updated 02:35 pm EDT, Wed April 27, 2011
Microsoft no longer under antitrust watch May 12
Microsoft will be out of the eye of special antitrust terms in less than a month, District Court Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly said in the last hearing ever in the case. Oversight of the company's actions, including direct access to its computers and records, would no longer be mandatory after May 12. The watch had been originally limited to five years after a 2002 settlement but had been extended multiple times after technical problems and other issues that needed to be taken care of, including some running past the deadline.
The change marks the more formal end to an era for Microsoft, which began in 1998 when the case first began. An oversight had been considered vital after the company had been found engaging in anti-competitive behavior with Internet Explorer. Its bundling of the browser, and its insistence that the browser was both the default with every new PC and non-removable, were attacked for effectively shutting out then-current Netscape and any other browser by making it difficult for competitors to get treatment. Accusations also flew that the company was hiding code necessary for rival browsers to run as well.
During the trial, Microsoft repeatedly tried to claim the browser was actually part of the core operating system rather than a separate app, even going so far as to claim the software was slower without IE built-in. The company was eventually caught out faking video footage meant to have the browser look essential and competitors' browsers easy to install. Most have seen Microsoft's 2002 settlement as knowledge that letting the trial continue could have resulted in more severe discipline, including a possible corporate breakup.
The US ruling is believed to have mostly been favorable to the industry. Although Internet Explorer still leads in share in the US, it has now lost much of its lead and has seen genuine competition emerge from Apple, Google, and Mozilla. Microsoft's attitudes towards default apps has also changed, and both later versions of Windows XP as well as Vista and 7 let both PC builders and users easily set a different default browser.
Concerns still exist that Microsoft is engaging in anti-competitive behavior and has lately been attempting to shake down Android makers with patent lawsuits unless they agree to use Windows Phone 7. It may not face any government response as Windows Phone has just a small fraction of the phone market where Android is currently much larger.