The European Commission expects to conclude its anticompetition investigation into Microsoft next year, a spokeswoman said today.

But Amelia Torres, EC competition spokeswoman, declined to comment on whether the company's rejection of an oral hearing might speed up the process.

"We are examining the written reply Microsoft sent us on 16 November. The investigation continues whether or not there is a hearing. The Commission will conclude [the antitrust investigation] next year," said Torres.

"Whether it is earlier I don't know," Torres said, referring to the possible effect on the timetable of Microsoft's decision on Tuesday not to attend a hearing with the EC.

Microsoft had earlier asked the EC to cancel a hearing previously scheduled for the 20 and 21 December.

Third parties, including complainants such as Sun Microsystems, have the right to request a hearing too, Torres said — but she would not say whether Microsoft could be forced to attend such a hearing.

"That is for the hearings officer to decide," Torres said.