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Microsoft exposes itself in bid to embarrass Europeans

Charges of laziness and holiday obsession

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Microsoft is accusing the European Commission (EC) of denying it a fair defense in its long-running anti-trust case, so officials could nip off early for their Christmas hols.

That's just one of the claims Microsoft is laying at the door of the EC - a fact learned today after Redmond took the unprecedented step of publishing confidential documents and correspondence used in the case. Microsoft has also accused EC regulators and prosecutors of tardiness, laziness, acting illegally, and of a brazen desire to encourage cheaper knock-offs of Microsoft products. (Ed: And we thought that was just called "competition.")

Microsoft outlined its allegations in a 76-page document called Microsoft's Response to the Commission's Statement of Objections, which it published after the EC insisted Microsoft had failed to comply with the Commission's anti-trust ruling in 2004.

At stake is a daily EC fine of $2.4m, which Microsoft hoped to sidestep in January by promising to publish source code for its Windows server communications protocols. Rather than jump at Microsoft's belated offer, the EC preferred instead to evaluate it and decide whether Microsoft was in compliance.

Microsoft released the protocols after the commission said in December it was unhappy with the documentation Microsoft had provided for interoperability with Windows. In a statement of objections released that month, the EC said Microsoft was not doing enough to comply with the anti-trust agreement.

Microsoft, normally more than happy to play the long game in a lawsuit, has now responded to the EC's statement of objections by publishing its own objections, in what seems to be an effort by Microsoft to bring a little leverage to bear using the court of public opinion.

The company's response to the commission reads as a Microsoft chronology of the events in its case, which portray Microsoft as consistently working diligently to meet the ever-demanding, vague, and constantly expanding demands of the EC.

According to Microsoft, the EC had "not even bothered to read the most recent versions" of documents submitted before the December statement of objections and "waited many months before informing Microsoft that it believed changes were necessary".

"The second claim... concerning the usability of Microsoft's documentation, made an even more tardy appearance," Microsoft said, adding the EC's criticisms "ignore the inherent complexity of writing specifications for software as complex as the Windows server operating system communications protocols".

Microsoft continued: "Despite Microsoft's substantial and serious efforts to reach the ever-receding horizon of the commission's demands... the commission was not to be deterred from its pre-holiday rush to impose a punitive daily fine on Microsoft."

Microsoft said it would be unlawful for the EC to fine Microsoft, as it had failed to review the documentation it already had.

The company accused the EC of working at the behest of its competitors by "commanding the compulsory licensing of some of Microsoft's most valuable intellectual property". "It's no mystery why the commission refused to state its standard for compliance regarding interoperability information in clear written form," the company said.

Microsoft seems anxious to get the EC onto the same terms and conditions as the Microsoft Communications Protocol Program (MCPP), introduced in the US to smooth the settlement of Microsoft's anti-trust case with the Department of Justice.

Interestingly, Microsoft has run into nothing but trouble with official US anti-trust compliance officers over MCPP, and has had to substantially change the program. Microsoft's EC document hints at why the EC might not be so keen on MCPP.

"Microsoft's technical documentation team has fallen behind on reviewing and responding to issues raised through this process" Microsoft admitted, adding quickly: "Microsoft is fully committed to rapidly adding all resources needed to stay current and to make sure the MCPP documentation is useful and complete."

So that's ok then.

Have a look at Microsoft's exposed bits here. ®

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