Microsoft has embarked on a face-saving exercise in Washington, hoping to deflect attention away from criticism of the company from the European Union.

Talking at the National Press Club in Washington DC - and so guaranteeing extensive press coverage in the US - Microsoft general counsel Brad Smith told reporters that Microsoft had agreed to a set of voluntary principles that stemmed from the 2002 anti-trust settlement with the US government and would see the software giant make its products more accessible to the rest of the market.

The speech was accompanied with a massive PR push from Microsoft, that includes a transcript, and video of Smith's speech, as well as publishing the "Twelve Tenets to Promote Competition" and a press release.

Microsoft will expand the release of its software APIs to cover programs such as Microsoft Office. It will also commit to allow OEMs to remove any Microsoft products when shipping a PC with the Windows operating system, instead of just removing middleware such as Internet Explorer or Windows Media Player, Smith said.

Smith's announcement comes a week after the European Commission fined Microsoft €280.5 million for failing to comply with the terms of its March 2004 anti-trust settlement.

In May, the US Department of Justice asked a judge to extend parts of the US anti-trust settlement dealing with technical documentation requirements until late 2009 or beyond.

Even though some anti-trust issues remain, that won't stop Microsoft from moving forward with commitments to uphold principles of competition, Smith claimed.

Microsoft's 12 new "Windows principles" will ensure choice for computer manufacturers and customers and will guarantee that software developers will be able to create applications that run on top of Windows, Smith said. "Ultimately, users are in control of their PCs," Smith said.

"Users get to decide what runs on their PCs when they take them home."

Smith said that Microsoft had decided to release the principles now to generate discussion among regulators and competitors before the scheduled release of the Windows Vista operating system in early 2007. But others will see Microsoft's and Smith's cunning pragmatism at work yet again.