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Wednesday, July 19, 2006 - Page updated at 12:03 PM

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Microsoft outlines principles of competition

Seattle Times technology reporter

Microsoft pledged today to follow a dozen principles of competition as it builds and sells its Windows desktop operating system software, the ubiquitous product that has been the subject of nearly a decade of antitrust battles.

General Counsel Brad Smith, speaking to a packed room in Washington, D.C., described what Microsoft has learned from those battles, some of which continue today. In the audience were lobbyists for the technology industry, Congressional aides and Federal Trade Commission staffers.

"As creators of an operating system used so widely around the world, we recognize that we have a special responsibility both to advance innovation and preserve competition," Smith said. "We've learned that people care not only about what we do, but about how we do it. That's why we're adopting these principles, and why we're making them so public in this manner."

The principles, about eight of which are adaptations or extensions of parts of the U.S. antitrust ruling against the company, are organized under three main ideas, each with several specific tenets:

"Microsoft is committed to designing Windows and licensing it on contractual terms so as to make it easy to install non-Microsoft programs and to configure Windows-based PCs to use non-Microsoft programs instead of or in addition to Windows features."

This includes specifics such as the freedom to add "icons, shortcuts and the like to the Windows Start menu and other places used to access software programs"; the ability for manufacturers to set non-Microsoft programs to be used by default; the ability to remove Microsoft programs like Explorer and Media Player and promote non-Microsoft programs exclusively; and business terms that protect manufacturers who go the non-Microsoft route from retaliation.

"Microsoft is committed to designing and licensing Windows (and all the parts of the Windows platform) on terms that create and preserve opportunities for application developers and Web site creators to build innovative products on the Windows platform — including products that directly compete with Microsoft's own products."

Specifically, the company will document and disclose all of its application programming interfaces (APIs) for use by software developers. The antitrust ruling required the company to disclose only those APIs that pertain to so-called middleware, such as Web browsers and media players.

Windows Live, Microsoft's new Web services offering, will be designed as a separate product from Windows.

Windows will be designed "so that it does not block access to any lawful Web site or impose any fee for reaching any non-Microsoft Web site or using any non-Microsoft Web service."

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"Microsoft is committed to meeting customer interoperability needs and will do so in ways that enable customers to control their data and exchange information securely and reliably across diverse computer systems and applications."

The company pledged to make available, for "commercially reasonable terms," all the communications protocols that allow Windows desktops to work with servers. It will also license its operating system patents, except those covering Windows' appearance. And, it will contribute to industry standards that promote software interoperability.

The full set of competition principles is available at: www.microsoft.com/presspass/newsroom/winxp/windowsprinciples.mspx

Benjamin J. Romano: bromano@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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