Brussels ally wants more from Microsoft

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One of the European Commission's key allies in its antitrust battle with Microsoft says the software giant must make further concessions to comply with the regulator's landmark ruling against the company.

The Free Software Foundation, an association of developers who support free software, said the solutions proposed by Microsoft would not help those companies that compete with the US group. It argued that the crucial part of last year's ruling ordering Microsoft to license sensitive information about its Windows operating system to rival companies could be undermined by Microsoft's stance.

The Commission and Microsoft have haggled for months over the precise scope of this order, which is intended to help other companies design server software that works smoothly with Windows-driven computers.

Microsoft last month proposed a new licensing regime, which Brussels said went a long way towards addressing the Commission's concerns. It has since sent the proposal to interested parties and asked them to give their views.

But Carlo Piana, the lawyer acting for the FSF, said: “The proposed agreement still bluntly excludes [developers of] free software . . . from accessing the information. The very fact that the proposal of Microsoft is a licensing agreement is something we contest, because the compatibility information is not licenseable.”

Mr Piana also said that Microsoft's stance made it impossible to distribute free software programmes developed with the help of the protocols. The Commission has said it would force Microsoft to do so, but only once its ruling is upheld in court and only for protocols that have “no innovative value”.

This was not sufficient, Mr Piana argued: “We say that all of the protocols and interfaces have no innovative value, but entering into this discussion could open a Pandora's box of litigation.” He said: “We are not happy at all with the attitude of Microsoft, which accepts to disclose the interoperability information to anybody, except to those who compete with it.”

A spokesman for the Commission said: “The Commission will take due account of all the feedback it receives during the market testing.”

According to a Commission document detailing Microsoft's new offer, it sets out three different options for companies that want to license the protocols.

One covers those protocols protected by patents, one covers those protected by trade secrets, and one covers all protocols protected by intellectual property rights. The group has agreed to release some for free.

The regime seeks to allow companies more flexibility in choosing what protocols they want to use and pay for.

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