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09.27.08

Judge Finds Microsoft (Un)Documentation Unimpressive

Posted in Uncategorized at 12:19 pm by Shane Coyle

Microsoft’s U.S. Antitrust Proceedings Continue… Seriously?

According to published reports, Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotell has ruled that Microsoft is still behind in fulfilling its obligations to the court in regard to documenting their APIs and protocols, some of which are nearly five years overdue now.

In the wake of antitrust actions, documentation of Microsoft technologies has become a method of allaying the concerns of legal authorities in both the US and EU. By providing documentation of the APIs and protocols used by its products, Microsoft would not only allow third-party and open-source software to interact better with Windows and other software, but potentially enable them to write replacements, in whole or in part, for Microsoft products. This, in theory, would enable more software companies to compete on equal terms with Redmond.

Unfortunately, the company has consistently had trouble with producing complete and useful documentation. As noted above, the company struggled to satisfy EU authorities that it was complying with the agreement—that was 2006. By 2008, documentation was rearing its ugly head in the US court system. Microsoft’s consent decree with the federal and state attorneys general was set to expire, and most of the conditions were allowed to. But Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, who is overseeing the consent decree, ruled that Microsoft still hadn’t sufficiently documented some protocols, despite those documents having been due in 2003. As a result, the consent decree will remain in place at least until November of 2009.

"At least until November 2009", because as Judge Kollar-Kotelly also said that she is inclined to not lift the consent degree at that time unless Microsoft has brought themselves into compliance. It’s somewhat baffling that Microsoft is unable or unwilling to fulfill these requirements, but I also must admit that I have some questions regarding what these “overview” and “system” documents are supposed to be, exactly.

Meanwhile, at least some folks who are involved in the process are becoming a bit frustrated, questioning Microsoft’s commitment to the process and whether they even understand the gravity of the situation.

“I have to express my concern with this attitude that they’re behaving as a volunteer,” said Jay Himes, the antitrust bureau chief for the New York attorney general’s office. “It fosters this sort of grudging commitment to get the system documents done.”

He said the technical committee’s implementation group has been called off all other tasks to support the template effort, and the committee dedicated more than 150 hours to meetings about the templates just last week.

“What we have today is the (technical committee) and its staff spoon-feeding the world’s biggest PC company,” he said. “Something about that just isn’t right.”

Representatives for Microsoft said the company is very committed to finishing the templates and the system documents. The company has assigned a significant number of senior engineers on the template project, said Bob Muglia, Microsoft’s senior vice president of servers and tools.

“We understand that is a requirement,” said Charles Rule, an attorney for Microsoft. “The delays have not been as a result of Microsoft taking a lackadaisical attitude,”

Still, Kollar-Kotelly questioned Microsoft’s commitment.

“I do appreciate that these things are complex, but I think it’s interesting the (technical committee) is able to do what’s necessary and bring Microsoft along, and not the other way around,” she said.

So, according to these legal folks, they are saying that there’s a group outside of Redmond which is able to understand and implement their own APIs and protocols, even with non-existent or poorly created documentation? Sorry, I just don’t believe it. And I certainly can’t believe that Microsoft would do anything to willingly distort and⁄or delay the legal process.

I think I need to add a Sarcasm category to supplement our humor one… but, seriously, why is Microsoft still unable or unwilling to comply with what seems to be the final hurdle in this saga? I mean, this has to be a lot easier than being broken up into two seperate companies, no?

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2 Comments

  1. Jose_X said,

    September 27, 2008 at 2:06 pm

    Gravatar

    It’s too easy for Microsoft to cheat, and we couldn’t know unless we had access to the source code and to the build tools that produced the binaries they ship and their updates.. or if we got lucky and came across a discrepancy here or there. It’s a never-ending chase, and binary compat can be broken or odd protocol elements inserted/changed by anyone in Redmond without the rest knowing (eg, with high clearance or through obfuscation build tools). In other words, they could really hide it, even from most of their developers, if they (MS execs) wanted to do so.. eg, if they had enough money on the line.

    Besides the purposeful errors/omissions/red-herrings/obfuscations, there are the regular old buggy/sloppy type of errors (wrt docs and within third party interfaces to API).

    Whatever.

    This whole thing is a parade. It’s fun to watch.

  2. Jose_X said,

    September 27, 2008 at 2:07 pm

    Gravatar

    >> This whole thing is a parade. It’s fun to watch.

    This whole thing is a parade.. but one that’s not worth the time watching.

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