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Microsoft hits European antitrust deadline

After a two-year process, Microsoft has finally submitted what it hopes will be the final proposals for settling its tortuous legal wrangle with the EU

With the delivery of over 8,500 pages of legal documentation to the European Commission in Brussels, Microsoft is hoping that it is close to finally settling one of the most drawn out and expensive battles in European legal battles.

The software giant hopes the documents, filed on Wednesday, will be the final proof that it has complied with the Commission's antitrust ruling of 2004.

Now, Microsoft must wait as the Commission's trustees, led by UK computer expert Professor Neil Barrett, analyse the documents and perform final testing of the software solutions being proposed, to ensure Microsoft is sticking to a requirement to provide a level playing field for other software vendors.

At the end of the process, Microsoft will have passed or failed the test. A pass will allow the company to carry on trading normally within the European Union. A fail will see the company being forced to pay €3m a day in fines — backdated to July 31 2006 — if it wished to continue trading in the EU.

The "Europe versus Microsoft" saga goes back to March 2004 when the European Commission first ordered Microsoft to disclose and license complete and accurate interface documentation which, in the Commission's words, "would allow non-Microsoft work group servers to achieve full interoperability with Windows PCs and servers".

The EC gave Microsoft four months to supply all the relevant information. In December 2004, the EU’s Court of First Instance (CFI) rejected a request from Microsoft to suspend the application of the decision.

In early July this year, the EC hit Microsoft with a fine of €280m, for failing to comply with the 2004 antitrust ruling. Microsoft has continued to insist that it has complied. It handed over thousands of pages of documentation regarding server protocols at the end of July.

Wednesday's documents represent Microsoft's final submission to the Commission. Now, the Commission must decide if the software giant has done enough to satisfy them that it has fulfilled the requirements. As both sides traded statements to the press on Thursday, Microsoft tried to appear as the newly compliant partner for the EU.

"This is an important milestone," the company said in a statement. But whether it turns out to be a milestone will depend entirely on whether the EU believes Microsoft is now complying with its requirements.

"We are pleased that the Commission has recognised our efforts to comply with our documentation obligations," the statement said, "and we will continue to work closely with the Commission and the Trustee to ensure that we are in full compliance with every aspect of the Commission's decision," Microsoft added.

Microsoft also complemented the EC's efforts, saying that their seven technical experts (working with Microsoft's "300 engineers and technical writers") had "worked tirelessly over the past four months to give us feedback on the enormous volume of technical documentation that we submitted in July".

For its part, the Commission's statement simply acknowledged that Microsoft "has submitted a revised version of the Technical Documentation with a view to meeting the requirements of the Commission's March 2004 Decision". No other comment was offered in the Commission's statement, released on Thursday, other than a re-statement of some of the events so far. And the Commission again pointed out the penalties waiting for Microsoft if, after keeping the Commission waiting for so long, it hasn't met the requirements correctly.