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Microsoft to address EU charges

The company plans to file a response to European Union allegations that it abused its monopoly in the OS market--a sign that the 4-year-old investigation is drawing to a close.

Microsoft plans in the coming weeks to file a written response to European Union charges that it abused its monopoly in the operating system market, according to sources familiar with the matter.

A hearing has been tentatively set for November, at which time the Redmond, Wash., software giant is expected to give oral testimony before the commission, the sources said. The move is a sign that the 4-year-old investigation by European regulators is getting closer to a final resolution.

Last month, the European Commission said it was inclined to force Microsoft to give greater technical information to server rivals and to loosen the ties between its media player and the Windows operating system. However, the commission--the executive branch of the European Union--said it was giving Microsoft another chance to comment before imposing any new restrictions.

In what is known as a statement of objections, the commission maintained that Microsoft's abuse of its monopoly power is "ongoing." The commission said that the Windows Media player should either be separate from Windows or Microsoft should be forced to bundle competitors' media players as well. The European agency also said it wants Microsoft to give its competitors in the low-end server market more technical information to allow rivals to achieve full interoperability with Windows PCs and servers.

"The commission sent us their revised statement of objections in August, and we are preparing our response," Microsoft spokesman Mark Murray said Monday. "Until we respond, we won't have much to say about the case."

Microsoft has said that it wants to resolve the case in a "constructive manner that allows (it) to continue to innovate." Company executives have said in recent months that the software maker is looking to settle litigation where possible, although it is prepared to mount a legal fight if necessary.

In addition to its settlement with the Department of Justice and a number of state attorneys general, Microsoft has reached deals to settle a number of private antitrust cases and lawsuits from competitors such as AOL Time Warner and defunct operating system developer Be.

In addition to the EU inquiry, Microsoft still faces legal action from Sun Microsystems and other private antitrust suits. The state of Massachusetts is appealing the settlement in the Justice Department case and is seeking stiffer penalties against the software maker.