EC sets Microsoft antitrust date

Microsoft faces a date with the European Commission for its antitrust case - unless a settlement is reached

A date for a decision from the EC on the long-running Microsoft antitrust case has been set -- but it's being kept top secret by the European Commission, amid rumours that the EC is still holding out for a deal with the software company.

At a European parliamentary hearing yesterday, competition commissioner Mario Monti said a deal between the two sides is still possible and no firm decision is as yet in place. "Until the moment that a decision is taken, nothing is impossible," he said.

Brussels isn't the only one hoping the antitrust dispute will end with an agreement between the two sides. Last week, Microsoft was thought to have tried to broker a deal with the EC over the media player dispute by offering to include rival software makers' products on a CD to be distributed with new PCs, but the deal didn't go down well with the Commission.

While the bargaining goes on, Monti has said that a date for a final decision has been set. However, the date won't be revealed yet. "I have a fixed date, but it is not public," he said. Estimates for the settlement range from mid-March, when the draft resolution is reviewed by the regulators, to sometime later in May.

According to Reuters, the final decision might be down to Microsoft anyway.

Due to the importance placed by the Commission on maintaining the integrity of the software behemoth's intellectual property, it could be the case that the EC lays down the ends and Microsoft decides the means needed to achieve them itself.

Among the possible penalties Microsoft might find itself subject to are a fine, sharing its source code with rival manufacturers or being forced to unbundle its media player from the Windows operating system.