Microsoft may delay response to EC

The company has said it may be months before Microsoft allows the EC's competition decision to proceed to the next step
Written by Matthew Broersma, Contributor

The implementation of a European Commission competition decision against Microsoft could be delayed, according to reports.

Last month, the EC's Competition Commission said in a Statement of Objections that Microsoft was abusing its monopoly power by limiting interoperability with its PCs and servers. Microsoft is now seeking to delay its response to the decision, according to EU sources cited in a Reuters report on Tuesday.

Microsoft's European chief executive, Jean-Philippe Courtois, said in a Tuesday press conference in Rome that the company is in no hurry to file its response.

"We expect to reply in the next few weeks or months," he told reporters, according to reports. "This time frame is not exact...we are going to take as much time as we are allowed to take."

Microsoft said it could not comment on its pending response.

The EC, the executive arm of the European Union, said last month that Microsoft's abuse of its monopoly was "ongoing", and said it would seek to have Microsoft more fully reveal interoperability details and possibly unbundle the Windows Media Player from Windows. The Commission said it would give Microsoft a chance to reply before imposing its decision.

Competition at stake
At issue is the ability of Microsoft's competitors in low-end servers to achieve full interoperability with Windows, and Microsoft's promotion of Windows Media Player software via its monopoly on PC operating systems. The EC's Statement of Objections detailing its preliminary decision was issued early in August.

In its statement, the European Commission said it has talked to more of Microsoft's customers, partners and competitors and has found that by not disclosing the necessary information to allow rival servers to exchange data with Windows PCs, Microsoft is limiting competition.

"In light of this evidence, the Commission's preliminary conclusion is that Microsoft's abuses are still ongoing," the commission said. A decision by the government body on the matter has been expected for some time.

In talking with content owners and content providers, the commission said it found that "the ubiquity of Windows Media Player on PCs artificially skews their development incentives in favour of Microsoft," confirming its initial conclusion that the tying of Windows Media Player to the Windows operating system weakens competition.

The EU inquiry is one of the key antitrust clouds remaining for Microsoft, following its settlement with the US Department of Justice and several US states. Massachusetts is still seeking stiffer penalties for Microsoft, while the company also faces private antitrust suits in several states as well as a suit from Sun Microsystems.

The European Union began investigating Microsoft in 1998 after rival Sun complained that the software giant would not disclose technical interfaces to Windows NT. In 2001, the EU expanded its Microsoft investigation to include a look at how streaming media technology has been integrated into Windows. The European Commission has issued two prior statements of concern, although European Competition Commissioner Mario Monti described this one as its final statement.

CNET News.com's Ina Fried contributed to this report.

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