The European Commission has appointed a British cybercrime expert to assist in overseeing Microsofts compliance with a 2004 antitrust decision.
Neil Barrett was one of several candidates put forward by Microsoft, and his role as a technical adviser to the Commission will begin immediately, the Commission said. Barrett holds visiting professorships with two UK universities and has served in senior roles in the private sector, notably a six-year stint with Groupe Bull ending in 1999.
He has appeared in court as a computer expert in a wide variety of criminal cases, run security evaluations for government and private sector organizations, and he frequently delivers talks and university seminars on computer crime and other subjects. He is also a columnist and has written five books.
Barrett has a technical background, holding a Ph.D. in mathematics and computer science from Nottingham University and having acted as a consultant specializing in Unix as well as computer security.
Last year the Commission imposed a record 497 million euro fine on Microsoft for abusing its dominance in the desktop operating system market to extend its share in servers. Microsoft is challenging the ruling in court, but must comply with the antitrust remedies in the meantime. So far it has released a version of Windows without Windows Media Player—Windows XP N—and has set up a licensing scheme for key communications protocols.
Barretts role will not be to mediate, but to advise the Commission on technical matters, the Commission said. For example, as trustee he might give an assessment of whether the licensed protocols are complete and accurate, and whether Windows XP N has been implemented properly.
Microsoft approved of the appointment. “We welcome the appointment of Neil Barrett as the monitoring trustee and we look forward to working constructively with him to ensure the companys full compliance with the Commissions decision,” the company said in a statement.
Carlo Piana, an attorney representing Microsoft opponent the FSFE (Free Software Foundation Europe) in the ongoing antitrust case, said the appointment could prove a step forward. Microsofts proposals on protocol licensing so far have been obstructive and technically insufficient, and a competent technical adviser might help to cut through such obstructions, Piana said.
“The trustee could be the most important missing piece to bring Microsoft to decent compliance,” he said. “So far Microsoft was at ease saying This is what we believe is sufficient, and That cannot be disclosed because it would reveal this other feature, while nobody else could say a word, apart from our people on the Samba Team. Now things are perhaps going to change.”
FSFE vice president Jonas Öberg gave a more cautious assessment. “(We) remain convinced that Microsoft has not yet complied with the conditions and is still looking for loopholes… that will allow them to postpone any release of documents necessary for interoperability,” he said. “We hope that this delaying tactic will not work on Mr. Barrett.”
European Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes said the Commission intends to ensure Microsoft complies fully with the 2004 decision.
Kroes downplayed a meeting with Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer on Wednesday morning, saying in a statement that the meeting was “constructive” and took place “within the normal course of relationships between the Commission and Microsoft”.
She later said the Commission plans to hold meetings with Ballmer and other Microsoft executives every few months, not to discuss particular cases but to get Ballmers impressions of the business climate in Europe, North America and elsewhere.