Senator calls for investigation of Windows XP

New York Senator Charles Schumer called Tuesday for an investigation into "anticompetitive" practices in Microsoft Corp.'s forthcoming Windows XP operating system and urged the U.S. Department of Justice to make the cessation of such practices a condition of any settlement in the government's antitrust case against the company.

Schumer demanded at a press conference in Washington D.C. that Microsoft change Windows XP to allow users to choose their media player, messenger service and other applications, according to a statement released by the senator's office. Schumer, a Democrat, will call upon state attorneys general to look into enjoining the release of the operating system and will discuss upcoming U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee hearings on the matter scheduled for September, according to the statement. He also sent letters to Microsoft Chief Executive Officer Steve Ballmer and to the head of the Department of Justice's antitrust division.

Windows XP has raised concerns about threats to competition because of the way it integrates components such as Windows Media Player and MSN Messenger into the operating system. Critics charge that applications integration in Windows XP is simply another way for Microsoft to use its operating system dominance to create dominance for its other applications.

Though Schumer has backed Microsoft in the past, his support for the company has begun to flag as evidence of anticompetitive activity has mounted, the statement said. Among such activity is the inclusion of a number of Microsoft-authored applications in Windows XP that will take the place of third-party programs, the statement said, noting that Windows XP seems designed to privilege Microsoft programs. Two New York companies, AOL Time Warner Inc. and Eastman Kodak Co., would be adversely affected by Microsoft's plans, Schumer said.

The same issue is partly at the heart of the Department of Justice's ongoing antitrust case against the company. In that case, the government said that Microsoft linked its Internet Explorer Web browser to the Windows OS to gain market share and defeat competitor Netscape Communications Corp. Earlier this month, Microsoft said it will no longer require Windows licensees to include Internet Explorer as a preloaded application on new PCs. If users are allowed to choose their Web browsers, they should also be allowed to choose other applications, Schumer said in the statement.

Schumer made the same point in a letter to Microsoft CEO Ballmer, also released today. By linking its other programs to the operating system, "Windows XP is poised to extinguish RealPlayer or any other alternative music player in the same manner as it did Netscape," Schumer wrote. In the letter, Schumer also called on Microsoft to make immediate changes to Windows XP.

Microsoft only received a copy of Schumer's letter late Monday, according to company spokesman Jim Dresler.

AOL's and Kodak's concerns do not warrant a congressional hearing, Microsoft said in response to Schumer. Windows XP does indeed allow consumer choice and Microsoft partners and users both eagerly await the release of Windows XP, the company said.

"Windows has always been designed as an open platform that creates new business opportunities for many third parties," wrote Jack Krumholtz, director of federal government affairs at Microsoft, in a letter to Schumer Tuesday. Blocking the release of Windows XP would have a negative effect on the industry, Krumholtz wrote in the letter, which was provided to the media by Microsoft.

"Windows XP is critical to reignite the PC industry in the United States," the letter said.

If Schumer has his way, it just might reignite antitrust fires as well.

(Matt Berger, in San Francisco, contributed to this report.)

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Sam Costello

Computerworld

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