Microsoft Submits Windows 7 for U.S. Antitrust Review

Microsoft has submitted the follow-up to Windows Vista to the committee that oversees its U.S. antitrust compliance, to ensure the operating system is meeting the terms of the company's agreement with the government.

According to last week's status report on the U.S. antitrust case, Microsoft "recently supplied" the Technical Committee (TC) with a build of the OS, code-named Windows 7, and the TC will "conduct middleware-related tests on future builds" of the software. The move was revealed in papers filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

The filing was part of regular status reports aimed at tracking Microsoft's compliance with the 2002 antitrust settlement, which requires the company to ensure its own applications do not have an unfair advantage over competitive software that runs on Windows. The agreement also requires Microsoft to make sure its software can work well with third-party applications. Lack of compliance with a 2004 antitrust agreement in the European Union has cost Microsoft nearly US$2.6 billion to date; the E.U.'s most recent fine against the company last month was $1.3 billion.

Those on the TC so far are the only ones privy to what the follow-up to Vista will look like. Microsoft is mum on details of the software. But recent company moves and revelations hint at what can be expected from the software, which is due for release in late 2009 or early 2010.

At the MIX 08 conference in Las Vegas last week, Microsoft revealed Internet Explorer 8 (IE8) -- technology that likely will be a part of Windows 7, though Microsoft has not linked the two products yet.

Microsoft demonstrated IE 8, showing mainly developer improvements, but also some new end-user features such as one called "Activities." Activities allows users to highlight any word or phrase on a Web site and then choose from a drop-down box list of further actions they can take around that information, such as doing a Live Search or searching MSNBC for more information.

Aside from IE 8, little on the record is known about Windows 7, and the word from Microsoft is that it will talk about the OS when it's good and ready. Analyst warn against expecting Windows 7 to be a blockbuster release, given the fallout Microsoft is still dealing with from delivering a late and, to many, disappointing Windows Vista.

Recent court papers in a class-action suit over Microsoft's "Vista Capable" sticker program revealed that even Microsoft executives such as Steven Sinofsky, the senior vice president of Windows and Windows Live Engineering Group, were having driver- and application-compatibility problems with Vista after its release. In those papers, revealed in e-mails made public in what has become a class-action suit in a Seattle U.S. District Court, executives made statements to the effect that they won't let the delays and myriad problems associated with Vista happen again.

Mike Cherry, an analyst with research group Directions on Microsoft, said that for Windows 7, Microsoft will likely keep the bells and whistles to a minimum so they can deliver "something reasonable they can complete by a reasonable date ... Their goal will be to try to put Vista behind them," he said.

Because of its compatibility problems and hardware requirements, Microsoft is still struggling to inspire businesses to move from XP to Vista. Some business users have even suggested that companies may skip Vista altogether and hold on to Windows XP for a little longer so they can migrate from that to Windows 7.

On the consumer side, Microsoft already had to extend the length of time it would allow OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) and retail outlets to sell XP-based PCs by five months. The deadline for retailers and OEMs is now June 30, but that may be extended, as chip maker Intel expects low-cost desktops and notebooks running its Atom processors to hit the market in the third quarter. Given Vista's hardware requirements, those computers presumably will run XP, though Microsoft maintains it is committed to the June deadline to take the OS off the market.

To remedy these problems, Cherry suggested that Microsoft might serve itself well by making Windows 7 a stable release for business users by using the same code base as the recently released Windows Server 2008. He said Microsoft's mistake with Vista was to try to serve consumers and business customers with a flashy release that added a host of multimedia functionality instead of taking into consideration practical concerns that would affect performance and compatibility.

"It would seem to me that what we really need [is] for a business edition to be built off of that server code, so it would look much less fancy than Vista, much more austere with not a lot of wasted functionality," he said.