The European Commission has appointed a British academic to oversee Microsoft's compliance with the anti-trust ruling against the company.
European Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes informed Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer of the decision in a meeting in Brussels on Wednesday morning.
Professor Neil Barrett is an expert in computer security and the Unix operating system. He has worked for Bull and is a technical director for IRM, advising on security policy. Barrett is also a visiting professor of computer crime at Cranfield and Glamorgan universities in the UK.
The Commission said that it had appointed Barrett as monitoring trustee to "provide technical advice to the Commission" on issues relating to Microsoft's compliance with the ruling. It said that the trustee must be independent of Microsoft, must possess the necessary qualifications to carry out the mandate and have the possibility to hire expert advisors to assist in carrying out tasks within the mandate.
While exclusive responsibility for ensuring that Microsoft complies with the ruling rests with the Commission, the trustee will provide impartial advice. The Commission gives the example of the request to Microsoft to publish its communications protocols to ensure interoperability with its workgroup servers. It says the trustee might be used to assess whether Microsoft's protocol disclosures are "complete and accurate" and whether the terms under which Microsoft makes the protocol specifications available are "reasonable and nondiscriminatory".
On the question of unbundling Windows Media Player from Windows, the Commission says the trustee might be asked to examine whether Microsoft has properly implemented the requirement to offer PC manufacturers a version of Windows without the media player.
Dirk Delmartino, a Microsoft spokesman said: "We welcome the appointment of Neil Barrett as monitoring trustee and we look forward to working constructively with him to ensure [the] company's full compliance with the decision."
Neither the Commission nor Microsoft commented on the discussions between Kroes and Ballmer. Ahead of the meeting a Commission spokesman said that the aim was to discuss "general competition issues".
Following her meeting with Ballmer, Kroes said, "The discussion this morning was constructive. We discussed a broad range of competition issues. We also promised we would see each other each other on a regular basis not related to specific cases. I will see Mr Ballmer - but he's not the only [Microsoft executive] I'm meeting - to get his vision of the business climate in Europe, North America and Asia."
The Commission will push Microsoft to comply with its ruling, she said: "I'm expecting we can conclude the assessment shortly and I remain determined that Microsoft complies fully with the decision."
She expressed faith in Barrett, emphasising his role is to advise, not to mediate. "I'm highly confident that Professor Neil Barrett will do an extremely good job. ... The CEO of Microsoft is aware and in favour [of this appointment]. Professor Barrett will team up with other technical experts to give advice to the Commission," she said.