Microsoft is to make available within a week a free software tool that can be used to delete an identifying number from users' hard drives that was generated when they registered Windows 98.
Earlier this month, Microsoft promised to modify future releases of its Windows 98 Registration Wizard so that it would not include the feature, which sends a hardware serial number to a Microsoft server. The company also promised to offer a free utility to current users who want to delete the feature.
The tool will be available on Microsoft's web site at http://www.microsoft.com/, said Claudia Husemann, a company spokeswoman.
Microsoft has already fixed a feature in its Office 97 software that generated an identification number in documents, said John Duncan, a Microsoft Office 97 product manager. Software can be downloaded from Microsoft's web site that removes the user identification number in Office 97. The software was posted on the Internet March 12, Duncan said.
"We want to move very quickly and address the privacy concerns of customers," Duncan said.
But Microsoft's actions have not mollified critics.
James Catlett, president of Junkbusters, a New Jersey consumer advocacy group, continued his call for a US Federal Trade Commission investigation of Microsoft's methods of collecting information on customers. He also called for an outside audit of company practices.
"We need to make sure they really have cleaned up these practices," Catlett said.
Meanwhile, Ari Schwartz, a policy analyst at the Center for Democracy and Technology in Washington, D.C., said of Microsoft, "There's no way to check up on them."
Microsoft, in Redmond, Washington, can be reached at +1-425-882-8080.