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How Microsoft Spent Its Winter Vacation

How Microsoft Spent Its Winter Vacation — We’re back, and we feel like we spent our entire winter hiatus reading stories about Microsoft. Perhaps the most intriguing part of the Microsoft versus United States Justice Department antitrust case so far is that the judge has done a little experimentation on his own.

The Justice Department several weeks ago won a preliminary injunction in which the judge hearing the case barred Microsoft from requiring companies that bundle its Windows 95 operating system to also ship Internet Explorer pre-installed. This was only a preliminary order until the case can be heard, but it carries the full weight of judicial power behind it.

Microsoft’s response to the order was to offer manufacturers three choices: the original version of Windows 95 as it shipped back in August 1995; a revised version stripped of all components related to Internet Explorer (many of which are shared libraries that Windows and other applications refer to), rendering the OS virtually unbootable; or the version Microsoft had been shipping until the court order.

No source we’ve read so far pointed out that, although the original version of Windows 95 is now "out of date," Microsoft has shipped remarkably few updates to it, and most people who either bought the software by itself or as part of a new PC system in the first year or so that it was shipping received this first version. The Rev. B version of Windows 95 has significant improvements built in, but you can only get this version when you buy a new machine – so millions of people are still running the original flavor of Windows 95, seemingly without any difficulty.

In any case, the judge performed a simple test after the Justice Department filed additional papers arguing Microsoft was in contempt of the order. The judge used the Add/Remove Software utility in Windows 95 to remove Internet Explorer – and quickly saw all vestiges erased. He then asked both Microsoft and the Justice Department to comment on what he’d found.

Microsoft has argued that this procedure merely hides Internet Explorer, leaving all the Internet-related components, DLLs, etc., intact. That may be true, but the question is whether the judge intends that Microsoft should physically remove everything related to Internet Explorer from the machine, remove the minimum number of files to prevent a user from launching Internet Explorer, or perhaps even just pull out the Internet Explorer icon from the desktop.

The next week will reveal whether the judge throws a $1 million per day contempt fine on Microsoft, or clarifies his original order. [GF]

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