Microsoft's surprise concession, announced during a court hearing, responds to concerns in recent months by Justice Department lawyers and U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly that a key provision of the settlement is falling short of the government's hopes it would energize rivals of the world's largest software maker.
The judge, who approved the settlement in November 2002, praised Microsoft's overall efforts under the agreement but acknowledged that, "At this point it's difficult to measure its impact on the market."
She also complained to lawyers that she "had hoped for quicker results."
The antitrust settlement compels Microsoft to offer its technology to competitors to build products that seamlessly communicate with computers running Windows software. When the settlement was negotiated, the judge and government lawyers described that requirement as among its most significant provisions toward restoring competition in the technology industry.
So far, only 14 companies — including Sun Microsystems Inc. and Time-Warner Inc. — have paid Microsoft for licenses to use such technology in their own software products.
Microsoft disclosed that it will offer similar licensees until at least November 2009, two years past the expiration of the antitrust settlement. It also pledged to allow competitors to license some technology from the next version of its operating system software, known as Longhorn.