Microsoft takes new action on EU sanctions

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Microsoft has made a fresh attempt to escape antitrust fines of up to €2m ($2.4m) a day, telling the European Commission on Wednesday that it will take further steps to comply with the regulator’s March 2004 competition ruling.

Microsoft said it would offer rival companies “unlimited, free technical assistance” to help them develop products that work smoothly with the group’s ubiquitous Windows operating system. It would even send its software experts to other companies’ offices to help them in the process, Microsoft added.

The latest concessions come in response to accusations by the Commission that Microsoft has failed to implement one of the key elements of its landmark ruling.

Brussels has told Microsoft that it has failed to provide complete and accurate inter-operability information about Windows to rival companies. It believes the information – which will be licensed in return for a fee – is needed so that other companies can develop server software that meshes with Windows-driven computers and servers.

The Commission on Wednesday reacted cautiously to Microsoft’s latest move, welcoming the initiative while stressing that the group had so far failed to draw up complete and accurate documentation. “At first sight it seems to be a constructive proposal. However, technical support is only helpful once the documentation has reached certain quality standards,” a spokesman said.

Both the Commission and Microsoft’s industry rivals have said the documentation supplied so far is highly inadequate and would not allow companies to develop inter-operable products. They accuse the group of dragging its feet, and point out that it is more than two years since the Commission made its ruling.

Microsoft maintains that the quality of its technical documentation already ex-ceeds industry standards, but that it is willing to go even further to meet the Commission’s concerns.

Wednesday’s moves expanded on Microsoft’s earlier offer of 500 hours of free technical assistance, and reflects the group’s belief that any shortcomings in its documentation can best be resolved through direct contacts between software engineers.

In addition, Microsoft said it had submitted a workplan to Professor Neil Barrett, the Commission’s technical adviser in the case, outlining improvements to the actual documentation. These include better navigation and more illustrations.

Microsoft’s move comes just one week before a two-day internal Commission hearing on the case.

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