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EC Sniffing Around Microsoft's Security Plans

The European Commission, which proved with its 497 million Euro fine and behavioral restrictions last year to be a formidable antitrust adversary for Microsoft, is showing interest in the American software giant's security plans.

On Thursday, the same day that Microsoft unveiled its hotly anticipated plans for a Microsoft Client Protection product to protect corporate client software from viruses and spyware, Symantec officials acknowledged that they have been exchanging information with the European Commission. The commission is the enforcement arm of the European Union.

Symantec officials position the exchange as a response to requests from the Commission for information about the complexity of the security industry and Symantec's role in it. Further, Symantec officials deny so far having filed the kind of formal complaint with the Commission that might trigger a separate EC investigation such as the ones into media players and workgroup servers that resulted in the March 2004 fines and behavioral penalties against Microsoft.

The denial is significant because Symantec CEO John Thompson warned earlier this year that Symantec would file a complaint if it felt Microsoft was about to abuse its dominance of the Windows desktop to try to control the security market.

Although the Microsoft Client Protection offering could potentially harm Symantec and other anti-virus software companies, the EC's attention appears to be focused on Microsoft's possible plans for bundling security enhancements into Windows Vista. Microsoft has not explained how Vista will fit with its budding anti-virus engine.

Microsoft offered an olive branch Thursday to Symantec and other vendors in a new organization called the SecureIT Alliance. The program is defined as a "group of technology partners that are working together to develop security solutions for the Microsoft platform."

In a statement Friday, Microsoft repeated the cooperation theme. "We value our relationship with Symantec and work openly and collaboratively with them on a number of issues, and will continue to do so," a Microsoft spokeswoman said in a statement. "We’re focused on delivering solutions today to help protect our customers, as well as working with our partners to better protect the ecosystem and foster healthy marketplace competition. An integral part of our product development process is keeping competitors, regulators and the industry informed."

As shown by Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer's meeting this week with European Union Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes, Microsoft is also trying to stave off further investigations with more regular meetings. "We have kept the Commission very closely informed of all Microsoft’s plans for new technology development, and we will continue to respond quickly and comprehensively to any request for information," the spokeswoman said.

Microsoft's explanation proved good enough for analysts at Goldman Sachs, who reiterated an "outperform" rating on Microsoft's stock Friday.

About the Author

Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.

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