Microsoft hints at delay of Vista in Europe

David Lawsky

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Microsoft raised the possibility on Thursday that it might delay the introduction of its new Vista Windows operating system in Europe, saying it depended on the

European Commission's antitrust requirements.

The European Commission responded sharply, saying it was "misleading to imply that the Commission could be the cause of delays in launching Vista in Europe."

Microsoft said in a statement it made concrete proposals to the European Union's executive Commission, responding to its concerns about new features in Vista.

"Once we receive the Commission's response, we will know whether the Commission is seeking additional product design changes that would result in delay in Europe," it said.

The Commission, the executive arm of the European Union, had a different perspective.

"It is not up to the Commission to give Microsoft a green light before Vista is put on the market; it is up to Microsoft to accept and implement its responsibilities as a near-monopolist to ensure full compliance with EU competition rules," a spokesman said.

"Microsoft only responded to our latest concerns last week," he said.

The Commission and Microsoft are locked in a legal battle dating back to 2004 when Brussels hit the company with a 500 million-euro ($640 million) antitrust fine and required changes in its business practices.


When Microsoft failed to meet Commission requirements, the EU executive fined the company another 281 million euros this summer. It is still waiting for compliance.

The Commission is also talking to Microsoft about whether Vista has anti-competitive elements that must be changed.

Vista, set to replace Windows XP has run into many delays. Microsoft this week confirmed its plan to make Vista available to large-volume business customers in November and for a general launch of the product in January.

European parliament members Chris Heaton-Harris, Sharon Bowles, Peter Skinner and Michal Kaminski wrote to the EU competition chief on Thursday, saying the Commission was endangering the ability of European business to compete.

"It is alarming that one of the world's most successful technology companies considers the European Commission's attitude a risk factor," they said in the letter.

The possibility of a Vista delay in Europe recalls similar comments made by Microsoft founder

Bill Gates and other senior executives in May 1998, shortly before the release of the Windows 98 operating system.

At the time, the U.S. Justice Department was working on a major lawsuit against Microsoft, which it ultimately won.

Then-chief financial officer Greg Maffel said any lawsuit aimed at Windows 98 could have "broad, negative consequences" for the entire personal computer industry.

Around the same time, top executives of Microsoft partners sent a letter asking the federal government not to block Windows 98's release.

The picture was muddied by news reports that the company had planned to plant public opinion pieces to create the appearance of a groundswell of support.

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