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Monitoring Microsoft

March 4, 2009

The European Union on Wednesday scaled back its monitoring of software giant Microsoft's adherence to a 2004 antitrust ruling, saying the company's good behavior meant that full-time supervision was no longer needed.

This set of flagpoles sits at one of the entrances to Microsoft Corporation in Redmond, Washington
Microsoft's problems with the EU aren't over yetImage: AP

The ruling stipulated that Microsoft had to provide competitors with access to information needed for developing products that can operate with the group's software.

But the EU's executive, the European Commission, said "the ongoing monitoring that is still necessary can be performed more appropriately with the help of technical consultants" than with a full-time monitor, a statement released in Brussels said.

The commission took the decision "in light of changes in Microsoft's behavior (and) the increased opportunity for third parties to exercise their rights directly before national courts," the statement said.

The case dates back to 2004, when the commission, which oversees the EU's competition rules, decided that Microsoft had taken unfair advantage of its market dominance by refusing to allow rivals access to so-called "inter-operability" codes.

These are the codes which allow programs to work with Microsoft's Windows operating system. The commission ruled that Microsoft's reluctance to share the codes put rivals at an unfair disadvantage.

The Brussels-based executive fined the company 777 million euros ($979 million), ordered it to publish the codes and in 2005 appointed a full-time trustee, paid by Microsoft, to make sure that the company complied.

In September 2007, the European Court ruled that the commission had been wrong to make Microsoft pay for the trustee, but had been right in its other conclusions.

The following February, the commission fined Microsoft a further 899 million euros for delaying compliance with the decisions. Since then, Microsoft has vowed to cooperate fully with the EU.

The EU executive has also opened a separate investigation into allegations from software developers that Microsoft is abusing its dominant position in the Web browser market by bundling Internet Explorer with its operating systems.

Mozilla, the producer of the Firefox browser, and Google, which recently released its own browser, have backed the commission in its case.