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EU appoints watchdog to guard over Microsoft's antitrust compliance

Posted by inet - 2005-10-06

The European Union's executive commission appointed a British computer scientist to help it make sure US software giant Microsoft is complying with a 2004 antitrust ruling as the long-standing competition dispute rumbles on.

The commission, which polices competition issues in the EU, fined the software group in March 2004 a record 497 million euros (604 million dollars) for abusing its dominant market position.

It also called on Microsoft to market a version of its Windows operating system without bundling it to its software Media Player and to divulge information about its operating system needed by manufacturers of competing products.

After months of haggling between the commission and the company over candidates, the commission appointed Neil Barret, a British specialist in internet crime, to help it determine if Microsoft is complying with the ruling.

"I am highly confident that professor Neil Barret will do an extremely good job," EU competition commissioner Neelie Kroes told a news conference.

"I am expecting that we will conclude our assessment shortly and I remain absolutely determined to ensure that Microsoft complies fully with the decision. That's absolutely the line I take," Kroes also said.

However, she did not indicate whether the commission had the impression the company was complying with the decision.

Microsoft also said it was pleased with the final choice.

"We welcome the appointment of Neil Barrett as the monitoring trustee and we look forward to working constructively with him to ensure the company's full compliance with the Commission's decision," Microsoft's associate general counsel Horacio Gutierrez said in a statement.

The appointment came after Kroes met with Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer for wide-ranging talks on the competition dispute, which the commissioner described as "constructive," without divulging any other details of the meeting.

However, she did say that they agreed to meet regularly in the future.

Although Microsoft says it is cooperating, the dispute continues to drag on.

The commission said last month that it had received "informal complaints" about the US software giant.

At the time a spokesman said: "For the moment, we are not planning new action against Microsoft," and that any decision on launching an inquiry "will only be taken once we have completed our scrutiny."

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