Microsoft’s Claim to `Full Compliance’ Is Premature, EU Says
Jan. 26 (Bloomberg) – European regulators said it is too early to say whether Microsoft Corp.'s offer to let some competitors read the programming instructions for its Windows operating system settles an antitrust dispute with the EU.
``It’s premature to conclude that access to source code would resolve the problem of the lack of conformity’’ with the commission’s 2004 antitrust decision, Jonathan Todd, a spokesman for the European Commission, told journalists in Brussels today.
Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith yesterday said the software maker will license Windows file- and printer-sharing programming code, putting the company in ``full compliance’’ with the order. The commission is threatening the Redmond, Washington- based company with 2 million euros ($2.5 million) in daily fines for failing to license data to rivals.
The company, whose products run on more than 90 percent of the world’s personal computers, was ordered to license so-called network protocols, which would allow developers to make rival products. The EU hasn’t asked it to disclose source code.
Microsoft’s rivals called the offer a
poisoned apple.'' The source code won't help and would causeadditional troubles,’’ the Free Software Foundation Europe said in a statement. The group represents developers of programs such as the Linux operating system and Samba, an open-source replacement for Microsoft Windows’ networking features.
Open-source programs such as Linux, Samba and the Firefox Web browser allow any programmer to read and change the source code. Microsoft’s Smith said the company won’t allow its programming instructions to be used under such licensing terms because it would amount to giving away trade secrets.
Carlo Piana, a lawyer for the Free Software Foundation, said the restriction makes Microsoft’s concession useless for free software developers.
``Because that source code is under Microsoft copyright, developers who have seen the source code cannot re-implement it in free software for fear of copyright violation,’’ Piana said in the statement.
Advocates of open-source programs remain the EU’s main supporter in the case against Microsoft, the world’s largest software maker, as businesses reach settlements with the company. RealNetworks Inc. withdrew from the EU case last year in a $761 million agreement. Novell Inc. and the Computer & Communications Industry Association settled in 2004.
No Extra Cost
Smith said that the company won’t charge anything for the source code beyond the existing cost of the license. Microsoft said it negotiates with companies that want only certain communication protocols and don’t agree with the license price.
The commission is skeptical that Microsoft can charge for all the protocols. The regulator has asked Microsoft to specify which protocols are innovative and covered by patents.
Todd said ``it’s a little misleading’’ for Smith to claim that the marketplace can set prices for the company’s communication protocols.
It's not comparable to a seller on the high street where the customer has a choice of supply,'' Todd said.It’s a company with a dominant market position. The commission has found Microsoft to be abusing that dominant market position by failing to make its technical information available.’’
Microsoft’s Smith said the company gave the EU regulator more than 12,000 pages of technical information to respond to the commission’s demands. It also offered to provide 500 hours of free support by Microsoft’s engineers to answer licensees’ questions.
Todd said ``it’s the quality of information, not the quantity’’ that counts.
``It’s all very well to give 12,000 pages – they could give half a million – but if it’s not the right information for competitors to make Microsoft-compatible workgroup servers it doesn’t resolve the compliance with the remedy,’’ Todd said.