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Microsoft Antitrust Compliance on Track

Microsoft Corp. has submitted a test version of its Windows Vista operating system with features that make it easier to use non-Microsoft programs to search PC hard drives, according to a report issued by the Justice Department Friday.

The report, a regular update on Microsoft's compliance with a 2002 antitrust settlement, said the Redmond, Wash.-based company was on schedule in other areas, including the massive task of rewriting documentation it provides to licensees of its technology.

Microsoft agreed to make changes to Vista in response to antitrust complaints from Google Inc., which in June said Microsoft's hard-drive search program was interfering with Google's own tool.

The Justice Department said preliminary testing shows the new version, which will let Vista users set a competing search program as their default and see it in the Windows Start menu, works as expected. The changes will be available in Service Pack 1, a package of upgrades and fixes expected in the first quarter of 2008, the department said.

The department also said in its report that it is looking into differences between original technical documentation and rewritten versions from Microsoft, and that it is testing fixes Microsoft made to some software.

Microsoft has been the subject of antitrust investigations since the early 1990s. The U.S. government and many states sued the company, and the court found Microsoft was using its operating system dominance to quash other types of competing software, including Netscape's Web browser. This led to a 2002 settlement and a consent decree that says Microsoft must help rivals build software that runs smoothly on Windows, among other conditions.

Most of the terms of the consent decree are set to expire in November, but the Justice Department has extended through 2009 its oversight of Microsoft's technical documentation and licensing program.

On Thursday, a group of states led by California submitted a report to the U.S. District Court judge who oversees Microsoft's compliance with the settlement, which said ending oversight in November doesn't allow enough time to review the antitrust implications of Windows Vista. A hearing is set for Sept. 11 in U.S. District Court in Washington with Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly.

Also in September, a European court is set to rule on Microsoft's antitrust appeal. The European Union has levied more than a billion dollars in fines against the software maker for depriving competitors of technical information, and charging too much for some licenses.

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