The European Commission appointed a British computer scientist Wednesday to oversee whether Microsoft Corp. is complying with a 2004 antitrust ruling that it had abused its near-monopoly in desktop computer systems to shut out rival software makers.
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The EU executive named Neil Barrett as a trustee to monitor the U.S. software company’s compliance came on the same day EU Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes met with Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer to discuss general antitrust issues.
Kroes refused to divulge specific details from her meeting with Ballmer other than saying the talks were “constructive” and added that she told the Microsoft CEO about Barrett’s appointment.
Kroes said she and Ballmer “discussed a broad range of competition issues ... his vision on the business climate in Europe, also in the (United) States and the Far East.”
She said they also committed to meeting in future “on a regular basis.”
The EU antitrust chief reiterated her warning to Microsoft after the talks that she would hold Microsoft to implementing the EU’s 2004 decision.
“I am expecting that we can conclude an assessment very shortly,” she said. “I remain absolutely determined that Microsoft complies fully with the decision. That’s absolutely the line I take.”
Microsoft officials welcomed Barrett’s appointment.
“We look forward to working constructively with him to ensure the company’s full compliance with the Commission’s decision,” said Horacio Gutierrez, associate general counsel for Microsoft, which is based in Redmond, Wash.
Earlier this month, Kroes said her department had received new informal complaints about Microsoft, perhaps leading to the opening of a new case.
“The monitoring trustee’s role is to provide impartial expert advice to the Commission on compliance issues,” said the Commission in a statement.
EU regulators ruled last year that Microsoft had abused its near-monopoly in desktop computer systems to illegally dominate the media software market and threaten the position of competitors selling office networking software.
The Commission fined Microsoft 497 million euros ($599 million) and ordered it to share code with rivals and offer an unbundled version of Windows without the Media Player software.
Microsoft is appealing the ruling, but in the meantime has produced a Windows version without its Media Player.
A question remains over Microsoft’s promise to give rival software-makers some cost-free, additional access to its software protocols — the complex and closely guarded procedures that allow software programs to interact with operating platforms such as Windows.
Microsoft and EU regulators have not been able to agree on which material should be free and which codes should be paid for.
As part of the EU’s decision, a trustee to check compliance was to be named.
The Commission said the EU decision against Microsoft “requires that the monitoring trustee must be independent of Microsoft, must possess the necessary qualifications to carry out his mandate,” and have the possibility to hire experts to help him.
Barrett, currently a visiting professor at Cranfield University in Britain, is an expert in Internet crime and fraud and has previously advised the British government on computer cases involving everything from pedophiles to hackers.
The Commission chose Barrett out of a shortlist of candidates put forward by Microsoft. Barrett starts his job immediately, the commission said.