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Microsoft Corp. has received a deadline extension to formally respond to the European Union’s concerns regarding Windows 2000 and bundling Media Player to operating software, the EU’s top antitrust official said Wednesday. European Commissioner for Competition Mario Monti said at a press briefing in Brussels that the software giant had been granted “a short extension.” A source familiar with the review said the company got an extra two weeks. The extension is unlikely to change the timeline of the European Commission, which has scheduled oral hearings for Dec. 20-21 in which Microsoft can present its defense in person to the EU’s charges. Following the hearings, the Commission will assess Microsoft’s defense. Usually the EU takes at least a couple of months in an antitrust case assessment before ruling. Given the complexity of the Microsoft review, a decision isn’t expected before April. In Europe, the Redmond, Wash.-based software maker is under investigation for abusing its dominant position in operating software by trying to leverage this dominance into the server market. Microsoft has refused to supply the needed interface to competitors, preventing them from supplying competing server software that is compatible with Windows. Since August, the Commission has widened its probe to include Microsoft’s Windows 2000, launched in February 2000, as well as Media Player. The Commission is examining Media Player because of Microsoft’s policy of bundling, which the Commission suspects is another abuse of its dominance. Monti lamented a recently leaked copy of the Commission’s latest so-called statement of objections to Microsoft, which was sent to the company as part of the EU’s widened probe and serves to legally outline the EU’s arguments. “Let me say that I highly regret what appears to be a leak.” A Wall Street Journal story Wednesday cited the document in a report, and it is feared that now, Microsoft could use the leak to form part of any appeal to the EU’s ultimate ruling. A source familiar with the investigation confirmed that the statement of objections includes accounts of Microsoft’s unwillingness to comply with EU authorities, and even attempts to mislead them. The statement details a ploy by Microsoft, which presented 34 letters to the commission from companies allegedly supporting Microsoft in the EU’s investigation. The commission later discovered that Microsoft had either written the letters itself or procured them from companies who were not fully aware how Microsoft planned to use them. Such moves could weigh in on the EU’s final analysis. One of the penalties in such antitrust cases is a fine of up to 10 percent of a company’s revenue, although rulings in the past have never even come close to this ceiling. Microsoft’s behavior would likely be calculated into any fine, but Monti dismissed speculation of a fine and its amount as “premature.” Aside from fines, Microsoft, under EU law could be forced to abandon its bundling policy to address the Media Player allegations, and open up its source coding to allow competitors to provide alternative server software. In the United States., Microsoft faces a court-designated Friday deadline to reach a settlement with the Department of Justice. Failing that, a mediator will be assigned to settle by Nov. 2. The EU investigation differs from the U.S. proceeding, which is looking at how the software maker has illegally maintained its monopoly, rather than leverage it. Copyright �2001 TDD, LLC. All rights reserved.

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