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Judge Extends Microsoft Oversight to 2009

Judge Extends Microsoft Oversight to 2009

As part of a 2002 consent decree with the federal government, Microsoft agreed to federal oversight of its business practices to ensure it didn’t use its monopoly power in the computer operating systems market to unfairly inhibit competition and control prices. Portions of that consent decree were set to expire in November 2007, but Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly extended the date in order to hear arguments presented by two groups of states arguing the consent decree should be extended five more years. Industry watchers generally felt that Kollar-Kotelly would let the decree expire on schedule—albeit with admonishments that the government would continue to keep a close eye on the Redmond software giant—in part because the Bush administration’s Justice Department also backed the idea of letting the consent decree expire.

Instead, Kollar-Kotelly has extended the consent decree by two years, so that its provisions remain in effect through November 12, 2009. The judge’s reasons for extending the decree are familiar to anyone who’s been following Microsoft’s arguments before the European Commission: Microsoft has taken too long to set up a program through which third parties can get documentation so their products can interoperate with Microsoft server offerings.

“The Court’s decision in this matter is based upon the extreme and unforeseen delay in the availability of complete, accurate, and usable technical documentation relating to the Communications Protocols that Microsoft is required to make available to licensees under [..] the Final Judgments,” Kollar-Kotelly wrote in the executive summary of her decision, released to media yesterday.

Microsoft says it will comply with the extended consent decree, and the company is no doubt casting the decision as a partial victory since the extension only covers two years, rather than the additional five years requested by the states. Nonetheless, Microsoft is plainly tired of trying to operate under legal constraints imposed by antitrust authorities; last year, the company opted not to appeal a ruling by the European Commission over exactly the same sort of documentation, a sign the company would rather sweep its legal mess off the table and get back to building software, rather than expending resources in regulatory battles.

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Geoff Duncan
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Geoff Duncan writes, programs, edits, plays music, and delights in making software misbehave. He's probably the only member…
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