- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 28, 2007

BRUSSELS (Agence France-Presse) — Microsoft risks a new showdown with EU regulators with the rollout of its Vista operating system nearly three years after a landmark antitrust ruling against the U.S. software giant, officials said.

After numerous delays, Microsoft’s next-generation Windows Vista operating system is to make its debut with home computer users tomorrow. It was shipped to business clients in November.

While Microsoft prepares to roll out its first revamped operating system in five years, rivals are preparing to do battle again with the software colossus after winning one round in March 2004 with an EU antitrust ruling against the company.

“With Vista, Microsoft has clearly chosen to ignore the fundamental principles of the commission’s March 2004 decision,” said Simon Awde, chairman of the European Committee for Interoperable Systems (ECIS), a trade association that opposes Microsoft in its antitrust troubles.

ECIS, which includes such technology giants as Oracle, IBM and Nokia, filed a complaint with EU regulators in February targeting Micro-soft’s Vista and Office software. ECIS updated its complaint with details about Vista last month.

“We are in the process of examining this complaint,” said Jonathan Todd, European Commission spokesman for competition issues.

Microsoft did not respond to requests for comment on the complaint when contacted Friday.

The Redmond, Wash., company has long clashed with the commission over the crushing market power of its existing Windows operating system and was fined a record $642 million in the 2004 antitrust ruling.

In addition to fining Microsoft, the European Union ordered the company to sell a version of its Windows operating system without Media Player software and to divulge the software protocols underpinning Windows for makers of rival products.

Microsoft challenged the 2004 ruling in the European Union’s second-highest court in April, and the judges are expected to hand down a decision in the first half of the year.

Frustrated with Microsoft’s defiance of some of its demands, the commission in July slapped daily fines on the company for failing to fully respect the 2004 antitrust ruling.

Microsoft is appealing the charges.

Meanwhile, the threat of further fines remains as the commission has not decided whether Microsoft is meeting its demands.

The company’s rivals warn that, as with earlier Windows versions, Vista is designed in a way that makes it difficult for them to build software that can operate with it, thereby hampering competition.

“Vista is the first step in Microsoft’s strategy to extend its market dominance to the Internet,” ECIS’ Mr. Awde said.

ECIS claims that a computer language Microsoft has written to replace HTML, the current standard for publishing pages on the Internet, was designed to be dependent on Windows, making operations with other platforms difficult.

The association says that Microsoft also is expected to release a document file format that operates seamlessly only on Microsoft’s Office platform, unlike the existing Open Document Format.

Observers think the European Commission is unlikely to open a new antitrust front against Microsoft over Vista before the EU court gives its decision on the regulators’ 2004 ruling.

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