Microsoft Critics Lambaste XP-SP1

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Six weeks after Microsoft trumpeted meeting the last of the milestones laid out in its antitrust settlement with the federal government, a group of the company's critics complained Microsoft is not living up to the terms of the deal.

In a letter sent to both the Justice Department and New York State Attorney General Elliot Spitzer, The Project to Promote Competition and Innovation in the Digital Age (ProComp), a lobbying group with ties to Microsoft competitors, said the moves the software giant has made so far have been inadequate and incomplete.

ProComp urged the Justice Department to challenge Microsoft's filing in late August that it was in full compliance with the settlement provisions. The group highlighted six areas in which it feels Microsoft is in violation of one section of the agreement, but turned its focus on Microsoft's recently released Service Pack 1 (SP1) for Windows.

"Upon close examination of Service Pack 1 for Windows XP (and Service Pack 3 for Windows 2000), it cannot be argued that Microsoft made even a good faith effort to comply with the letter, not to mention the spirit, of [the settlement]," ProComp stated.

Microsoft officials dismissed the letter as posturing.

"Reaching out to independent groups and the government in this process is very important to us," Microsoft spokesman Jim Dessler said. "We had a three-month long beta process, and ProComp chose not to provide us with any feedback during that process but has fabricated some charges in an attempt to grandstand."

ProComp has been a vociferous critic of Microsoft's business practices, saying the proposed federal antitrust settlement struck in November 2001 was filled with loopholes and flaws.

Lars Liebeler, legal counsel for CompTIA, a group that has been supportive of the antitrust settlement, dismissed ProComp's letter as a strategic move to paint Microsoft in a bad light.

"I don't think there are any significant legal issues that are raised," he said. "It doesn't address the question before the court, which is whether the settlement is the right one."

The service pack was to address some of the anti-competitive charges made against the Redmond, Wash. software giant by giving manufacturers more choices between Microsoft and non-Microsoft products and allowing them more options to use third-party software.

The release of SP1, announced in late May and released in beta in June, followed up on Microsoft's disclosure last month of 272 application protocol interfaces.

Both moves, in addition to a program for licensing 113 Windows communication protocols begun earlier this summer, were required in Microsoft's antitrust settlement last fall with the Justice Department and most of the states suing the company. The settlement is pending, while U.S. District Court Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly decides an antitrust case pursued by nine states that rejected the settlement as too lenient. Her ruling is expected sometime this fall.

ProComp said SP1's "Set Program Access and Default" utility, which allows users the option of disabling Microsoft products, does not address the core problem of third-party middleware being unable to interoperate with Microsoft's Windows operating system. The group criticized Microsoft's distribution of the update, saying SP1 for Windows XP was "not readily accessible to consumers."

ProComp accuses Microsoft of making the 30-megabyte update unnecessarily cumbersome, as it requires users well over an hour to download.

"Microsoft has unnecessarily architected and bundled Windows XP Service Pack 1 in such a way as to virtually guarantee that it will not be utilized by consumers in the first place," the group said.

Dessler pointed out the service pack contains a number of critical security patches, necessitating the hefty download, in addition to a smaller version that includes just critical updates. He said SP1 was downloaded over 3 million times in its first week.

ProComp's other criticisms revolve around the non-intuitive nature of the utility for disabling Microsoft middleware, with no help section for users having problems.

However, Liebeler pointed out that ProComp's technical complaints could not be addressed until Kollar-Kotelly rules. If she accepts the settlement, a three-person technical committee will address the remedy's mechanisms.

"In the end, it doesn't matter what CompTIA or ProComp says," Liebeler said. "What matters is what the judge is going to do."

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