Microsoft Corp faces a daily fine of 2m euros ($2.4m) by the European Commission after the software giant was accused of not providing adequate documentation that would allow non-Microsoft work group servers to achieve full interoperability with Windows PCs and servers.
Computer science expert Professor Neil Barrett, who reviewed Microsoft’s work as the EC’s monitoring trustee, was scathing in his review.
His report concluded any programmer or programming team seeking to use the technical documentation for a real development exercise would be wholly and completely unable to proceed on the basis of the documentation.
The technical documentation is therefore totally unfit at this stage for its intended purpose, he wrote.
The report also stated that, the documentation appears to be fundamentally flawed in its conception, and in its level of explanation and detail… Overall, the process of using the documentation is an absolutely frustrating, time-consuming and ultimately fruitless task. The documentation needs quite drastic overhaul before it could be considered workable.
Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes said: I have given Microsoft every opportunity to comply with its obligations. However, I have been left with no alternative other than to proceed via the formal route to ensure Microsoft’s compliance.
Though Microsoft has revised the interoperability information, the EC takes the preliminary view that this information is incomplete and inaccurate.
However Microsoft general counsel Brad Smith said the EC’s statement was unjustified.
The Commission has issued this statement regarding technical documentation we submitted last week, even though by its own admission neither it nor the Trustee have even read or reviewed these new documents.
He said Microsoft revised the technical documents last week at the commission’s request, responding to new feedback raised only six days before.
In the interest of due process, we think it would have been reasonable for the Commission and the Trustee at least to read and review these new documents before criticizing them as being insufficient, he said.
Smith said the company was fully committed to comply with the decision. He said it had provided unprecedented access to Microsoft technology to promote interoperability with other industry players.
In total, we have now responded to more than 100 requests from the commission, he said. We continue working quickly to meet the commission’s new and changing demands. Yet every time we make a change, we find that the commission moves the goal post and demands another change.
Smith said that the commission’s latest demand that the internal workings of Windows be documented and licensed can open the door to the production of clones of parts of the Windows operating system.
He said the the commission confused disclosure of the source code with disclosure of the internals and insists that it will fine the company if it fails to address this.
Microsoft has five weeks to appeal and Smith said it would contest the statement to the full extent permitted under EU law, including a full Oral Hearing on these issues.
The EC’s threat of daily fines follows the March 2004 ruling that Microsoft had infringed the EC Treaty rules on abuse of a dominant position by leveraging its near monopoly in the market for PC operating systems onto the markets for work group server operating systems and for media players.
One of the remedies imposed was for Microsoft to disclose interface documentation that would allow non-Microsoft servers to achieve full interoperability with Windows PCs and servers.
This was to ensure that Microsoft’s competitors can develop products that interoperate with the Windows domain architecture natively supported in the dominant Windows client PC operating system and hence viably compete with Microsoft’s work group server operating system. Microsoft should thus allow the use of the disclosed specifications for implementation in work group server operating system products.
After much haggling between the two sides, Microsoft was given a deadline of December 15 to supply complete and accurate interoperability information and make it available on reasonable terms.
The investigation against Microsoft was originally prompted by complaints by Sun in December 1998 that Microsoft refused to provide interface information to enable its Solaris-based servers to connect to Microsoft-based PCs.