Microsoft pulls Office from own online store

On injunction deadline, Microsoft yanks all but one edition; other online retailers have suite to sell

Microsoft Corp. has pulled almost every version of Office from its own online store to comply with a court order requiring it to remove custom XML technology from its popular Word software starting today.

As of midday today, the only edition available from the Microsoft Store was Office Ultimate 2007, a $670 "full-version" suite. All other Windows editions, as well as Office 2008 for Mac, were accompanied by the message: "This product is currently unavailable while we update versions on our site. We expect it to be available soon."

Microsoft confirmed that the disappearance of Office was related to the injunction that came out of a patent infringement case the company lost in 2009.

"We've taken steps to comply with the court's ruling and we're introducing the revised software into the U.S. market," said Michael Croan, a senior marketing manager, in an e-mail. He also downplayed the move. "This process will be imperceptible to the vast majority of customers, who will find both trial and purchase options readily available," he added.

In an e-mail earlier today, Croan said only that Office would be "temporarily" unavailable, and that the suite would return "soon after Jan. 11," when asked when Office sales would resume.

In the meantime, Microsoft also told potential customers that they can download the free beta of Office 2010, the next-generation suite slated for a June release.

Previously, Microsoft had said the revised software would be ready by the Jan. 11 deadline. "We expect to have copies of Microsoft Word 2007 and Office 2007, with this feature removed, available for U.S. sale and distribution by the injunction date," said Microsoft spokesman Kevin Kutz on Dec. 23.

Office 2007 remained available at other retailers today, including online stores such as Amazon.com and Newegg.com, and brick-and-mortar stores such as Best Buy.

The injunction, which was first ordered by a Texas federal judge in August 2009 and then affirmed by an appeals court late last month, bans Microsoft from selling Word 2003 and Word 2007 as of today unless it dumps custom XML features from the software. In May 2009, a Texas court also ordered Microsoft to pay developer i4i Inc. nearly $300 million in damages, court costs and interest for allegedly violating the Canadian company's custom XML patent.

Microsoft has posted updates for both Word 2003 and Word 2007 to its download site and told customers in accompanying support documents that those updates are mandatory "only if you have been instructed to do so in a separate communication from Microsoft." The company has also committed to revamping Word 2008 for Mac and Word 2004 for Mac, even though those versions were not named in the injunction.

The patent infringement case between Microsoft and i4i has attracted interest because of the injunction blocking Word sales. The injunction was originally scheduled to take effect Oct. 10, 2009, but the appeals court suspended it while the court heard Microsoft's plea.

Even though it lost its appeal last month, Microsoft has not given up. Last Friday, it asked the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit to either grant a rehearing with the same three-judge panel or consider an en banc hearing before all the judges of the court.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, send e-mail to gkeizer@ix.netcom.com or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed .

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