Redmond (WA) - Four years after Microsoft reached a settlement in its antitrust battle with 18 states, end users will begin to see some impact of the agreement : Microsoft will allow the icons of the Internet Explorer and Media Player to be replaced with a generic symbol or another browser’s or player’s icon - beginning with the next beta of IE7.
It was eight years ago when initially the US Department of Justice (DOJ) and 20 states filed an antitrust complaint that went to trial one year later in October 1998. Throughout the trial until the settlement on November 2 2001, Microsoft often appeared on the verge to be split, but in the end came out very much on top. The effects of the settlement reached with the DOJ, and 18 states were considered to be much less painful than what anyone would have expected.
In a press release, Attorney General John Ashcroft was quoted : "A vigorously competitive software industry is vital to our economy and effective antitrust enforcement is crucial to preserving competition in this constantly evolving high-tech arena. This historic settlement will bring effective relief to the market and ensure that consumers will have more choices in meeting their computer needs."
But this promised "effective relief" has not quite shown up until today, at least as far as consumers are concerned and as far as we do not consider today’s already possible changes in the Start Menu of Windows XP. One of the cornerstones of the settlement, however, is just about to surface : The goal to create "the opportunity for independent software vendors to develop products that will be competitive with Microsoft’s middleware products on a function-by-function basis" and "giving computer manufacturers the flexibility to contract with competing software developers and place their middleware products on Microsoft’s operating system" is going to be reached - at least in part for now - with the possibility to replace the Internet Explorer and Windows Media Player icons.
According to the most recent "Joint Status Report on Microsoft’s compliance with the final judgments," filed in the US District Court for the District of Columbia, an "icon for the default browser (or a generic icon, if necessary) will replace the Internet Explorer icon in the commonly used parts of the operating system when Internet Explorer is not the default web browser." While there is no clear definition what the "commonly used parts of the operating system" exactly are, it appears that the Internet Explorer icon will vanish from the surface of the operating system, if a user installs a different browser, for example Firefox. However, there is no indication that Internet Explorer will be able to be completely removed from Windows ; more likely, the software will be hiding behind corners and will be ready to take its original place as soon as the user calls.
According to the document, Microsoft already "has completed the code" for this feature and will make it available to users for "testing purposes" with the "next beta release of Internet Explorer 7 before being rolled out with the final release" of the new browser. Microsoft said that these changes will also apply to "the next version" of the Windows Media Player.
A 15-member "Technical Committee" (TC) as well as Craig Hunt, a technical consultant are overseeing the changes for the 18 states, mention throughout the 19-page Joint Status Report that they are "very encouraged" by the overall progress that has been made. Besides hinting that "middleware and handling defaults" in Windows Vista will be "substantially" improved over Windows XP, the TC also outlined that it has submitted to Microsoft 550 necessary changes to the communication with licensees - mainly a result of the "uniform licensing terms" and "ban on exclusive agreements" that were requested in the 2001 settlement. There are "approximately 350 issues" that have not yet been closed, the TC said, while "over 115 issues" have been resolved. "These improvements in the documentation are already in the hands of the licensees," the filing reads.
The TC expects the project surrounding the adjustment of technical documentation that is distributed to licensees to be completed by the end of July 2006.