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End of an era: Microsoft antitrust oversight ends

By Nancy Gohring and Grant Gross
May 11, 2011 04:39 PM ET

IDG News Service - A U.S. court's antitrust oversight of Microsoft is ending after eight and a half years, with some observers questioning what the long fight accomplished.

Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly's oversight of a twice-extended November 2002 settlement agreement between Microsoft and the U.S. Department of Justice ends Thursday. In recent years, Kollar-Kotelly, of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, has focused primarily on a small piece of the settlement -- bugs in technical documentation for communication protocols Microsoft was required to share with competitors.

The DOJ, in a statement released Wednesday, hailed the antitrust case, which started in 1998, as good for the competitive landscape in the IT market. The antitrust judgment protected the development and distribution of middleware and allowed consumers to have choices, the DOJ said.

"The final judgment ... prevented Microsoft from continuing the type of exclusionary behavior that led to the original lawsuit," the DOJ said. "Microsoft no longer dominates the computer industry as it did when the complaint was filed in 1998. Nearly every desktop middleware market, from Web browsers to media players to instant messaging software, is more competitive today than it was when the final judgment was entered."

The antitrust agreement also lead to "competitive conditions" that enabled new products, including cloud computing and mobile devices, to develop as potential threats to the Windows desktop operating system, the DOJ said.

Microsoft would only release a statement to mark the end of the case: "Our experience has changed us and shaped how we view our responsibility to the industry. We are pleased to bring this matter to successful resolution, and we are excited to keep delivering great products and services for our partners and customers."

The main allegation in the original lawsuit, filed by the DOJ and the attorneys general of 19 states and the District of Columbia, was that Microsoft had illegally maintained its monopoly in PC OSes by excluding competing middleware from its OS. An appeals court upheld the antitrust claims in June 2001.

The court-monitored antitrust judgment prohibited the company from penalizing computer makers that shipped products with competing middleware or OSes installed. The judgment required the company to disclose its middleware interfaces to independent software developers and computer makers, and it required the company to license OS communications protocols to third parties.

Analysts agreed that the case didn't have a major impact on Microsoft, but one said it may have given some other companies a leg up.

The ruling had some "psychological" effects on the company, said David Mitchell Smith, an analyst with Gartner. "When you put a company under scrutiny and you handcuff them a bit in terms of what they can do, it changes their attitude and outlook and cramps their style," he said. "But fundamentally all the remedies that came out of it were pretty minor."

Reprinted with permission from Story copyright 2014 International Data Group. All rights reserved.
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