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'Numerous concerns'

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A court-ordered status report on the Microsoft antitrust settlement has expressed concern over the way Microsoft is complying with the terms of the deal.

As part of the settlement agreed with the US government and more than a dozen US states, the court vowed to monitor Microsoft's compliance, and it also ordered the plaintiffs to file their own semi-annual reports on Microsoft's actions.

In the first such report filed this week, the plaintiffs said they had "numerous concerns" over one of the major parts of the deal -- the section which orders Microsoft to take actions that insure competing browsers, instant messaging software and media players work easily with servers running Microsoft software.

As part of this, Microsoft needed to let its competitors license a number of its communications protocols. But the plaintiffs have complained that Microsoft is making this process exceptionally difficult -- it has been forcing rivals to sign non-disclosure agreements, for example, before they are even allowed to review the licence terms.

The plaintiffs acknowledged that Microsoft has now made a number of changes to the way it issues licences for its protocols -- for instance, it now lets rivals review technical documentation before they sign a licence -- but they are still very unhappy with the royalties Microsoft will make them pay.

The status report gives an insight into the other actions Microsoft and the plaintiffs have taken since the controversial settlement, which was criticised at the time as letting Microsoft away with exceptionally easy terms. Microsoft claims it has invested substantial resources to insure it complies, including setting up training programs for staff, and setting options inside Windows that make it easier for computer makers or end users to disable the Microsoft defaults.

When the new service pack for Windows XP is released, for example, a permanent icon will appear on the Start menu which will let users disable Internet Explorer, Windows Media Player and MSN Messenger as defaults on the system and define the alternatives they want. For anyone with questions or complaints about the terms of Microsoft's compliance, the company has also set up an inquiries Web site here.

In other news, Microsoft is reportedly considering giving its shareholders a special dividend of more than USD10 billion, according to the Financial Times. Shareholders could receive the dividend in one payment or spread over time, according to sources quoted by Financial Times affiliate paper Les Echos. © ENN

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