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EU scales back Microsoft monitoring as compliance improves


Brussels : The European Union Wednesday scaled back its monitoring of Microsoft in a case concerning the software giant’s publication of key communication codes, saying that the company’s good behaviour meant that full-time supervision was no longer needed.

The EU’s executive, the European Commission, “considers that 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 behaviour, the increased opportunity for third parties to exercise their rights directly before national courts, and experience gained” in recent years, 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 programmes 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 therefore fined the company 777 million euros ($979 million at current prices), ordered it to publish the codes and 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 the trustee, but had been right in everything else.

The following February, the commission fined Microsoft a further 899 million euros for its delay in complying 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 dominance in the market for internet browsers by bundling Internet Explorer with its operating system.