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Microsoft to change Windows over antitrust concerns

Microsoft Corp. agreed to change its Windows XP operating software to address fresh antitrust concerns that traces of programs consumers choose to hide still appear on their computer screens, the US government said in a court filing.

As part of its antitrust settlement with the government and 17 states, Microsoft agreed to give consumers the choice of removing links to Internet Explorer if they want to use an alternate Web browser. The company also agreed to give consumers the same choice to remove links to programs such as Windows Media Player or the Outlook Express e-mail program.

The 2001 settlement, negotiated after an appeals court found that Microsoft illegally protected its Windows monopoly, also allowed computer manufacturers to promote rival programs such as RealNetwork Inc.'s RealPlayer.

Under the new agreement, an icon for the default browser or a generic icon ''will replace the Internet Explorer icon in the commonly used parts of the operating system when Internet Explorer is not the default Web browser," Justice Department antitrust enforcers said in court papers filed jointly with Microsoft.

''Compliance continues to be of paramount importance to us and we are working diligently to address any questions the DOJ or technical committee" raise, said Stacy Drake, a Microsoft spokeswoman. ''We are acting quickly and constructively to address these questions."

The court papers were filed in advance of a hearing Monday in Washington before US District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, who approved the settlement, to review Microsoft's compliance with the decree.

In 2003, Microsoft agreed to make it easier for consumers to disable links to Internet Explorer, Windows Media Player, or Outlook Express by placing the function to perform that task in a more prominent place in Windows.

The court filing said the Justice Department and the 17 states turned up ''possible issues" with the consent decree during a ''thorough analysis" of Windows XP, the latest version of the operating system that powers more than 95 percent of the world's personal computers.

The latest review of Windows found that the ''e" icon for Internet Explorer still appears in the Web address of a file even if the user has selected a non-Microsoft browser to search the Internet, the government said. When a user disables access to a program such as Media Player, shortcuts created by the user to the program are not removed from the system, the government said.

Microsoft also agreed to modify the disabling function to automatically eliminate shortcuts to programs that were created by the user, the filing said.

These changes ''will help ensure that Windows respects users' middleware preferences, as required by the final judgments," the government said in the joint filing with Microsoft.

Microsoft said in its portion of the court filing that ''while issues inevitably will arise, Microsoft has worked diligently and cooperatively to respond to and resolve all inquiries" from the government.

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