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OFT to review MS licensing terms

MS 'surprised and disappointed'

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The Office of Fair Trading is to review corporate IT customer claims that Microsoft's new software licensing terms are anti-competitive.

On Friday (Sept 21), The Infrastructure Forum expressed its concerns over MS' new policy in a letter to Trade Secretary Patricia Hewitt, and asked that the company be referred to the OFT. We have since learned the DTi has forwarded the complaint to the OFT, although this is described as usual procedure.

An OFT spokeswoman told us it was expecting the complaint but was unable to talk specifics before it has been reviewed. Any review into Microsoft's new policy - which insists companies buy new software every time they upgrade and comes into force on 1 October - will be split into two process.

The complaint will first be assessed to see if there are "reasonable grounds" that it may have broken the Competition Act 1998. This assessment will take anywhere from between a few weeks to a few months. The OFT does have the power though to stop Microsoft imposing the new policy if it believes it is affecting both competition in the market and the public in general.

If the OFT does find reasonable grounds, it will then launch a formal investigation that will take several more months (75 per cent of OFT investigations are completed within six months).

The Infrastructure Forum (TIF) claims that Microsoft new policy will cost business 94 per cent more than currently and UK business nearly £1 billion over the next four years.

Meanwhile Microsoft has told us it is "surprised and disappointed" with TIF. "We routinely discuss our business plans with the UK government," a spokesman told us. "And we will be able to talk to the OFT and explain the improvements and enhancements of our new policy."

The spokesman also told us that the company has spoken to TIF since the letter was sent and both sides "reiterated their commitment to ongoing dialogue". No mention was made about the tone or pitch of that dialogue however.

Meanwhile, the UK's two biggest resellers - Computacenter and SCH - are keeping tight-lipped about their views, or whether their customers had expressed any opinions concerning Microsoft's rules.

Computacenter told us it has no official response and was unlikely to produce one either. SCH has not returned our calls. ®

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