Antitrust regulators are stepping up their review of Longhorn, the next version of Microsoft Windows that's going on sale in 2006.

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Antitrust regulators are stepping up their review of Longhorn, the next version of Microsoft Windows that’s going on sale in 2006, to be sure the software complies with the company’s U.S. antitrust settlement.

One thing they’re looking for is a control panel that makes it easy to use a browser and media player other than the Microsoft versions built into the operating system.

In addition, up to 20 engineers will be hired in Bellevue for a yearlong project to help improve documentation of technical information Microsoft has to share with competitors under the settlement.

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State and federal attorneys general disclosed their plans for Longhorn in a status report filed yesterday on Microsoft’s antitrust compliance. The report was filed in preparation for a Tuesday status conference with U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly in Washington, D.C.

The report said Microsoft is complying with the terms of its 2001 antitrust settlement but still has not provided adequate documentation for the technology it must share with competitors.

One issue was that Microsoft provided documentation in a restricted format that could only be reviewed with its Internet Explorer browser. The format prevented users from adding annotations or bookmarks and had limited search capabilities, the report said.

Microsoft agreed to provide the material in Adobe’s PDF format by the end of June.

After more than a year of work revising the documentation, the regulators and Microsoft developed a plan “to ensure the completeness and accuracy” of the documentation. The material is about 5,000 pages long.

A committee of technical experts retained by states and the federal government will work with Microsoft over the next year to help refine the documentation.

Microsoft will simultaneously create software tools to help companies that use the communications protocols it is sharing under the settlement to develop their own products.

“Documentation of these protocols has never been done before, and it’s a very complex process,” company spokeswoman Stacy Drake said.

Up to 20 engineers will be hired by the Bellevue-based committee to do the work, the report said. The panel’s funding comes from Microsoft.

The report said there were 23 complaints about Microsoft’s compliance since the last report in July; all were found to be “non-substantive.”

Several substantive complaints were filed earlier; they are still being discussed by Microsoft and the regulators.

With Longhorn, the regulators gave Microsoft a list of topics they will track as the software is developed, enabling early detection and resolution of any potential areas of concern.

Brier Dudley: 206-515-5687 or bdudley@seattletimes.com