Microsoft moved on Wednesday to head off the risk of anti-trust action over its forthcoming Windows Vista operating system, laying out a set of broad principles it said it would adhere to in the development of Windows.

The guidelines in part reflect a voluntary extension of some of the business practices imposed on the software company as part of its antitrust settlement with the US government in 2002, it said.

The proposed self-regulatory approach to software development comes as European regulators gear up for a fight over Vista, the first new release of the Windows computer operating system in five years.

Unveiling the plan in Washington on Wednesday, Brad Smith, Microsoft’s general counsel, said the voluntary framework was not meant to pre-empt the actions of regulators. But it was “an important step . . . in our implementation of antitrust law”.

Among its 12 voluntary principles, Microsoft said it would let computer makers and users choose the default settings for its software, enabling them to pick products from companies other than Microsoft if they wanted.

PC manufacturers “get to make the initial call, and then users are in control,” said Mr Smith.

The promise appeared to mark a response to complaints from Google to anti-trust authorities that the default settings in Vista will unfairly favour Microsoft’s own internet search engine.

While the US antitrust settlement imposed rules for default settings in a number of areas, under the new voluntary principles “these tenets will be broadened to internet searches as well,” said Mr Smith.

The US antitrust order is set to expire late next year, freeing Microsoft of restrictions to its business practices, although some parts of the settlement have been extended to 2009.

Of the 12 voluntary principles, Mr Smith said eight were based on stipulations made by the US government, which in some cases had been extended beyond their original context.

Microsoft said it would guarantee that computer makers and users could add any software they wanted to their PCs and access it easily through icons or short cuts.

It also said that it would continue to publish the APIs, or software interfaces, independent developers need to build programs that run on Windows, and would extend this to the interfaces used by its Windows Live set of internet services.

“As creators of an operating system used so widely around the world, we recognised we have a special responsibility both to advance innovation and to preserve competition in the information technology industry,” Mr Smith said.

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