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Lukewarm Response to Microsoft's Latest EU Offer

Microsoft's Tuesday offer of "free, unlimited" technical support to rivals is generating only a lukewarm response from European Commission (EU) antitrust regulators.

In its latest effort to appease the EU, Microsoft pledged to licensees of the EU's Workgroup Server Protocol Program not only unlimited support but also to provide on-site assistance to licensees.

Microsoft previously offered to provide up to 500 hours of free technical support.

EU spokesman Jonathan Todd said the EU had not seen the actual Microsoft proposal as of Wednesday morning.

"The Commission has not been told about this offer by Microsoft. The only information we have is what they have given to the press," Todd said in an e-mail response to internetnews.com.

Todd said that at first blush the Microsoft offer "seems to be a constructive proposal" but stressed that the EU did not know any details of the plan.

"However, technical support is only helpful once the documentation has reached a certain quality standard," Todd said.

In March of 2004, the EU determined Microsoft broke European antitrust law and fined the company a record $613 million for abusing its "virtual monopoly" with its Windows operating system.

After ruling that Microsoft violated its monopoly position, the EU also required the company to unbundle its Windows Media Player software from Windows in European markets.

Microsoft is appealing the decision.

"Two years after the decision, the Commission's preliminary view is that the technical documentation still does not comply with the requirements of the decision," Todd said. "Companies trying to compete with Microsoft must be able to have access to useable, workable documentation, and should not be forced to rely on help from Microsoft staff."

In a statement issued Tuesday, Microsoft said it has devoted more than 30,000 hours to develop indexed and searchable documentation.

"These new documentation projects, together with free and unlimited technical support and access to Windows source code, will ensure that our competitors have all the assistance they need to make this program effective," Brad Smith, Microsoft's senior vice president and general counsel, said in the statement.

Microsoft also pledged to continue making Windows' source code available to competitors and to continue to work with the EU to improve the documentation.

"The improvement of documentation for complex technology inevitably requires a cooperative process with input from a variety of users," said Smith. "As we underscored when we offered in January to provide access to Windows source code, we are committed to taking every possible step to satisfy the Commission's requirements."

Microsoft also said it has submitted a work plan to the EU's monitoring trustee outlining a "number of changes" the company is proposing to make its documentation.

The EU's Todd said the Commission is already aware of Microsoft's proposals to the monitoring trustee.