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Ballmer: New Microsoft to avoid antitrust woes

Microsoft claims European antitrust issues in past

Microsoft's efforts to open up on how its products work should keep it out of further legal trouble, despite a record fine levied by the European Commission last week, CEO Steve Ballmer said today.

"Essentially what we are permitting is more innovation around our products, more interoperability, maybe also more potential for third parties to cannibalise what could have been Microsoft business, but it's a path that we commit ourselves to because it's good for customers, and it's consistent with our legal obligation," Ballmer said at the Cebit trade show in Hanover, Germany.

In February, Microsoft published more than 30,000 pages of documentation for its Windows client and server APIs that were previously available only under a trade-secret licence. The company has pledged to publish more documentation for other products this year.

Ballmer said that previously Microsoft had been "less directly and effectively open". But now Microsoft is opening up other crucial code, such as APIs, which will allow other products to interoperate better, he said.

Ballmer also cited the company's Office Open XML (OOXML) file format, now under consideration to become an international standard by the International Organization for Standardization, as another example of how the company has opened up.

OOXML, however, has been criticised for being too complex, and Microsoft has taken heat for not natively implementing OpenDocument Format (ODF) in its Office products.

The European Commission fined Microsoft €899m (£690m) last Wednesday for failing to honour its 2004 antitrust ruling. Microsoft was finally found to be in compliance by October 2007.

That ruling required Microsoft to produce a version of its operating system without its Media Player and to document communications protocols used by Windows workgroup server.

The Commission, while at times praising Microsoft, fined the company for the quality of its documentation and for taking too long to produce it.

Ballmer, however, said the Commission's concerns have since been resolved. "We hope these interoperability principles prove valuable in the future, but that of course is always up to the Commission".


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