RealTime IT News

EC May Bill Microsoft $2M per Day

Microsoft received a stern warning about its alleged antitrust behavior from the European Commission as it heads into the Christmas holiday and New Year.

But instead of receiving coal in its stocking, the EC said the software giant will have to shell out as much as $2.37 million per day for failing to comply with the EC's 2004 order to make Windows software interfaces open to work with competing products.

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

But Microsoft General Counsel and Senior Vice President Brad Smith said in a statement the commissioner's objection is unjustified because it comes after Microsoft submitted the technical documentation just last week. The EC, he contended, hasn't had enough time to scrutinize the specs.

The EC's threat comes one year to the day a European court upheld the EC's order that Microsoft must unbundle its media player from the Windows operating system and allow other software companies access to some of its application programming interface (APIs).

One of the remedies imposed by the decision was for Microsoft to disclose interface documentation that would allow non-Microsoft servers to work seamlessly with Windows PCs and servers.

The EC, supported by two reports from monitoring trustee and computer science professor Neil Barrett, claims Microsoft has not provided complete specifications for this interoperability.

Barrett told the EC the documentation Microsoft provided is "fundamentally flawed in its conception," and that any programming team looking to use it for a real development exercise would be unable to proceed.

"Overall, the process of using the documentation is an absolutely frustrating, time-consuming and ultimately fruitless task. The documentation needs quite drastic overhaul before it could be considered workable," Barrett said.

Smith said the EC issued its objection after Microsoft sent revised technical documents back to the EC last week and that Microsoft hopes the EC would "read and review these new documents before criticizing them as being insufficient."

The lawyer then went on to list how Microsoft has gone out of its way to satisfy more than 100 requests from the EC, including the anufacture of a new version of Windows and the payment of a historic fine.

"We continue working quickly to meet the Commission's new and changing demands. Yet every time we make a change, we find that the Commission moves the goal post and demands another change," Smith said.

Smith also said the EC's demand that the internal workings of Windows be documented and licensed can enable programmers to clone parts of the Windows operating system.

Microsoft has five weeks to respond to the EC's statement of objection and may have an oral hearing with antitrust authorities. The EC may then fine Microsoft 2 million euros (U.S. $2.37 million) daily until it complies with the decision.

The EC and Professor Barrett are currently evaluating additional information provided by Microsoft for making the interoperability information available on reasonable terms.