Microsoft lifts lid on EC Vista probe

The software giant has revealed that the EC raised potential anti-competition concern about four aspects of Vista
Written by Tom Espiner, Contributor

A senior Microsoft executive has revealed details of the European Commission's anti-competition probe into its upcoming Vista operating system.

Microsoft and the EC have been in protracted discussions regarding Vista since March, over the EC's concerns that parts of Vista may violate anti-competition laws.

"There were four different areas where the Commission gave feedback on Vista," said Ben Fathi, corporate vice president of the security technology unit at Microsoft Corp. "Two security components, and two other components."

The Commission was concerned that Windows Security Center would give Microsoft an unfair advantage by flashing up alerts which would guide consumers to buying Microsoft or Microsoft-endorsed security products.

"The EC wanted vendors to have the ability to disable alerts in Security Center. They are satisfied that we've provided those APIs (application programmable interfaces) to all of our security partners. We're completely open to that," Fathi told ZDNet UK, in an interview at the RSA security show in Nice on Tuesday.

The second Vista security area causing the EC concern was PatchGuard, or kernel patch protection, the code that prevents access to the Vista kernel. Security vendors McAfee and Symantec were incensed that they were banned from the kernel. The EC wanted Microsoft to disable this feature, but Microsoft refused.

"Kernel patch protection really is something we do not want to disable," said Fathi. "We told the EC this is something we are working on with our partners going forward," said Fathi. Microsoft has agreed to supply its security partners with APIs for any parts of Vista, according to Fathi.

"The [provision of the] APIs was executed on promises made to the EC," said Fathi.

The EC was also concerned about XML Paper Specification (XPS) which describes the formats and rules for distributing, archiving, rendering, and processing documents created in Microsoft's XPS format. The EC wanted to make XPS an open standard. However, Microsoft brokered a compromise whereby anyone can read or write documents using XPS, which is distributed under a royalty-free copyright licence, meaning it can be distributed freely once a licence has been obtained. Licence holders must agree to a "covenant not to sue" people who use XPS.

The EC also expressed concern about default upgrades from Internet Explorer (IE) 6 to IE7, according to Fathi. IE7 was launched last week, and is expected to be pushed out over Microsoft's Automatic Update system next month.

Microsoft was unable to confirm recent reports that the EC was also concerned about encryption on the Vista system, and handwriting recognition software, although a Microsoft spokesman told ZDNet UK that the handwriting recognition software bundled with Vista would come from a third party.

The EC told ZDNet UK earlier this month that it does have concerns about Microsoft Vista, but declined to give full details of those concerns because of the "delicate legal situation" surrounding the Vista anti-competition debate.

Commissioner Neelie Kroes discussed the situation with Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer in August, when she warned that the Commission could not give Vista a "green light" before it was launched.

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