more about ProComp at their Web site, or view the analysis as a PDF.