DoJ brown-noses MS further in revised settlement

The large print giveth and the small print taketh away

Proposed settlement terms for the largest anti-trust defendant since Ma Bell have been tightened up a bit since a draft came out last week, but important exceptions remain.

Showy pro-consumer language now flows around the numerous exceptions, as if written not by the DoJ, but by the MS marketing department.

No more restrictions on dual-boot OEM machines. No more restrictions on outside middleware. And all MS middleware has got to be easily uninstallable by end users, via the Add/Remove function in Control Panel, for example.

That sounds great. Except that,

"the Windows Operating System Product may invoke a Microsoft Middleware Product in any instance in which: 1. that Microsoft Middleware Product would be invoked solely for use in inter-operating with a server maintained by Microsoft (outside the context of general Web browsing)...."

And that might mean you can't remove Internet Explorer because you need all those crucial product updates, and surely we wouldn't want some sketchy other-worldly browser connecting to the pristine MS servers. The company can claim that enhanced security features in its product make it unwise to use another. A bit of a stretch, surely, but they've stretched things at least that far many times before.

But let's read a bit further:

"....or 2. that designated Non-Microsoft Middleware Product fails to implement a reasonable technical requirement (e.g., a requirement to be able to host a particular ActiveX control) that is necessary for valid technical reasons to supply the end user with functionality consistent with a Windows Operating System Product, provided that the technical reasons are described in a reasonably prompt manner to any ISV that requests them."

Since when are ActiveX controls a 'reasonable technical requirement'? One can easily imagine difficulty employing an e-mail client less likely to flood you with malicious HTML messages than Outlook, for example. (OK, Outlook insecurity is a pet peeve of mine; but in fact, the sky's the limit in applying this sweet little exception.)

And as we reported earlier, virtually any API can be withheld on the pretext that releasing it could endanger security, third-party secrets, or DRM schemes.

"No provision of this Final Judgment shall: 1. Require Microsoft to document, disclose or license to third parties: (a) portions of APIs or Documentation or portions or layers of Communications Protocols the disclosure of which would compromise the security of a particular installation or group of installations of anti-piracy, anti-virus, software licensing, digital rights management, encryption or authentication systems, including without limitation, keys, authorization tokens or enforcement criteria; or (b) any API, interface or other information related to any Microsoft product if lawfully directed not to do so by a governmental agency of competent jurisdiction.

And guess who's been nominated arbiter of who can and can't be trusted with this data. Why, it can be withheld from anyone who fails to:

"meet[] reasonable, objective standards established by Microsoft for certifying the authenticity and viability of its business, (d) agree[] to submit, at its own expense, any computer program using such APIs, Documentation or Communication Protocols to third-party verification, approved by Microsoft, to test for and ensure verification and compliance with Microsoft specifications for use of the API or interface."

So what we have here are a few light cosmetic changes in the phrasing to reinforce the illusion of victory for consumers, OEMs and competitors, most likely to save face for a compliant DoJ, and to make the language more palatable and euphemistic in keeping with MS marketing conventions.

From that perspective it's a win/win situation. ®

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