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Addicted to antitrust, Microsoft outlines 12-Step Recovery

No more interventions, please

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Antitrust addict Microsoft has outlined a 12-Step Recovery Program, which it says will help prevent it from lapsing back into anti-competitive practices in the future.

The declaration follows three major "interventions" in fifteen years. A 1991 investigation by the Federal Trade Commission resulted in a Consent Decree signed in 1995. A 1997 investigation by the Department of Justice, joined by a number of US states the following year, resulted in a conviction and settlement in 2002. And just last month, the EU rejected Microsoft's claim that it was complying with a 2004 antitrust settlement.

Microsoft calls these vows "Windows Principles", or "Twelve Tenets to Promote Competition", and they reiterate many of the pledges made in 1995, 2002 and 2004.

"Through the set of voluntary Windows principles that we are announcing and adopting today, we're taking a principled, transparent and accountable approach to the future of our operating system," said Microsoft's general counsel Brad Smith.

Some of these "principles" are familiar - others are plain strange.

Pledges you may have heard before include a promise to permit OEMs to choose their own desktop icons and remove Microsoft's, and not to retalitate against OEMs. These were part of the 2002 Settlement.

There are promises to document its server APIs (made in 2004), and license its IP on a "fair" royalty basis (2002).

Then come the strange vows.

Microsoft will not prevent anyone from installing their own software, it says, nor will Windows "block access to any lawful Web site or impose any fee for reaching any non-Microsoft web site." As far as we can remember, not one of these transgressions has ever happened. What Microsoft has been found guilty of in the past, however, is preventing already-installed software from running as it should (DR-DOS); and blocking access to third-party browsers (Opera). But in the latter case, it was MSN that was doing the blocking - not Windows.

"We want the developer community to know that it is free to develop, support and promote products that compete with any part of Windows," says Microsoft.

Two months ago Microsoft and the Department of Justice agreed to renew the monitoring period, which was due to expire next year, for an additional two years.

Microsoft admitted that its documentation program "needed a reboot". The EU is currently fining Microsoft.

"One day at a time, Lord," said Smith.

No he didn't - we made that bit up. ®

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