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Microsoft Changes Software Tact

May 24, 2002

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WASHINGTON (AP) _ Microsoft Corp. is disclosing how it will let users of its latest Windows software effectively replace its own e-mail, Web browser and instant-messaging tools with rival programs. The action was required by Microsoft’s landmark antitrust settlement with the government.

Microsoft demonstrated a new feature this week that its engineers will include within Windows XP to allow users to trick their computers into behaving as if some of Microsoft’s own software tools had been removed from Windows.

Microsoft, which also disclosed that sales of Windows XP have exceeded 32 million copies, said it will offer the change, probably in August, in a 40-megabyte ``service pack″ update. Customers can download the update from Microsoft’s Web site or order it for shipping costs expected to run less than $10.

The government demanded the redesign, aimed at helping rival software companies compete against Microsoft more fairly, as a cornerstone of its agreement to end the historic antitrust case against the software maker. Nine state attorneys general are pursuing additional penalties against Microsoft.

Lawyers for the Justice Department and the nine states that also agreed to the settlement expect to review Microsoft’s plans in the next few weeks. Microsoft does not plan to demonstrate its changes for U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, who will decide later this year whether to approve the settlement.

The government did not force Microsoft to make similar changes to earlier versions of Windows; the update will work on both home and professional editions of Windows XP.

Microsoft also will use the Windows update to crack down on software pirates: It identified a stolen unlocking combination widely distributed on the Internet to install Windows XP illegally.

In an unusually aggressive move, Microsoft designed its update not to load on these illegal copies and will block these users from downloading future repairing patches from its Web site. Microsoft refused to estimate how many users might be affected except to say it identified a sizable number of illegal copies of Windows XP that would account for millions in lost sales.

Microsoft’s anti-piracy decision is not unprecedented and comes amid renewed debate in Washington about the adequacy of technology to protect copyrights. Microsoft previously used another software update to sabotage its Office business software electronically on computers it believed were running illegal copies.

The other changes to Windows initially could benefit leading technology companies, including AOL Time Warner Inc., RealNetworks Inc. and Apple Computer Inc., which offer rival Web browsers and software for sending e-mails or instant messages and listening to digital music. It also could provide new revenue sources for hard-hit computer makers in a dour economy by encouraging software rivals to pay to distribute their own tools over Microsoft’s wares.

``These guys are going to pay OEMs (computer makers) to put it on there, and OEMs are going to take money or whatever it takes,″ Microsoft spokesman Jim Cullinan said.

Consumers will be able to hide Microsoft’s own Windows programs using a new utility called ``Set Program Access and Defaults.″ Users can choose whether to continue using Microsoft’s Web browser or other programs for e-mail, music and video or instant-messages, plus Microsoft’s support for the Java programming technology.

One option, marked ``non-Microsoft,″ blocks Windows from using any of these programs from Microsoft; consumers can select any rival Web browser already installed, for example, such as those offered by America Online, the former Netscape Communications Corp. or the fledgling Opera Software ASA of Norway.

In a demonstration of its redesign for The Associated Press, Microsoft deleted all its Internet Explorer icons from one of the company’s laptop computers, which preventing the Web browser from starting, then restored the icons later.

Microsoft acknowledged that some Web sites using its ActiveX technology for animations and other functions won’t work if customers block its Internet Explorer browsing software, because rival browsers won’t load these pages. But the company said it expects few such glitches even for consumers who choose to disable all its programs.


On the Net: Microsoft: http://www.microsoft.com

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