Continued Oversight of Microsoft Urged

States say in filing that the impact of Windows Vista is still undecided.
States say in filing that the impact of Windows Vista is still undecided. (By Daniel Acker -- Bloomberg News)
By Jessica Mintz
Associated Press
Friday, August 31, 2007

A group of states led by California said in a court filing yesterday that ending oversight of Microsoft's business practices in November would not allow enough time to consider the antitrust implications of Windows Vista.

Microsoft, the Justice Department and the California group were asked to submit reports by yesterday on the effectiveness of the 2002 antitrust settlement, whose consent decree set rules governing Microsoft's business practices.

The consent decree aimed to make it possible for Microsoft's rivals -- software makers who built programs that run on top of the Windows operating system -- to compete fairly, even if Microsoft's operating system monopoly persisted.

"Microsoft has not directly contravened these provisions," the states' report said.

But the California group said the consent decree had not caused competition to increase. The report cites Microsoft's continued dominance in the operating system market and the fact that few, if any, PC makers have sold computers with non-Microsoft Web browsers set as the default, among other examples.

The California group also said that the January launch of Microsoft's latest operating system, Windows Vista, changes the game.

"As a practical matter . . . plaintiffs will not be able fully to assess the impact in the marketplace of Microsoft's recent introduction of Vista," the group wrote.

In its report, the Justice Department said it appeared the consent decree was working. Web browsers like Mozilla's FireFox and Apple's Safari present "renewed competition," as do the increasing popularity of programs available through a Web browser.

"The final judgments have been successful in protecting the development and distribution of middleware products and in preventing Microsoft from continuing the type of exclusionary behavior that led to the original lawsuit," Thomas O. Barnett, assistant attorney general in charge of the Justice Department's antitrust division, said in a statement.

In its report, Microsoft directly countered California's claims and said that the final judgments "were never designed to reduce Microsoft's share in any putative market."

Florida and Utah, two of the eight states plus the District of Columbia that made up the group in the filing, did not sign on to the report.

The federal court is expected to release a status report on Microsoft's compliance with the consent decree today.

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