Judge accepts provisions

U.S. District Court Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly on Nov. 1 approved most of the provisions of a settlement deal between Microsoft Corp. and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and nine states that sued the software maker in a landmark antitrust lawsuit. In doing so, she brushed aside harsher remedies proposed by nine states that had refused to sign on to the agreement.

The “remedy” ruling is in effect for five years unless the court chooses to extend it, and orders Microsoft not to retaliate against computer makers who offer competing software products with the PCs they sell. The full opinion runs more than 300 pages, but a 14-page final judgment lays out the remedies, and Kollar-Kotelly also released an executive summary that synthesizes the key points in the complex case.

Microsoft is prohibited from retaliating against computer makers or independent software makers that consider “developing, distributing, promoting, using, selling or licensing any software that competes with Microsoft Platform Software or any product or service that distributes or promotes any Non-Microsoft Middleware,” the judge said in her final judgement.

Such middleware products include software for browsing the Web, for instant messaging and for playing music and video files, as well as other products. Specifically, Microsoft’s middleware products include Internet Explorer, Windows Media Player and Windows Messenger, as well as Outlook Express and its Java virtual machine.

Microsoft is also prohibited from retaliating against companies that ship PCs with both the Windows operation system (OS) and non-Microsoft OSes, or PCs that boot with more than one OS.

Microsoft must provide written notice at least 30 days in advance when it seeks to terminate a licensing deal and must explain why it wants to end the contract. The company also must apply uniform terms and conditions in its license agreements and must charge a Windows royalty that complies with terms published on a Web site that can be accessed by the plaintiffs in the case and all covered companies.

One analyst said the judge’s order appears to bode well for the giant software maker, which had faced the prospect of far tougher restrictions.

“It’s clear, given the alternatives, that Microsoft did pretty well with this ruling,” said Rob Enderle, a research director with Giga Information Group Inc. “Microsoft still has to contend with the compliance committee under the existing settlement, but it’s nowhere near as painful — even at its worst — as what was proposed by states.”

One antitrust legal expert went further.

“I thought there was some chance that (the judge) might have entered a decree that actually tried to undo some of the harm that was done,” said Donald Falk, a partner with the law firm Mayer, Brown, Rowe & Maw, in Palo Alto, Calif.. “What the opinion said basically was, ‘You robbed a bank, you can keep the money, and you can do it again, but don’t use exactly the same method.'”

For its part, Microsoft seemed satisfied with the outcome.

“We are pleased that the court has conditionally approved the settlement, which is a tough but fair compromise,” said Jim Desler, a Microsoft spokesman. “We recognize it will be closely scrutinized by the government and our competitors, and we will devote all the time, energy and resources needed to ensure that we meet our responsibilities.”