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European Commission appoints monitor in Microsoft antitrust case

Posted by iTech - 2005-10-10

The European Commission said today that it appointed professor Neil Barrett, a British academic specializing in computer science and cybercrime, to oversee Microsoft Corp.'s compliance with the antitrust ruling against the company.

European Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes informed Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer of the decision in a meeting in Brussels this morning.

Barrett, who has a doctorate degree in mathematics and computer science from Nottingham University, is an expert in computer security and the Unix operating system. He has worked for Bull SA and is a technical director for IRM PLC, advising on security policy. Barrett is also a visiting professor of computer crime at Cranfield and Glamorgan universities in the U.K..

The commission said that it appointed Barrett as monitoring trustee to "provide technical advice to the Commission" on issues relating to Microsoft's compliance with the ruling. It said that the trustee must be independent of Microsoft, must possess the necessary qualifications to carry out the mandate and have the possibility to hire expert advisers to assist in carrying out tasks within the mandate.

While exclusive responsibility for ensuring that Microsoft complies with the ruling rests with the commission, the trustee will provide impartial advice. The commission said, for example, that if Microsoft decided to publish its communications protocols to ensure interoperability with its workgroup servers, the trustee might be used to assess whether those protocol disclosures were "complete and accurate" -- and whether the terms under which Microsoft made the specifications available were "reasonable and nondiscriminatory".

On the question of unbundling Windows Media Player from Windows, the commission said the trustee might be asked to examine whether Microsoft has properly implemented the requirement to offer PC manufacturers a version of its Windows client PC operating system without the media player.

Dirk Delmartino, a Microsoft spokesman said, "We welcome the appointment of Neil Barrett as monitoring trustee, and we look forward to working constructively with him to ensure [the] company's full compliance with the decision."

Neither the commission nor Microsoft commented on the discussions between Kroes and Ballmer. Ahead of the meeting, a commission spokesman said that the aim was to discuss "general competition issues".

Afterward, Kroes called the conversation "constructive. We discussed a broad range of competition issues. We also promised we would see each other on a regular basis not related to specific cases. I will see Mr Ballmer -- but he's not the only [Microsoft executive] I'm meeting -- to get his vision of the business climate in Europe, North America and Asia."

The commission will push Microsoft to comply with its ruling, she said. "I'm expecting we can conclude the assessment shortly, and I remain determined that Microsoft complies fully with the decision."

She expressed faith in Barrett, emphasizing his role is to advise, not to mediate. "I'm highly confident that professor Neil Barrett will do an extremely good job. ... The CEO of Microsoft is aware and in favor [of this appointment]. Professor Barrett will team up with other technical experts to give advice to the commission," she said.

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