Group says Microsoft violating antitrust settlement

An industry group backed by some of Microsoft Corp.’s top competitors has sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) claiming that the software maker has already violated terms of a proposed antitrust settlement deal that it reached with the federal government.

ProComp, or the Project to Promote Competition and Innovation in the Digital Age, said in a letter Wednesday that it has identified at least six violations on Microsoft’s behalf.

Microsoft reached an agreement with the DOJ and later nine state attorneys general who were also plaintiffs in the antitrust suit. While a judge has yet to sign off on that deal, Microsoft has already begun implementing some of the changes required in that agreement. In late August, it filed a document with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia that summarized how it is complying with the proposed consent decree.

At the core of its compliance effort was the release of Service Pack 1 for Windows XP, a set of product updates and security fixes for the company’s operating system. ProComp argued that the 30MB download was not “readily accessible to consumers,” and was “non-intuitive” when it came to obtaining and installing on a PC.

The trade group, whose members include Oracle Corp. and Sun Microsystems Inc., also took issue with a feature in the update designed to allow end users to substitute Microsoft applications that start up by default on a Windows PC, such as its Web browser and media player, with competing products from third-party vendors.

ProComp argued Wednesday that the tool, which appears on Windows XP desktops as “Set Program Access and Defaults,” is difficult to find and too complicated to use.

That tool has a menu that allows users to choose, for example, “Windows Media Player” or “my current browser.” It doesn’t, however, list any other options for competing products such as the Netscape browser. Microsoft has said that third-party vendors and PC makers will be responsible for tuning their software to show up as options in the menu.