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US demands MS split, open up APIs, liberate PC OEMs

Two companies and a range of conduct remedies

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MS on Trial The US government has called for Microsoft to be broken into two companies, and at the same time has asked for wide-ranging conduct restrictions to be placed on the company. In their Proposed Final Judgment issued yesterday the DoJ and US states asked the judge to split Microsoft into operating system and applications companies, while putting forward a range of measures designed to break the company's hold on PC OEMs. But although the two-way split is the most dramatic of the proposed measures, the "conduct remedies" further down the document are most likely to be effective (and, indeed, workable) in the short term. The government hasn't gone as far as asking for the creation of a third company running Internet activities, and the two units will still be huge monopolies, dominant in the operating systems and applications sectors. The company's hold on the PC manufacturers is therefore to be tackled via numerous restrictions. Microsoft won't be allowed to interfere with PC OEMs' ability to bundle and promote other software products, and will be forced to charge standard prices for Windows; these prices are to be published on Microsoft's Web site. It will be prohibited from entering exclusive deals with other software and Internet companies, and isn't allowed to sabotage other companies' products. The government terms this "Knowing Intereference with Performance," and says that "Microsoft shall not take any action that it knows will interfere with or degrade the performance of any non-Microsoft Middleware when interoperating with any Windows Operating System Product without notifying the supplier of such non-Microsoft Middleware in writing that Microsoft intends to take such action, Microsoft's reasons for taking the action, and any ways known to Microsoft for the supplier to avoid or reduce interference with, or the degrading of, the performance of the supplier’s Middleware." So Microsoft will have to be extremely careful about 'accidental' breakages in the future, because the victim companies will have a ready mechanism for blowing the whistle. Tying, as in the integration of Explorer and Windows, is prohibited, while APIs are to be disclosed. The proposal demands that "APIs, Technical Information and Communications Interfaces that Microsoft employs" be disclosed. The APIs covered here are those used in order to allow Microsoft operating systems, applications and middeware to interoperate with one another. The two Microsoft companies are also prohibited from giving one another special access to APIs; these must be disclosed to other companies on a level playing field basis. The government has also attempted to throw a spanner in the works as far as the Microsoft obsolescence escalator is concerned. Whenever there's a major operating system upgrade, the previous version should continue to be offered on demand for a further three years. That means NT 4.0 will be with us until 2003, and should be marginally outlasted by Millennium. ® Complete Register Trial coverage

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