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EC vs Microsoft: Stalemate Over Vista

Microsoft not allowed to bundle security upgrades with Vista

The European Union's protectionist-minded regulators are back at it, this time telling Microsoft that it shouldn't bundle security upgrades with Vista. The European Commission this week suggested that consumers will be hurt if Microsoft forecloses the market to security-selling rivals by bundling.

Microsoft, in return, suggested that European users will be more at risk should the operating system's security features be removed. What exactly we're talking about here has yet to be articulated but it's been suggested it may include Windows Defender, the anti-spam filter, and BitLocker, the data encryption widgetry.

Symantec, which is already suing Microsoft on other grounds related to Symantec's Veritas acquisition, has at least threatened to complain to the EC about stuff like this.

Anyway, late last week Microsoft said that Vista's launch and deployment in Europe could be delayed if the EC didn't come right out and say what it objected to in Vista so it could ship a legal system and avoid any further antitrust trouble, pretty much the same thing it's told the SEC.

The EC replied this week that any delays wouldn't be its fault; it's up to Microsoft as a "near-monopolist" to comply with the EU's antitrust decision; it isn't up to the EC to give it a hall pass before the product comes to market, a reaction that left Microsoft complaining Thursday about the regulators' lack of clarity.

EC antitrust chief Neelie Kroes in a letter exchange with Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer in March expressed concern over Vista's integrated Internet search, its DRM and its Adobe PDF file viewer. The EC also gave Microsoft a list of concerns about Vista early in July. What's on that list of 79 questions hasn't been disclosed and may belie Microsoft's lack of clarity complaint. Anyway, Microsoft answered them late last month and is still waiting for a reply.

To put pressure on the EC - and to win popularity points - Microsoft Thursday trotted out an IDC study it had run up claiming that Vista will generate a $40 billion economy in Europe and create 100,000 new jobs in Denmark, France, Germany, Poland, Spain and the UK next year. If Vista is delayed, job creation could be halved, IDC said.

For every euro Microsoft derives from Vista, the study says, local OEMs, retailers, integrators and ISVs will get 13 euros. According to IDC Vista will be installed on 100 million computers worldwide the first year after release, 30 million of them in the top European markets.

Separately Ovum has calculated that a delay could cost the European supply chain a billion dollars in deferred revenues.

The EC still has yet to decide whether Microsoft has met the 2004 antitrust requirement of making its communications protocols accessible to competitors. Microsoft's alleged failure to provide useable documentation recently cost it an additional fine of $357 million, a decision it is contesting. If the EC doesn't give the current documentation a passing grade, Microsoft could have to pay more, even bigger fines.

Vista is now at what Microsoft is calling a release candidate apropos of supposedly delivering the OS to business in November and the broader market in January. Reviewers report that RC1 is "far from final code" and that a lot of work remains to be done, enough, it seems, that Microsoft could use the EC as an excuse to delay Vista's general rollout yet again.

An RC 2 is expected.

More Stories By .NETDJ News Desk

.NETDJ News Desk monitors Microsoft .NET and its related technologies, including Silverlight, to present IT professionals with news, updates on technology advances, business trends, new products and standards, and insight.

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