BRUSSELS -- The European Commission has specific antitrust concerns about Vista, Microsoft's long-awaited new operating system, commission spokesperson Jonathan Todd said today.
"We are concerned about the possibility that Vista will include software elements which are available separately either sold by Microsoft or by other software companies," Todd said.
"There is also the possibility that we won't have all the technical information needed for competitors to make their software interoperable with Vista," he added.
Microsoft's top lawyer in Europe, Horacio Guttierez, said in a telephone interview today that adding such functions to the operating system is essential if Microsoft is to meet customer demand. "I know consumers want more-secure computer systems," he said.
The comission's concerns echo the findings in its 2004 antitrust ruling against Microsoft, which found the company in violation of international antitrust law for having bundled its Media Player software within the Windows operating system. It also ruled that the software giant had stunted competition by not allowing competitors' server software to interoperate fully with PCs that run Windows.
The concerns about Vista, which is due to be released near the beginning of next year, include plans to include in it an Internet search function, a digital rights management program, software for creating a fixed document format comparable to PDF (Portable Document Format), and security features, Todd said.
"The commission is concerned that computer manufacturers and consumers won't have a proper choice of software," he said.
Forcing the company to sell Vista without Windows Defender "is a bit like forcing BMW to sell cars without airbags," Guttierez said. "We have a responsibility to make our products better and more secure for our customers," he said.
"Microsoft is building Windows Vista to provide the most secure personal computing environment and to provide unprecedented opportunities for other companies throughout the industry," the company said in a statement, adding that consumers are "free to use a wide range of competitor products, and Windows Vista is designed to respect the choices that consumers make."
Microsoft claims it has included partners and competitors in its planning of Windows Vista, to allow them to build products and services that work with the new operating system.
Though no formal investigation has been opened yet, Todd said, "If our concerns are confirmed and we conclude that Vista violated European competition rules then we would open a new case."
The warning about Vista comes a day before Microsoft's top lawyers gather with regulators and rivals at a Brussels hearing regarding the company's compliance with the 2004 ruling.
In December the commission issued a new lawsuit against Microsoft, accusing it of failing to honor the 2004 ruling. Microsoft requested the hearing so that it could dispute the commission's accusation and explain to regulators that it is in maximum compliance with the ruling.
In the two-day hearing, which begins Thursday, Microsoft will argue that, despite the company's best efforts to comply, the commission set it an impossible task.
If Microsoft fails to change the commission's mind, it faces daily fines of up to $2.4 million, backdated to mid-December, until it is deemed to be in compliance with the 2004 ruling.
But more than money is at stake during this hearing, said Thomas Vinje, a partner at the law firm Clifford Chance and a founder of the European Committee for Interoperable Systems, a trade group that supports the commission.
"The meaningfulness of the 2004 ruling is at stake here," Vinje said. "So far, no one has bought a license to see Microsoft's technical documentation. There is a danger that this side of the case could be rendered meaningless."