Europe won't back down on Vista

The European Commission is keeping a firm eye on Microsoft, but some MEPs are grateful it hasn't blocked the Vista release completely
Written by Tom Espiner, Contributor

The European Commission has refused to sanction Microsoft's release of Vista in Europe, despite the company's promise to make changes to its operating system to try to allay anti-competition concerns.

On Friday, Microsoft said it will allow security software makers to access the kernel of 64-bit versions of Vista for security-monitoring purposes. The company will also make it possible for security companies to disable certain parts of the Windows Security Center in Vista when a third-party security console is installed.

Microsoft said it had decided to take these actions to try to allay Commission antitrust concerns, and also vowed to ship Vista in Europe at the same time as the rest of the world.

In response, the Commission issued a strong statement warning that Microsoft's actions didn't mean that Vista would not infringe European laws.

"The European Commission has been informed of Microsoft's intention to deliver its Vista operating system worldwide, with no delay in Europe," said the Commission's statement.

"The Commission has not given a 'green light' to Microsoft to deliver Vista because, as the Commission has consistently stated, Microsoft must shoulder its own responsibilities to ensure that Vista is fully compliant with EC Treaty competition rules and in particular with the principles laid down in the March 2004 Commission antitrust decision concerning Microsoft [XP]."

In 2004 the Commission found that Microsoft had breached anti-competition laws, and ordered the company to disclose server interoperability details and cease bundling Windows Media Player with XP.

The EC will be watching the software market closely to monitor the effects of Vista, due out for business in November. It says it will consider any complaints about the operating system on their merits.

"In line with the Commission's obligations under the EC Treaty and its practice, the Commission will closely monitor the effects of Vista in the market and, in particular, examine any complaints concerning Vista on their own merits."

Several members of the European Parliament have welcomed the EC's comments. In a joint statement, Chris Heaton-Harris MEP (Cons), Peter Skinner MEP (Lab) and Sharon Bowles MEP (Lib Dem) said that EC concerns could have delayed the release of Vista in Europe, to the detriment of small businesses in their constituencies.

"It was our understanding from what contact we've had with them that the EC were going to stop the launch of Vista," said a spokeswoman for Bowles. "The statement by the EC [on Friday] wasn't prohibitive."

SMEs in the MEPs' constituencies were concerned that their businesses could be affected if Vista was further delayed, the spokeswoman added.

Chris Heaton-Harris met with Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer at the company's campus in Seattle in August, after which he criticised the Commission's decision to fine Microsoft for antitrust violations in 2004.

"I really can't understand the Commission's position. It is as if they objected to Ford supplying cars with tyres since this reduces the market for retro-fitted tyres," said Heaton-Harris.

"Innovation from companies such as Microsoft drives job creation in the East Midlands, and so we are keen to track these developments to ensure that users throughout the region can benefit from new IT developments," Heaton-Harris, who represents the East Midlands, added.

Microsoft has a major research development centre working in computer games in the East Midlands at Ashby de la Zouche.

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