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Europe Losing Faith in Microsoft Compliance

UPDATED: The European Commission (EC) came down hard once again on Microsoft , saying it has doubts that the software company is complying with an order to enable other software providers to interoperate with computers that run the Windows operating system.

The commission warned that the software giant must comply with an EC competition ruling within weeks or face a new round of multi-million dollar fines, an EU spokesperson told internetnews.com.

The compliance order is part of the EC's ruling last year that fined Microsoft a record $613 million after it found the company abused its "virtual monopoly" with its Windows operating system and broke European antitrust law governing competition.

As part of the remedies ordered with the finding, Microsoft had to release server system code to other companies so that other software providers can interoperate with computers that run the Windows operating system. It also has to unbundle its Windows Media Player from Windows.

An EU spokesman told internetnews.com that, in light of the results of market testing, the commission has "strong doubts" about Microsoft's compliance with the interoperability remedy.

"In particular, the commission has four main concerns. First, it is very difficult for potential beneficiaries of the remedy to have access to the technical documentation necessary for them to assess whether it is worth their while to take out a license," the spokesman said.

"Second, those interested in taking out a license to build group server products compatible with Windows PCs and servers are obliged to take out an 'all in one' license, and so potentially have to pay for things they do not need. Third, open source vendors are excluded and fourth, the level of royalties would seem to be unjustified."

As for the order to unbundle the media player from Windows, the commission said it is still analyzing the results of the market testing.

Jim Desler, Microsoft spokesman, said the company remains fully committed to complying with the commission's decision.

"We initially gave the commission our proposal in May of last year and additional detailed information last autumn and have been waiting for feedback since. We are grateful to receive the results of the commission's market testing, as it enables us to respond promptly and in an appropriate way to work through the issues raised with the commission. The issues are complex and nuanced.

"As the commission itself has noted, in large part, each of them revolve around striking the appropriate balance between the need to preserve the legitimate private interests of Microsoft with the public interests of the commission with respect to implementation of the decision."

The EC now says it isn't sure the company is doing enough.

The Free Software Foundation Europe filed the original complaint with the commission that Microsoft's proposed licensing terms made it impossible for companies that write open source software to compete on a level playing field.

The commission has also said Microsoft could be facing further fines if it is found not to be in compliance with the remedies.

Microsoft is also appealing the EC's ruling.

Updates prior version to include comments from Microsoft and an EU spokeperson. Tim Gray contributed to this story.