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EU Sends Microsoft Compliance Warning

The European Commission told Microsoft Corp. on Friday that it was "still not in compliance" with a 2004 antitrust ruling that ordered it to share information with rivals to make their software work with Microsoft servers.

The EU has already threatened the company with 2 million euros ($2.4 million) in daily fines, backdated to Dec. 15, and said it will make its final decision after a hearing for Microsoft to plead its case later this month.

"The Commission takes the preliminary view that this information continues to be incomplete and inaccurate," the regulators said in a statement, basing their view on two reports from independent experts who looked at the latest version Microsoft had submitted.

Microsoft said the fact that the Commission looked at the evidence after it filed charges last December showed that the charges were "fundamentally flawed and should be withdrawn."

"Microsoft has submitted, in its response to the Commission's statement of objections, a large volume of expert testimony that finds in the clearest terms that Microsoft's documentation reaches or exceeds every industry standard for the documentation of such technologies," it said.

"That documentation, coupled with free technical support and source code access for licensees, meets and surpasses the requirements of the Commission's 2004 decision."

The man appointed to monitor Microsoft's compliance with the ruling -- computer science professor Neil Barrett -- found that although the documentation had improved slightly, "nothing substantial was added."

"The improvements required to the documentation are not merely refinements or improvements to the text: The documentation as it stands is unusable," the Commission said.

Another report from information technology consultancy TAEUS Europe Ltd., described parts of the Microsoft documentation as "entirely inadequate," "devoted to obsolete functionality" and "self-contradictory."

It said the document was written "primarily to maximize volume (page count), while minimizing useful information."

Both experts said Microsoft seemed to assume that users should inform it of incorrect, incomplete or inaccurate information.

TAEUS compared this to a car manufacturer responding to a customer complaint that a car had been delivered without wheels: "This would be like the manufacturer supplying wheels only to have the next deficiency come up _ namely that the automobile has no engine, and then no steering wheel, then no brakes, etc."

Last December, the EU charged that Microsoft had not obeyed the 2004 ruling and threatened daily fines. Microsoft will get an oral hearing on March 30 and 31 to plead its case.

The EU will afterward decide if it will fine the company every day from Dec. 15 until the date of its decision to impose the fines. It warned it might take other steps to extend the daily fines.

"What they have done is insufficient," said EU spokesman Jonathan Todd. "It's now two years since the decision."

Earlier Friday, the EU defended Barrett from Microsoft's allegations that he, EU officials and Microsoft rivals had colluded ahead of Barrett writing a report last autumn that criticized Microsoft's earlier efforts to provide documentation.

Microsoft wants to see correspondence between them to see if Barrett had been influenced in any way.

Last week, it asked three U.S. courts to compel Sun Microsystems Inc., IBM Corp., Oracle Corp. and Novell Inc. to hand over correspondence to use as evidence in its legal challenge to the EU charges.

Microsoft said Friday the EU was still failing to address its main criticism that the regulator is acting both as prosecutor and an independent judge of how much access the company should have to documents connected to the case.

The EU levied a record 497 million euro ($613 million) fine against Microsoft in March 2004. It also ordered the company to share code with rivals and offer a version of Windows without the Media Player software.

Microsoft is appealing the ruling and the case will be heard in late April by the European Court of First Instance, the EU's second-highest court.

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