Windows Vista may not ship in the European Union at the same time that it is released in the United States as a result of possible issues with European competition law, Microsoft acknowledged on Sept. 7.
The problem from Microsofts perspective is that the EU has been slow in letting the software giant know exactly what it needs in order for Windows Vista to ship in Europe.
"We dont know have clear guidance from the Commission about what they think should be included or removed from Vista and todays statements dont provide any further guidance," Microsoft spokesman Guy Esnouf told eWEEK in an interview on Sept. 7.
The matter is further complicated by the fact that a 2004 judgment against Microsoft primarily dealt with Windows Media Player, not with other technologies that have been included in Vista like BitLocker, Windows Security Center and PatchGuard.
Microsoft also has the right to challenge any changes the Commission finally decides it wants in Vista if it feels these are not covered by EU competition rules or the 2004 antitrust judgment, which included a record fine of €497 million and an order requiring it to produce a version of Windows without Windows Media Player bundled.
Esnouf did acknowledge that companies have the right to make legal challenges going forward, but said that was premature and speculative at this point.
"We would welcome hearing from the Commission specifically what their concerns are, so that we could then have a discussion on how to resolve them. We currently just dont know what their concerns are. We have made concrete proposals to them and are waiting to see what happens from here," he said.
Microsoft wants to deliver Vista to European customers on time, but understands that it needs to be fully compliant with EU competition law. "I cant speculate about the outcome as we havent heard back from them," Esnouf said.
"Over the past 15 months we have provided the European Commission with extensive briefings on Windows Vista and given them copies of the product to review as it has progressed toward commercial release," he said.
While the Commission has raised various concerns and notes the complaints made by competitors, Microsoft has made concrete proposals to the Commission to respond to their concerns about the inclusion of various new features last spring and is still waiting for a response, he said.
Asked what happens now, Esnouf said Microsoft was waiting to hear back from the Commission, which could take the form of more questions or some type of guidance to help comply with European law.
A possible delay of Vista will not only affect Microsoft, but also the thousands of partner businesses whose livelihood depends on selling, installing and maintaining its software products.
Esnouf acknowledged as much, saying that "this is a serious issue for the thousands of IT companies in Europe who are building their business plans around Windows Vista, and millions of customers who are eager to use its security and privacy features."
Microsoft has also received numerous questions from its European partners who need to know what the regulatory status of Windows Vista is in Europe, he said.
The biggest outstanding question is whether the Commission will ask for design changes in Vista. If it does, those changes could result in a shipping delay in Europe.
"Once we receive the Commissions response, we will know whether the Commission is seeking additional product design changes that will result in delay in Europe," Esnouf said.
But Microsoft is, at this point, still targeting worldwide availability of Windows Vista for corporate customers in November and retail availability in January, he said.
Microsoft has also been working with officials from the U.S. Department of Justice to ensure Vista meets the conditions of the final U.S. antitrust judgment against the company.
DOJ officials went to Microsoft headquarters in Redmond in February 2005 to begin reviewing Vista.
Editors Note: This story was updated to include additional information and comments from Microsoft.