- The Washington Times - Friday, February 22, 2008

REDMOND, Wash. (AP) — Microsoft Corp. said yesterday it will share more information about its products and technology in an effort to make it work better with rivals’ software and meet the demands of antitrust regulators in Europe.

EU regulators, however, expressed skepticism, saying the software maker did not address monopoly abuse in the past or accusations it seeks to undercut rivals by bundling Internet Explorer with the Windows operating system.

Microsoft said it is expanding access that outside software developers have to information about the way its programs work. The software maker said it will reveal documentation and computer code needed to make outside applications work together with Office, Windows and others. In the past, Microsoft charged for this information.

The company will still charge a fee to companies that sell software built using this information. But Chief Software Architect Ray Ozzie described the fees as “low royalty rates.”

Microsoft said it posted 30,000 pages of documents online that level the playing field for non-Microsoft developers, and announced plans to add more.

Bob Muglia, senior vice president of Microsoft’s Server and Tools Business, said in an interview that those documents detail exactly how Microsoft programs work together — allowing, for example, another company to build an e-mail system that works as well with Outlook as Microsoft’s own exchange server.

Steven A. Ballmer, Microsoft’s chief executive officer, said in a news conference that the move could boost rivals’ ability to compete. But it also helps developers build products that keep users interested in Windows PCs — an essential ingredient if the company is to survive the industrywide shift toward Web-based programs that don’t require a particular operating system.

Mr. Ballmer said the decision will have a relatively minimal impact on Microsoft’s revenue.

“One way I’m interpreting this announcement today is, there’s now consensus that interoperability, operating in the clear, is really good for business at the highest levels of the company,” said Forrester Research analyst John Rymer.

Mr. Rymer said the changes will make it easier for Microsoft’s corporate customers to incorporate programs from other software makers into their systems. And companies who develop Windows software won’t have to rely on partial information and detective work to make their products work.

“That’s a big change,” he said.

Microsoft has spent years compiling such documentation in response to a decade of pressure from antitrust regulators in the United States and Europe. Analysts see the voluntary move as a way to placate the European Union, which upheld a $613 million fine against the company last year and has since opened two new investigations into Microsoft’s business practices.

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