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Microsoft settlement leaves Free Software in the cold

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The European Commission yesterday announced a preliminary agreement with Microsoft. The deal is supposed to settle an antitrust investigation about the company's dominant position in the web browser market. The Commission is also ready to strike a deal on interoperability. The goal is to allow rival products to work with Microsoft's applications on the desktop.

FSFE commends Commissioner Neelie Kroes and the European Commission on their effort to bring more competition to the European software market. Though clearly negotiated under some time pressure, parts of the agreement are better than Microsoft's previous proposals.

While FSFE's input as a steadfast defender of software freedom over the past seven years has helped to bring about some improvements on details of the browser selection screen, the updated agreement proposed by Microsoft does not address the legitimate concerns of the Free Software community.

Karsten Gerloff, FSFE's President, says: "In its current form, Microsoft's proposal has many loopholes for the convicted monopolist to slip through. The lack of a monitoring system leaves Free Software projects out in the cold. There is no clear commitment from Microsoft to adhere to web standards in the future, nor to end the company's habit of adding proprietary extensions to standards."

In order to fend off another possible investigation by the European Commission, Microsoft is also offering a set of promises to let rival programs work with some of its desktop applications such as Outlook and Sharepoint. Yet Free Software projects, which are often the strongest competitors to the company's offerings, will not be able to use the patent licence proposed by Microsoft.

FSFE's legal counsel Carlo Piana says: "We are disappointed that major issues for Free Software and other small, innovative players remain unaddressed. Private enforcement is out of reach for them. This is a missed opportunity to break new ground in antitrust enforcement."

FSFE will analyse Microsoft's proposed commitment in detail in the coming weeks and provide feedback to the Commission. Our goal is to help shape a deal for a sustainable, interoperable and competitive future.