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Microsoft is renewing its efforts to persuade the European Union’s top antitrust regulator the company is ready to share sensitive information about its flagship Windows operating system with rivals.

A senior Microsoft legal representative tried on Monday to allay fears the group would take legal action against rivals that used its source code on licence.

This licensing is supposed to ensure other developers can design server software to work smoothly with Windows, and it is part of the European Commission’s March 2004 antitrust ruling against Microsoft. But last month, the regulator formally charged the group for failing to comply with the order, and threatened to impose daily fines on
it unless Microsoft changed tack.

In response, Microsoft offered to license parts of the Windows source code – the basic programming instructions at the heart of all software – and on Monday it said it was ready to go even further. The group believes its offer already goes far beyond the requirements of the Commission ruling, and would address most of the regulator’s outstanding concerns.

However, the Commission – as well as several Microsoft rivals – treated last week’s offer to disclose source code with scepticism.

Critics pointed out that rival companies had no interest in reviewing the Windows source code, out of fear that Microsoft would later sue them for copyright or patent infringements.

Horacio Gutierrez, the group’s legal counsel for Europe, said yesterday such fears were unfounded: “This safeguard will allow licensees to make the most effective use of Windows source code with the clear assurance that they can do so without being concerned about the use of Microsoft’s intellectual property in their products.”

The same message was communicated to a team of Commission antitrust officials and the regulator’s technical advisor in the case, who were on Monday at Microsoft’s Redmond headquarters for a round of talks. The adviser - the British computer scientist Neil Barrett - had last month dismissed Microsoft’s compliance efforts to date as “totally useless”.

It remains to be seen whether the group’s latest efforts will change the Commission’s opinion and stave off the threat of fines of up to €2m a day.

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