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Microsoft restarts tech docs project

Key engineers reassigned to task

Microsoft will start again from scratch on a technical documentation project required in a three-and-a-half-year-old antitrust settlement with the US government, the company told a judge yesterday.

Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, of the US District Court for the District of Columbia, approved a two-year extension to parts of her antitrust judgment against Microsoft because of ongoing problems in the technical documentation for Microsoft's software communication protocols.

Kollar-Kotelly, in an antitrust settlement approved in November 2002, ordered Microsoft to create the technical documentation so that competing software companies can buy licences to Microsoft's communications protocols and make products that work with Microsoft software.

The judge called the documentation progress so far "disappointing", but she endorsed a new plan proposed by Microsoft, the US DoJ (Department of Justice) and the state plaintiffs in the case.

Kollar-Kotelly's two-year extension of the judgment allows the DoJ and other plaintiffs to get an automatic extension of another three years if they believe the documentation still needs work. As of 8 May, there were 501 mistakes identified in the documentation, including 79 high-priority problems, according to court documents.

Under the new plan, Microsoft will reassign senior engineers – including some from its Vista OS (operating system) and Longhorn server projects – to the technical documentation project, and it will offer companies that have already licensed its communications protocols a 100 percent rebate of the licence fees from April until the project is completed. About 300 senior engineers with first-hand knowledge of the communication protocols will work on the project, Microsoft officials said.

"We've made the decision that this is the highest-priority project in this company," said Bob Muglia, senior vice-president of Microsoft's server and tools business unit. Faced with similar complaints about technical documentation in the European Union's antitrust case against Microsoft, the company assigned Muglia to oversee the documentation project earlier this year.

Muglia concluded Microsoft was using a flawed process to fix the documentation, he told the judge.

Microsoft agreed with the DoJ request for an extension of the antitrust judgment, but company officials were hesitant to set a deadline for the new documentation project at Wednesday's hearing. "This is a project that should take months, not weeks, and not years," said Brad Smith, senior vice-president and general counsel at Microsoft.

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