States Seek More Oversight of Microsoft
A group of states led by California said in a court filing Thursday that ending
oversight of Microsoft's business practices in November would not allow enough
time to consider the antitrust implications of Windows Vista.
Microsoft Corp., the Justice Department and the California group were asked
to submit reports by Thursday on the effectiveness of the 2002 antitrust settlement,
whose consent decree set rules that govern Microsoft's business practices.
The consent decree aimed to make it possible for Microsoft's middleware competitors
-- software makers who built programs that run on top of the Windows operating
system but act as a platform for other development, like a Web browser -- to
compete fairly, even if Microsoft's operating system monopoly persisted.
"Microsoft has not directly contravened these provisions," the states'
But the California group said that the consent decree has not yielded any more
competition. 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 the January launch of Microsoft's latest operating
system, Windows Vista, changes the game.
"As a practical matter, termination of the Final Judgment means ... 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 Inc.'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.
The justice department said in its report that while Microsoft's operating
system market share hasn't dropped because of the consent decree, "it would
misapprehend the purpose of the Final Judgments to rely on these facts to argue
that the Final Judgments have been ineffective. Microsoft was never found to
have acquired or increased its monopoly market share unlawfully."
In its report, Microsoft directly countered California's claims and said, the
"Final Judgments were never designed to reduce Microsoft's share in any
The federal court is expected to release a status report on Microsoft's compliance
with the consent decree Friday.