- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 6, 2003

BRUSSELS (AP) — Microsoft is still trying to monopolize new markets even after settling the landmark antitrust case in the United States, the European Union charged yesterday as it prepared to demand its own concessions from the U.S. software giant.

The EU’s antitrust watchdog, the European Commission, said recent surveys of more than 150 businesses that use Microsoft products showed that “Microsoft’s abuses are still ongoing.”

The commission offered the company a “last opportunity” to defend itself or agree to open up the two markets under scrutiny: low-end servers, which tie desktop computers together, and media players, vital software as digital video and audio distribution expands on the Internet.

“We have reserved the possibility to levy fines,” said EU spokesman Tilman Lueder. The EU can fine violators up to 10 percent of their worldwide sales — a figure that could reach into the billions for Microsoft.

“We have so much material now and we have such a strong case, that from our perspective, the legal and factual analysis is complete and allows us to adopt a final decision,” Mr. Lueder said of the EU’s nearly four-year investigation.

The EU will hold off until it sees Microsoft’s response, due by the end of September, he said.

Microsoft spokeswoman Tiffany Steckler in Paris called the EU action “unfortunate” and refused to comment on whether the company would make concessions.

“We will, of course, respond to the statement of objections … and continue to focus our efforts on finding a positive resolution,” she said.

The EU’s new “statement of objections” — the third it has issued against Microsoft — seeks to bolster its case so as to avoid a legal backlash. In three unrelated but embarrassing court defeats last year, EU trustbusters were criticized by judges for sloppy casework.

The EU also has been treading carefully to avoid another trans-Atlantic row like the one that followed its unprecedented 2001 veto of a merger between General Electric and Honeywell that had already been approved in Washington.

Microsoft argues that last year’s U.S. settlement, combined with additional steps it has taken voluntarily, answer the European complaints. Microsoft agreed then to disclose some of its software code to rivals and to allow computer makers to hide icons for some Windows applications, a move that would boost exposure of competing software.

But Microsoft rivals dismissed those moves as insufficient and have pressed the EU to demand more — something it seems ready to do.

The EU accuses Microsoft of using the “overwhelmingly dominant position” Windows enjoys on personal computers to help it muscle into the expanding market for low-end servers.

Companies complain that Microsoft designs Windows to work better with its own server software than rival offerings.

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