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Ina Fried

Staff Writer, CNET

Microsoft is slated to meet with federal and state antitrust regulators next month to discuss possible areas of concern regarding Longhorn, Microsoft’s next version of Windows.

The meeting, which is an outgrowth of the long-running Department of Justice antitrust case, will take place in mid-February, according to a joint status report filed late Tuesday with U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly.

For some months now, the Department of Justice and several states have been reviewing plans for the new OS, which is slated to ship next year. Microsoft has already scaled back several key features of Longhorn, including an all-new file system, that were to have been part of the OS.

The Justice Department and the state attorneys general have submitted a list of issues on which they want more information, and Microsoft has agreed to regular briefings, with the first of those taking place in February.

Microsoft and the federal government agreed to a settlement in 2001 and it was approved by Kollar-Kotelly in late 2002, but regular meetings are held between the parties to discuss compliance issues.

Company spokeswoman Stacy Drake said Longhorn, like all Microsoft software, is done with “full consideration and understanding of our obligations under the consent decree.”

That said, the company hopes the early meetings will avoid problems down the road. “We think it’s important that we work closely and openly with the DOJ and states early in the process to address any questions and concerns,” Drake said.

The report noted that two more companies–Unisys and vBrick Systems–have taken out licenses for the communications protocols Microsoft made available as part of its settlement of the case. Under the terms of the settlement, Microsoft is required to license, for a fee, a set of Windows communications protocols, essentially the means by which rivals can connect to Windows-based computers.

With Unisys, the license is for a general server, the broadest license available. Microsoft also noted that six of the 21 companies that have licensed Microsoft’s protocols are now shipping products that incorporate some of the technology.

In addition, the independent technical committee established by the court plans to develop its own prototype software using the protocols, in an effort to see whether Microsoft’s documentation is adequate, a point that has been a subject of some disagreement in the past. The committee will hire about 20 additional engineers to complete that work, which it expects will take a year.

Microsoft has also agreed to change the format in which it distributes the technical information. The company has been distributing the information in a rights-protected format that can only be read with the Internet Explorer browser. Microsoft said that by the end of next quarter it will offer the information instead via the Portable Document Format, or PDF, developed by rival Adobe.

Both Microsoft and government regulators are due in court Tuesday to discuss the status report.