RealTime IT News

EU Closer to Microsoft Decision

The European Union's long-running antitrust case against Microsoft moved another step closer to its conclusion, with the EU's antitrust chief confirming that he has set a date for deciding the case.

Notably, however, EU Commissioner Mario Monti left open the possibility that a settlement could still be reached with Microsoft.

"Until the moment that a decision is taken, nothing is impossible," EU Commissioner Mario Monti told the Associated Press after a European Parliament hearing.

Amelia Torres, a spokeswoman for the EU, told internetnews.com that the commissioner's comments have no bearing on the ongoing status of the settlement negotiations between the EU and Microsoft.

The negotiations "are coming to a conclusion," she confirmed. However, Torres declined to comment on the date that Monti has set for the decision.

The draft decision is currently circulating among the EU commissioners, Torres said, in an ongoing process that has been previously reported.

The commission is expected to conclude its internal discussions by mid-March, after appointed regulators complete their reviews of the draft decision.

Monti's comments marked the latest round of leaks and speculation that have dogged the case in recent days.

Last week, reports surfaced that the EC had received but had rejected an offer from Microsoft to settle the antitrust case by bundling competitors' software on CD-ROMs with its computers.

The EC has firmly declined to comment on such specifics. However, it's thought that the commission rejected the CD-ROM offer because it viewed physical media as an ineffectual way to distribute the competitive software.

But as a decision looms, Microsoft is believed to be maneuvering in a bid for a voluntary agreement which would allow it to avoid more stringent penalities. It's thought that an EC decision could force Microsoft to open up Windows or to change some of the operating systems features to make it more accessible to third-party code.

The EC originally brought antitrust charges against Microsoft in response to a 1998 complaint by Sun Microsystems and other companies that compete with Microsoft.

Among the issues being considered is whether Microsoft used its dominant personal-computer market share to strong-arm its software into the server market, and whether it may have acted illegally by incorporating its new Media Player product into its Windows operating system.