Scientist to monitor Microsoft compliance

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Microsoft and the European Commission on Wednesday closed another chapter in the saga of their six-year antitrust battle, when the Brussels regulator appointed a British computer scientist to help monitor the software giant’s compliance with last year’s landmark ruling against the US group.

The appointment – which followed a meeting between Neelie Kroes, the European Union competition commissioner, and Steve Ballmer, Microsoft’s chief executive – resolves one of the few outstanding issues.

However, commission officials on Wednesday made clear the regulator would continue to press the software group for full compliance with the March 2004 ruling, which Brussels believes is still not the case.

Professor Neil Barrett will advise Mr Kroes on potential conflicts arising from the Commission ruling, which ordered Microsoft to pay a record €497m ($595m) fine for breaking EU competition rules. The group was also told to share sensitive information about its Windows operating system with rivals, in order to allow them to design products that work more smoothly with Windows-driven computers.

It is this part of the ruling that is widely expected to spark conflicts between Microsoft and rivals, for example over the level of licensing fees companies have to pay to receive the information on Windows. Prof Barrett, who has held teaching posts at York and Cranfield Universities, is expected to play an important role in settling such disputes.

Ms Kroes onn Wednesday described her talk with Mr Ballmer as “constructive”, but added: “I remain determined that Microsoft complies fully with the decision [of March 2004]. That is absolutely the line I take.”

The two sides have yet to agree the way in which other companies may use the information on Windows, contained in so-called communication protocols, including how much the group can charge for making them available. Should the Commission’s patience run out, it could declare Microsoft in breach of last year’s decision and impose fines of up to $5m a day.

Horacio Gutierrez, Microsoft’s associate general counsel, yesterday welcomed Prof Barrett’s appointment. He said in a statement: “We look forward to working constructively with him to ensure the company’s full compliance with the Commission’s decision.”

Prof Barrett studied mathematics and computer science at Nottingham University, graduating in 1983. He has worked both in academia and in the private sector, and has frequently appeared in court as a computer expert. He is the author of several books and has been appointed a visiting professor of computer crime at Cranfield University in the UK.

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