Microsoft will this week launch its legal defence against the European Commission?s latest antitrust charges, arguing the regulator has no justification to threaten fresh penalties of up to ?2m ($2.4m) a day.

The US software group, which has battled with the European Union?s top antitrust enforcer for more than six years, has until Wednesday to file its response to charges issued by the Commission in December. Brussels accuses Microsoft of failing to comply with its landmark antitrust ruling of March 2004, which found the group guilty of abusing its dominant position.

The Commission said during the weekend that several companies had also ?ex-pressed their concerns concerning Microsoft?s Vista operating system,? the successor to the software giant?s current XP programme.

Although such concerns could represent a new front in the antitrust battle over Microsoft, no group has yet formally made a complaint to the EU on the issue.

The Commission charges that Microsoft had failed to supply its rivals with accurate technical documentation that would allow them to develop software that works with the ubiquitous Windows operating system.

The order was a key element of the Commission?s ruling, and is designed to create a level-playing field in software markets.

Microsoft is certain to argue that it has made available documentation, contained on some 12,000 pages, to ensure rival products can be made interoperable. It has also offered to license parts of the Windows source code, the programming instructions that form the heart of the ubiquitous operating system, which it says cover all the technologies required by other developers.

In addition, the group will offer companies wishing to license the interoperability information up to 500 hours of free support by its technicians. Taken as a package, Microsoft argues, these offers should be sufficient to address the Commission?s concerns and persuade the regulator that it has complied with the ruling.

However, Brussels? technical advisor, Professor Neil Barrett, has told the investigating team that Microsoft?s work up until mid-December was ?totally useless? and would not allow other developers to design interoperable software.

The Commission has also shrugged off Microsoft?s source code offer, stressing that all it wanted Microsoft to do was to comply with the 2004 decision and deliver complete and accurate technical documentation.

Officials point out that it is almost two years since the original Commission ruling, and that the regulator cannot tolerate further delays.

But the group feels its position has received a boost from a recent report by the US Department of Justice, which together with several states has the task of monitoring Microsoft?s compliance with a US antitrust ruling of 2003.

The US and the European cases differ in substance, but Microsoft?s recent source code offer was met with approval by the DoJ and other opponents: ?Microsoft?s agreement to license source code is a constructive proposal that addresses many of Plaintiff?s concerns with the technical documentation,? according to a court filing from last week.

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