European Commission Throws Microsoft A Bone

In the latest in a series of bipolar European Commission regulatory decrees, the EC Wednesday said Microsoft has adhered to the terms of the 2004 ruling, and that the full-time, third-party watchdog that has monitored Microsoft's compliance with these terms since 2005 has been relieved of duty. The EC will now rely on technical consultants to verify Microsoft's compliance.

The European Union in 2004 declared Microsoft guilty of abusing its "near monopoly" with Windows to squeeze competitors in other markets and hit the company with a then-record $613 million fine. The EU also ordered Microsoft to offer a version of Windows without Windows Media Player and to release programming code to rivals in the server market.

About a year ago, the EC slapped Microsoft with a $1.35 billion fine for overcharging open-source developers for Windows server operating system communications protocols. To date, European regulators have levied about $2.5 billion in fines against the software giant.

Despite today's positive news, Microsoft still faces a minefield of EC legal challenges. In January, the EC charged Microsoft with violating European competition law by including Internet Explorer in Windows since 1996, and gave Microsoft two months to respond to the charges.

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Microsoft resolved this same issue in U.S. court in 2002, but the EC said Microsoft has yet to answer for its violation of European law. Microsoft subsequently issued a statement indicating its commitment to conducting its business in full compliance with European laws.