- The Washington Times - Monday, January 24, 2005

SEATTLE (AP) — Microsoft Corp. will immediately ship a version of Windows stripped of the company’s multimedia player in Europe and divulge some software blueprints, even as it continues to appeal those same European Union sanctions.

The software giant said yesterday that it will not appeal an interim court ruling, reached in December, that ordered the company to immediately comply with a March EU antitrust decision.

Microsoft’s decision not to appeal the interim ruling was expected, though being forced to change company business practices is a short-term blow.

Matt Rosoff of the independent research firm Directions on Microsoft said company lawyers likely thought it best to focus on the more important, broader appeal.

The antitrust order could set a lasting precedent for government intervention in deciding what features Microsoft can add to its flagship Windows operating system.

The company has argued that its freedom to decide what goes into Windows is key to its future success, and analysts expect Microsoft to vigorously resist efforts to curb that freedom.

“When it comes to having a government body dictate what they can and can’t add to their most important product, I don’t think they’re going to back down on that,” Mr. Rosoff said.

Microsoft said the first versions of its Windows without Media Player will reach EU retailers in the coming weeks and cost the same as the full version. The diminished version will only be available in the 25-nation bloc.

The company also said it has started a Web site to provide competing server software makers with information on how they can license source code to enable their products to better communicate with Windows-powered desktops.

But Microsoft has said that companies can only use that information to develop and distribute software in Europe, not worldwide.

“Rather than seeking to suspend the [European] Commission’s remedies, Microsoft’s focus now is on working constructively with the Commission on their full and prompt implementation,” the company said.

Charles Di Bona, an analyst with Bernstein & Co., said there seems to be little business risk in complying with the interim order.

Analysts don’t expect there to be much interest in Windows with the Media Player.

An order to divulge some of its tightly guarded source code could hurt the company more, but it’s not clear yet whether anyone will actually take advantage of that offer.

Sun Microsystems Inc., once a big player in the case, already obtained similar access under a settlement it reached with Microsoft earlier this year.

Microsoft spokesman Jim Desler said yesterday there had been some inquiries about the licenses but no formal agreements have been signed.

The European Commission has said offering users a version of Windows without Media Player would give consumers a choice to include other multimedia software.

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