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7/19/2006
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Microsoft To Open Up, Ease Restrictions On Vista, Future Windows

Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith introduced 12 tenets to guide future developments of Windows.

Microsoft has promised to ease rules and release more technical information to make it easier for OEMs, developers and end users to configure, install and run non-Windows software on its forthcoming Vista upgrade.

At a speech in Washington, D.C, Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith announced 12 new tenets that will guide the future development of Window, beginning with Vista, which is due to launch broadly in early 2007.

The announcement comes less than a week after the European Commission fined Microsoft $357 million -- and threatened more fines -- for reportedly not complying with its March 2004 antitrust settlement.

The European Commission claimed that Microsoft has not made its communications protocols licensing process as transparent as required by that settlement, a charge that U.S. Justice Department regulators also leveled at Microsoft in the past in the aftermath of its U.S. antitrust settlement.

Microsoft's 12 new principles or "tenets," which are divided into three buckets, will ease licensing restrictions on computer manufacturers, offer more application binary interfaces for software developers, and provide better interoperability of non-Microsoft software with Windows.

The new transparency policies, announced Wednesday, incorporate and surpass the provisions of the company's current U.S. antitrust agreement and will remain in effect even after the major part of that settlement expires in the fall of 2007, Microsoft claims.

While some claim the European Commission's decision is forcing Microsoft to open up, company defenders say the software maker will appeal the commission's fine and process and is making changes voluntarily.

"This is voluntary guidance they're providing, and we prefer these steps to government's heavy-handed regulation imposing rules and onerous regulations on our business practices," said Michael Wendy, a spokesman for CompTIA, an industry association in Washington, D.C. "This is a voluntary step Microsoft has chosen, and it's a good and positive step."

Microsoft's 12 tenets are designed to ease restrictions on OEMS and open up more technical information and interoperability for partners, developers and customers.

For OEMs and system builders, Microsoft has pledged to design Windows to enable PC makers to set non-Microsoft programs to operate by default, in hot categories such as Web browsing and media playback, and give manufactures the right to remove the means by which end users access Internet Explorer and Windows Media Player so they can promote non-Microsoft programs.

More important, Microsoft has pledged not to retaliate against any PC maker that supports non-Microsoft software. To enable this, Microsoft intends to post a volume-based price list on the Web to ensure that royalties are paid without respect to the way OEMs promote software.

For developers, Microsoft claims it will ensure that all interfaces within Vista and future versions of Windows can be called by any application or Internet service.

Microsoft also said it will design Windows to be used with or without Windows Live services in order to give developers and users freedom of choice over Web services. Additionally, Windows will not block access to any site or impose any fee for accessing any non-Microsoft site or service and will not require developers to support Windows exclusively.

Finally, Microsoft promised to offer better documentation of communications protocols to ease interoperability of non-Windows applications with Windows client and server software. The software giant also said it will license patents it holds on select operating system services and work in a more ad hoc fashion with rivals and other vendors--in addition to its work with standards bodies--to deliver better interoperability between competing software.

One solution provider in the open-source world said interoperability issues continue to plague Linux's progress on the desktop. But he doesn't think Microsoft's new principles will change that.

"The key things blocking it are still poor Microsoft Office document conversion, particularly Excel, and mediocre connectivity to Exchange, though there are some partial solutions to this," said Chris Maresca, a principal at the Olliance Group, Palo Alto, Calif. "No, I don't think [the 12 tenets will help]. Microsoft has a history of making sure that interoperability is not easy, particularly when it comes to their Office suite of products, which are not addressed in that announcement."

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