The European Commission on Thursday came under attack over its antitrust battle with Microsoft, when members of the European Parliament and retailers warned that delays to the launch of the group’s new operating system would harm businesses.

Brussels told Microsoft this year that Vista, the successor product to Microsoft’s ubiquitous Windows operating system, could violate European competition rules. Retail versions of Vista are due to go on sale in January, while large corporate customers are set to receive final versions in November.

But in a recent filing to the US Securities and Exchange Commission, Microsoft cites the Commission’s concerns over Vista as a “risk factor”. The group says that the uncertainties created by the Commission’s actions “could cause Microsoft to modify product design and delay release dates for Windows or other products”.

On Thursday, a cross-party group of European Parliament members wrote to Neelie Kroes, EU competition commissioner, to express their concerns.

They said: “It is alarming that one of the world’s most successful technology companies considers the European Commission’s attitude a ‘risk factor’ that might delay European companies’ access to future Microsoft products such as Windows Vista.”

The letter, whose signatories include Chris Heaton-Harris, a British Conservative MEP, and Peter Skinner, a UK deputy from the Labour Party, adds: “This would put European companies at a competitive disadvantage with every other company around the world who does have access to these new technologies.”

The letter said several UK companies, including Dixons Group, the largest supplier of IT equipment in the UK, had also expressed fears of a Vista delay.

Keith Jones, managing director of PC World, the computer retailer, said: “The possibility of a further delay in the introduction of Microsoft’s new operating system Vista in Europe due to regulatory uncertainty would disrupt the computing industry.”

A spokesman for Microsoft said the group had made several proposals to the Commission in an attempt to address the regulator’s concerns. “Once we receive the Commission’s response, we will know whether the Commission is seeking additional product design changes that would result in delay in Europe,” he added.

However, a spokesman for Ms Kroes rejected the attacks. “It is not up to the Commission to give Microsoft a definitive ‘green light’ before Vista is put on the market. It is up to Microsoft to accept and implement its responsibilities as a near monopolist to ensure full compliance with EU competition rules.”

The Commission’s concerns on Vista relate to the fact the new system will come bundled with a wealth of new programmes and functions, including an internet search machine and a fixed-document reader. Brussels fears that this move will undermine competitors marketing such products on a stand-alone basis.

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