Following up on a promise made in September, a group of states asked a federal court to maintain its oversight of Microsoft through 2012. A 2002 antitrust judgment against Microsoft put the company under the court's oversight; portions of the judgment are due to expire November 12.
California, Connecticut, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Massachusetts, and the District of Columbia -- the so-called California group -- are arguing that if Microsoft is allowed to go back to its anticompetitive behavior, the emerging sector of Web-based applications could be permanently impaired.
Because Microsoft Internet Explorer continues to dominate browser market share, Redmond could stymie technologies such as Google Gears and Adobe AIR, which allow for hybrid online/desktop programs, the California group said.
Chokepoint To Block Web Apps
"Because Web-centric technologies are so dependent on Web browsers and servers for access to consumers, they are particularly susceptible to impediments that Microsoft could interpose were the final judgment to expire now," the filing said.
Microsoft could gain a competitive advantage for its middleware offering, Silverlight, not based on its merits but on Microsoft's ability to control the desktop, the states said.
"Microsoft has the ability -- by virtue of IE's dominance and its resulting control of Web standards -- to use the browser as a chokepoint with respect to consumer access to the Internet-centric technologies that currently represent the most promising nascent platform threats to Windows," the states claimed.
Is Silverlight the Next Search?
"Many of the 'new' or 'emerging' technologies cited by Microsoft's experts are dependent on a 'standards-based' browser to access computing functionality delivered by servers. For the vast majority of PCs, that browser is IE," the states said.
"Should the Final Judgment expire now, Microsoft has the power to tilt the playing field towards its own technology, Silverlight," the filing went on to say. "Were Microsoft to favor Silverlight in Windows 7 like it did its desktop search technology in the initial Vista release -- and as it could absent the protections of the Final Judgment -- the platform threat of competing products like Gears and AIR could be severely compromised."
Richard Blumenthal, the Connecticut attorney general, was quoted by various news outlets as saying that the "stark and irrefutable fact" is that competition is less robust than it should be. "Extending the judgment really does no harm and holds the promise of a lot of good," he said.
Has Decree Done Its Job?
"We believe, and the Department of Justice has stated, the consent decree has served its purpose, ending practices the courts found were anticompetitive, and providing additional legal remedies as well," Jack Evans, a spokesperson for Microsoft, was widely quoted as saying.
Federal regulators and attorneys general from New York, Louisiana, Maryland, Ohio, and Wisconsin told U.S. District Court Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly that the 2002 consent decree had done its job.
In a filing in August, Microsoft said the decree was never meant to accomplish specific shifts in market share, just to stop anticompetitive practices. The decree was not designed to "override choices made by consumers" or "to reduce Microsoft's share of PC operating systems to any particular level."
The judge is expected to rule on the extension request on November 6, when a status hearing on the case is scheduled.