EC issues deadline for Microsoft secrets

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BRUSSELS -- The European Commission has given Microsoft until Nov. 23 to reveal the secret protocols for its Windows operating system so that rival software-makers can ensure greater interoperability between servers.

The deadline, revealed Wednesday, came with a warning that the software giant could face fresh fines if it continues to defy the EC over the long-running row.

The EC -- the European Union's antitrust authority -- said Microsoft faces daily fines of between ?2 million and €3 million ($3.8 million). This would be back-dated to July 31, meaning a fine of as much as €350 million ($448 million). When taken together with previous antitrust penalties, it would mean Microsoft has ratcheted up €1 billion ($1.3 billion) in EU fines.

The issue revolves around a March 2004 EU antitrust ruling that required Microsoft, among other things, to reveal Windows protocol codes. EU competition commissioner Neelie Kroes said the Seattle-based company is still dragging its feet over the issue despite years of meetings, warnings and fines.

"I don't have eternal life," Kroes told British newspaper the Guardian in an interview published Wednesday. "I am not impressed if someone says 90% of the information is already there when we need 100%. It's a jigsaw and some parts are missing."

Microsoft reacted immediately, pledging "additional" efforts to meet the EC's demands. "We have responded quickly and completely to all requests and queries on the technical documentation since the July deadline and have made very significant progress," a Microsoft spokesman said. "We stand ready to do any additional work that is required to comply with the commission's decision."

EC officials grumble that they have yet to receive the complete documentation on protocols for Microsoft to comply with the landmark 2004 decision, which fined the company a record ?497 million. The March 2004 decision ordered Microsoft to supply "the relevant complete and accurate interface documentation" within four months -- or July 2004.

Microsoft has long clashed with the EC over its market dominance. The March 2004 decision also found Microsoft had abused its position to muscle out rivals in film and music-playing software by "bundling" Windows Media Player in its ubiquitous operating system.

But last month, the company resolved one outstanding issue with the EC when it agreed to change its new Vista operating system to enable rival firms to develop ancillary software.
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