This is a summary of the more interesting points of the final judgment against Microsoft. A link to the full judgment is available at the bottom of the writeup.

The judgment applies to Microsoft and "its officers, directors, agents, employees, subsidiaries, successors and assigns."

The judgment contains a list of prohibited conduct. In particular, Microsoft is not allowed to retaliate against an OEM that sells software or products which compete with Microsoft, sells computers with operating systems other than those made by Microsoft, or makes use of any of the provisions in the judgment again Microsoft. The specified form of retaliation that is prohibited is any alteration of commercial relations or the withholding of new forms of "non-monetary compensation."

This does not mean that Microsoft cannot enforce its licence agreements with OEM's; it can, but only if the terms of the license are consistent with the final judgment.

This gives OEMs the freedom to sell other operating systems and ship products by manufacturers other than Microsoft without fear of losing their Microsoft agreement.

Microsoft must sell Windows products to OEMs under "uniform license agreements with uniform terms and conditions." This would have the effect of placing all covered OEMs on equal footing with Microsoft, rather than allowing Microsoft to favor OEMs which are more "Microsoft friendly".

Microsoft may still charge different royalties for different language versions, they may still given reasonable volume discounts, and they can still have market development allowances, programs, or discounts in connection with their operating system products. However, such programs have to be offered uniformly to the ten largest covered OEMs. A different discount program may be offered to the eleventh to twentieth largest OEMs. The size of an OEM is determined by the number of licenses.

The discounts have to be based on objective and verifyable criteria and such criteria must be consistent with the Final Judgment.

Microsoft can't restrict OEMs from installing and displaying shortcuts for programs which compete with Microsoft products, except when those icons appear in places that are not appropriate for that type of functionality, as specified in Windows documentation. OEMs are also free to distribute and prmote non-Microsoft middleware, automatically launch middleware provided it displays an interface similar to the the one provided by the Microsoft equivalent, or no interface at all.

OEMs may also install boot loaders other than the one provided by Microsoft, and may use that boot loader to boot an OS other than a Microsoft OS. And finally, OEMs can display their own IAP offer at boot time, provided it complies with technical specifications established by Microsoft.

Microsoft has to provide the API's and related documentation used by Microsoft middleware to interoperate with a Microsoft OS, starting at the release of Service Pack 1 for Windows XP. For new middleware, such disclosures must be made no later than the last major beta test release of said middleware.

Microsoft has to release information on the communications protocols native to Windows under reasonable terms nine months after the submission of the proposed judgment. Good news for the Samba team?

Microsoft is restricted from retaliating against ISV's or IHV's for using, developing, distributing, or supporting any software which competes with Microsoft platform software. ISV's and IHV's are also protected against retaliation for excersing options provided by the Judgment.

Starting with the release of SP1 for XP (or earlier), Microsoft must allow end users or OEMs to enable or remove "each Microsoft Middleware Product or Non-Microsoft Middleware Product", and enable or disable the automatic launching of such middleware in such a way that the user has an unbiased choice with respect to removing or disabling access. They must also allow end users and OEMs to designate a non-Microsoft middleware product to be invoked instead of the equivalent Microsoft one where the Microsoft one would be loaded in a seperate top-level window and display either the Microsoft Trademark or all of the UI element. This probably won't have much effect, because the wording negates embeded windows, so if you wanted to use StarOffice to view word documents in your web browser, Microsoft could still force you to use Word if it is launched in-place!

Microsoft cannot automatically alter the configuration of shortcuts and icons as installed by an OEM.

Windows can invoke Microsoft middleware if the non-Microsoft middleware product fails to meet some techinical criteria, such as being able to host a particular ActiveX control. It seems to me that this give Microsoft a lot of room to manuver by allowing them to invent strange and esoteric technical requirements.

Finally, the Judgment doesn't require Microsoft to release any documentation, communication protocols or APIs which would compromise any security, anti-piracy, anti-virus, software licensing, digital rights managment, encryption, or authentication systems.

A three person technical committe will be set up after 30 days of the acceptance of the final judgment, composed of experts in software engineering, with no conflicts of interest (i.e. not an employee of Microsoft within the last year, not retained as a consulting or testifying expert in any action related to Microsoft, not employed by a competitor of Microsoft) to monitor Microsoft's compliance with the final Judgment.

Microsoft must also appoint an internal compliance officer within 30 days of the entry of the final judgment, who shall administer the antitrust compliance program and ensure complicance with the final judgment.

Unless extended by the Court, the final judgment expires five years after it is entered by the the Court.

Throughout the document, the operating system is always specified as "Windows Operating System Product." Being cynical, one could guess that Microsoft's next OS will not be called Windows. There's potential for them to use a different brand name, with the possible effect of negating many of the restrictions imposed by this Judgment. Maybe the next one will be call ".NETOS" or something. The definitions at the end of the document include the successors of current Windows operating systems and the products currently codenamed "Longhorn" and "Blackcomb" in the definition of "Windows Operating System Product," so it could actually take awhile to get away from this definition.

The document refers to "middleware" in a large number of places, where it should probably read "software." In the strictest definition of middleware, I don't think you could reasonably include things like ICQ clients or web browsers. Such programs are applications; middleware would be things like COM, CORBA, and SOAP implementations. The wide use of the term middleware could make much of the restrictions useless, becase end users don't see it and don't care. Almost everything on Windows uses COM anyway.

However, the definitions list attached to the final judgment document classifies "Microsoft Middleware" as software code Microsoft distributes seperatly from a Windows Operating System Product to update said product, is trademarked, provides similar functionality as a "Microsoft Middleware Product", and includes at least the software code that controls most or all of the UI in that product.

"Microsoft Middleware Product" is defined to be the functionality provided by Internet Explorer, Microsoft's JVM, Windows Media Player, Outlook Express, and their successors, and any functionality that is included in Windows after the entry of the final judgment.

Strangely, "Non-Microsoft Middleware" follows a more standard middleware definition: "a non-Microsoft software product running on a Windows Operating System Product that exposes a range of functionality to ISVs through published APIs, and that could, if ported to or made interoperable with, a non-Microsoft Operating System, thereby make it easier for applications that rely in whole or in part on the functionality supplied by that software product to be ported to or run on that non-Microsoft Operating System." "Non-Microsoft Middleware Product" is defined along the same lines. I'm not sure exactly what is meant by that, but "exposes a range of functionality ... through published APIs" doesn't sound like a definition that includes things like web browsers, where the "Microsoft Middleware Product" definition explicitly does.

All in all, there seems to be some confusion in the document about what exactly middleware is. The first glance gives hope to OEMs who are trying to resist being bullied by Microsoft, but I'm not sure if this judgment will really seriously bind them.

Check out the entire final judgment for your self: