The US Department of Justice (DOJ) asked a US judge on Friday to extend parts of an antitrust order against Microsoft for at least two years because of the company's delays in supplying technical documentation to licensees of its communications protocols.

Microsoft has agreed with the DOJ's request to extend the order two years beyond its scheduled expiration in November 2007, the company said in a statement. The company has also agreed to allow the DOJ and 17 state plaintiffs in the antitrust case to ask for an additional three-year extension if they still have complaints about Microsoft documentation.

The DOJ committed to "full and vigorous enforcement" of the final judgment, J. Bruce McDonald, deputy assistant attorney general in the DOJ's Antitrust Division, said in a statement. Companies that want to license the communications protocols will be able to obtain compete and accurate documentation as a result of the extension, he said.

The state of the technical documentation, used by companies that license the communications protocols in Microsoft's software, is one of the major complaints remaining in the antitrust settlement approved by Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly in November 2002. Kollar-Kotelly, of the District Court for the District of Columbia, must approve an extension of the settlement order.

Under the settlement, Microsoft was required to license the communication protocols to other IT vendors interested in developing server software that works with Microsoft's Windows operating system.

As part of the new agreement, Microsoft will change the way it has produced technical documentation, now writing it as it develops software, the company said Friday. The licensing of the protocols will become part Microsoft’s "regular product development and business processes," Brad Smith, Microsoft's general counsel, said in a statement.

Microsoft will also create a new interoperability lab in which licensees can test and de-bug their protocols and obtain easy access to on-site Microsoft engineering assistance.

A technical committee working with the antitrust plaintiffs identified 575 bugs in the technical documentation as of February 8. By March 16, Microsoft had whittled the bugs identified by the technical committee down to 307, but the number of high-priority bugs grew from 68 to 71 in that period.

By May 8, the number of high-priority bugs with a 60-day deadline grew to 79, and the total number of bugs identified by the technical committee was 414, according to court documents filed Friday.

"Microsoft's initial performance in resolving these technical documentation issues was disappointing," wrote lawyers for the plaintiffs in the Friday court documents.

Kollar-Kotelly will hear a status report on the antitrust settlement in court Wednesday.