Microsoft Will Modify Vista to Comply with EU Antitrust Rules

Microsoft Corp. announced last week that it would launch its new operating system, Microsoft Vista, on schedule, worldwide. In order to do so, the company is yielding to pressure from the European Commission to make changes that would open the system to products manufactured by rivals.

Last month the company had threatened to delay shipment to Europe rather than make the changes because it said the European Commission had not given it clear guidance on whether Vista would ultimately meet the requirements of European antitrust laws, The New York Times reports. At the time, Microsoft provided research showing that hundreds of thousands of jobs were at stake in Europe if the company delayed introduction of the new operating system there.

But in a reversal of the company’s position, Steve Ballmer, Microsoft’s chief executive, confirmed the simultaneous global introduction of Vista in a phone conversation last week with Neelie Kroes, European Commissioner for Competition Policy, the Times says. Microsoft issued a press release the following day saying that it had altered Vista to address the Commission’s concerns.

Windows Vista is already two years late and Microsoft Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Chris Liddell has said that additional delay would be costly, Bloomberg.com says. The new system will go on sale to computer manufacturers in November and to the public in January.

“We understand and appreciate the commission does not give green lights to new products in advance,” Brad Smith, Microsoft’s general counsel said, according to the Intelligencer. “But having received guidance from the commission, having had a constructive dialogue, and having made each of the changes we were advised to make, we feel confident that we can move forward in compliance with EU law.”

In a separate statement, the Commission said it would closely monitor the effects Vista had on the market and any complaints relating to it, reiterating that it was not up to the EU executive to give Vista a "green light".

“Microsoft has to be aware that they have a responsibility to take into account the European regulations and European rules and I am expecting that they are doing that," Kroes said, according to Reuters.

Three areas of the system -- the search engine, file formats and security features, were the basis for the most recent antitrust complaints about Vista, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reports.

Security software manufacturers Symantec and McAfee complained that Vista’s security feature, PatchGuard, would prevent them from offering competing security products. Microsoft has agreed to give independent security vendors access to the technical core of the Windows Vista operating system, called the kernel. Microsoft also agreed not to issue warnings that a PC’s firewall is disabled if another program is in place to do the same thing, the Post-Intelligencer says.

In addition, in response to a complaint by Adobe Systems Inc., Microsoft will submit its New XPS document formal to an international standards organization and change some of its license features. The search function in Windows Vista will not automatically use Microsoft’s Windows Live search engine. Google had faulted this feature.

The dust-up between Microsoft and the European Commission over the launch of Vista is the latest in a series of disputes between the company and the European Union regulatory body. In 2004 the commission fined Microsoft $654 million for bundling its music and video player, Media Player, into Windows XP, the Times reports, and Microsoft was ordered to release a new version of XP with Media Player stripped out. Microsoft is appealing the order, Bloomberg says.

As of Thursday, Microsoft had not yet provided details about the release of APIs to vendors, computerworld.com, reports. Symantec and McAfee both criticized Microsoft for failing to do what it said it would do.

A Microsoft spokeswoman said via e-mail Thursday that the company is holding meetings to "initiate discussions with partners on the process for developing methods by which third-party software can work alongside Kernel Patch Protection on 64-bit platforms without disabling it or weakening the protections offered by it."


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