DOJ: Microsoft interop docs are now 'substantially complete'

Three years and seven months after Microsoft promised to produce full documentation for its communications protocols, so that licensees can figure out what they mean and how to use them, the US Justice Dept.'s Antitrust Division has declared that the documentation project is pretty much done. It's not completely done, but there's enough of it complete that Microsoft will now be allowed to collect royalties again.

In the Dept.'s latest Joint Status Report, now semi-annual and released today, the ATR Division writes, "As explained in prior Joint Status Reports, by 'substantially complete,' Plaintiffs mean that the documentation, when considered as a whole, appears on an initial reading to cover the information required by the templates in a reasonably thorough and comprehensible manner. The 'substantially complete' determination means that Microsoft may now end the MCPP [Microsoft Communications Protocol Program] licensee interim royalty credit and will be able to resume collecting royalties. This determination, while a significant milestone in the overall documentation rewrite project, does not mean that the documents are finished or that no additional work remains to be done. There is, in fact, much work left to do."

The "interim royalty credit" to which the Report refers was agreed upon in May 2006, and cleverly avoided painting the DOJ as banning Microsoft from collecting royalties. Instead, it let the company charge licensees on paper royalties for the use of protocols (the documentation for which is now freely posted online), but then gave those licensees a 100% credit to be applied toward those fees.

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At the time, that credit was explained as nothing conditional, except for a certain condition: "Under this amendment, during this period of the interim royalty credit licensees will also be asked to provide feedback and report any errors or technical deficiencies with the documentation that they uncover during their development processes, so that Microsoft will be able to improve the documentation; however, a licensee's entitlement to this royalty credit will not be conditioned on actually finding any such issues with the documentation, only on reporting those issues that it does discover."

So it was essentially a payback for the promise that licensees would keep their eyes open for troubles.

As the Technical Committee appointed by ATR states through the Report, Microsoft has yet to develop test suites for the MCPP protocol that work with Windows 7. In the meantime, the TC will still be actively searching for bugs in the docs.

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