Update: U.S. judge to extend Microsoft consent decree

Ruling in antitrust case covers technical documentation and distribution of middleware

A U.S. district court judge will extend portions of an antitrust decree governing Microsoft's actions for 18 months, the judge said Wednesday.

Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia will extend portions of the decree until May 2011 at the request of the U.S. Department of Justice and states that brought the 1998 antitrust complaint against Microsoft, she told lawyers for both sides.

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During a hearing, Kollar-Kotelly said she will sign the request extending portions of the antitrust judgment covering technical documentation for Windows communications protocols and distribution of middleware. Microsoft did not challenge any part of the extension, although it was prohibited from fighting an extension of the technical documentation portion of the judgment when Kollar-Kotelly approved a two-year extension in 2006.

While Microsoft is making progress in fixing problems with the technical documentation required in a communication protocols licensing program, the work won't be done by November, when the judgment was scheduled to expire, said Steven Houck, a lawyer representing a group of states that sued Microsoft.

"The basic reason for the extension ... is that the technical documentation is still incomplete and inaccurate," Houck said. "It's clear to us that more testing was warranted before we could certify to the court that the technical documentation was reasonably complete and accurate."

As of March 31, there were 1,716 identified bugs in a 30,000-page technical documentation. Microsoft closed more than 550 of those bugs by Sunday, but on Monday a court-appointed technical committee overseeing Microsoft compliance with the judgment submitted more than 350 new bugs, said Bob Muglia, president of Microsoft's server and tools division.

Identified bugs may continue to rise in the immediate future, as the technical committee devotes more resources to finding them, Muglia added. Microsoft's lawyers offered little additional comment about the extension.

An extension of the middleware portions of the judgment was needed to ensure that the entire judgment works together as intended, Houck added.

Kollar-Kotelly agreed with the need for an extension, but said she also noted that Microsoft seems to be making progress to fix long-standing complaints about the state of the technical documentation.

"I think we're finally on the right track," she said. "I think all the parties are committed to making this work."

Including the 18-month extension, the Microsoft judgment will be in effect for eight and a half years. It was originally scheduled to expire in November 2007, after five years. The DOJ and state plaintiffs have authority to request an additional 18-month extension, although Houck and other plaintiff lawyers said an additional extension may not be necessary.

While plaintiffs had little confidence in the schedule back in 2006, when the judgment was last extended, they now see an end to the technical documentation project, said Adam Severt, a lawyer with the DOJ. "Things are markedly different," he said. "The task Microsoft is facing is far more concrete."

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