No decision on Microsoft antitrust fines for 'weeks'

The software giant has had its knuckles rapped for organising a press conference during a private hearing

The European Commission said on Thursday it will need to spend a number of weeks analysing the information that Microsoft has presented in its hearing before making a final decision on whether the company will be fined for not complying with a 2004 antitrust ruling.

The hearing, which is taking place on Thursday and Friday, gives Microsoft an opportunity to argue why it believes it has complied with the ruling.

An EC spokesman told ZDNet UK on Thursday that a decision on whether Microsoft will face fines of up to $2.43m (£1.39m) daily, will not be made for "at least several weeks after the hearing". He was unable to comment on the content of the hearing itself.

Microsoft was due to hold a press conference on Thursday to discuss the hearing, but was asked to cancel the conference by the EC. "This morning, the Commission's hearing officer made a clear request to all parties in the Microsoft oral hearing to respect the confidentiality of the process. Microsoft will respect this request and has therefore cancelled the press briefing," said Microsoft in a statement.

The Commission's spokesman said he did not know exactly what the hearing officer said, but pointed out that the hearing is meant to be private.

"It would be a little bit contradictory to organise a press conference about a hearing that is private," he said.

Microsoft tried to strengthen its case for compliance today by presenting the Commission with statements from six technology companies that claim they have found previous versions of Microsoft technical documentation useful. The six companies, which include storage companies EMC and Network Appliance, are licensees of the Microsoft Communications Protocol programme and have used this to develop commercial products. Microsoft claims this program offers technical documentation that is "similar" to that which it is offering in response to the antitrust ruling, via its Windows Server Protocol programme.

But the Commission was unimpressed with Microsoft's latest attempt to prove compliance.

"Irrespective of these six companies who have done some type of deal with Microsoft in the US, the Commission is still of the opinion that the information provided by Microsoft is not satisfactory. Lots of companies tell us it's not satisfactory and the trustee, who was suggested by Microsoft and is a leading computer expert, has concluded that the documentation was totally useless," said the Commission spokesman.

This is only the latest attempt by Microsoft to try to convince the Commission that it is working hard to comply. Last week, Microsoft offered to provide free, unlimited technical support to companies that license its protocols, but the Commission responded that such support is only helpful once the documentation has reached a certain level of quality.

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