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Microsoft bails out of European competition hearing

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Microsoft has turned down the chance to give oral evidence to the European Competition Commission - because the date clashes with a big beanfeast for regulators in Switzerland.

The software giant was to present evidence at an oral hearing between 3 and 5 June. This was a chance for both sides to air issues around Microsoft's bundling of Internet Explorer with Windows, which the Commission believes breaches competition laws.

But the hearing clashes with a meeting in Zurich for 600 anti-trust and fair trade regulators from around the world. The event is expected to be particularly popular because it is the first such meeting to attended by President Obama's newly-chosen officials. The US is widely expected to take a much tougher, more interventionist, regulatory line than it charted under the Bush administration.

The Commission assured Microsoft that senior staff would not be at Zurich, but the software giant has decided to pull out.

In a blog post Microsoft deputy general counsel Dave Heiner said: "it appears that many of the most influential Commission and national competition officials with the greatest interest in our case will be in Zurich and so unable to attend our hearing in Brussels."

The company asked for a change of date, but the Commission was unable to reschedule the meeting. As a result Microsoft has withdrawn its request for a hearing.

The meeting wouldn't have actually resolved anything: there is no judge or jury. But it helps both sides understand the other's arguments and likely legal strategies.

Microsoft faced a similar case brought by US regulators which was settled in 2002.

The Commission issued a Statement of Objections outlining its concerns to Microsoft in January following complaints from rival browser maker Opera.

Windows 7 is expected to come with a button to switch off Internet Explorer. ®

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