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EC Warns Microsoft of Pending Fines on Disclosure

The European Commissioner for Competition warned Microsoft on Thursday that it is facing fines of nearly $2.4 million per day unless it immediately delivers complete documentation of its programming interfaces, particularly those for work group servers, to enable competitors to interoperate with Windows.

“I have given Microsoft every opportunity to comply with its obligations. However, I have been left with no alternative other than to proceed via the formal route to ensure Microsoft’s compliance,” Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes said in a statement.

As part of the EC’s order in March 2004 in its investigation of anticompetitive practices, Microsoft is required to supply documentation of interfaces required for full interoperability with Windows to competitors. Despite foot-dragging by Microsoft and wrangling on both sides, the company had been ordered to provide that documentation by Dec. 15.

Microsoft, of course, disagrees with the EC’s conclusions and claims that it submitted all the necessary materials last week on time.

“We believe today's Statement of Objections is unjustified. The Commission has issued this Statement regarding technical documentation we submitted last week, even though by its own admission neither it nor the Trustee have even read or reviewed these new documents,” responded Brad Smith, Microsoft general counsel and senior vice president, in a statement.

That’s where the EC Competition commissioner’s definition clashes with Microsoft’s.

In a report regarding the documentation that Microsoft has provided to date, professor Neil Barrett, the EC’s Monitoring Trustee, draws the line. “Any programmer or programming team seeking to use the technical documentation for a real development exercise would be wholly and completely unable to proceed on the basis of the documentation,” said Barrett’s report. “The Technical Documentation is therefore totally unfit at this stage for its intended purpose…overall, the process of using the documentation is an absolutely frustrating, time-consuming and ultimately fruitless task.”

Meanwhile, Microsoft’s tete-a-tetes with the EC are far from over. The EC has recently also been investigating Microsoft’s entry into the security software business.

About the Author

Stuart J. Johnston has covered technology, especially Microsoft, since February 1988 for InfoWorld, Computerworld, Information Week, and PC World, as well as for Enterprise Developer, XML & Web Services, and .NET magazines.

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