Speak Softly And Carry A Thick Brief

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Legal

Thomas Vinje doesn't come across as the kind of guy who would drive Microsoft Corp. crazy. Soft-spoken, shy, and intellectual by nature, the 52-year-old Vinje (pronounced Vin-ya) seems more like a professor than a high-powered lawyer who spends much of his waking hours taking on Microsoft.

Yet Vinje's bite is far worse than his bark. In his 16-year battle to pressure Microsoft to curb what the lawyer perceives as its anticompetitive tendencies in Europe, he has been point man for such competitors as Oracle Corp. and Sun Microsystems Inc. A partner in the Brussels office of multinational law firm Clifford Chance LLP, Vinje played a key role in persuading the European Commission to fine Microsoft more than $600 million in 2004 for abusing its dominance of PC operating systems. On Feb. 22 an industry group represented by Vinje filed a new complaint with the EC accusing Microsoft of plotting to dominate the Internet with new software, thus forcing out competition from the likes of Linux, the free operating system that competes with Windows. "It seems painfully obvious to me that's what it is all about," Vinje says.

The latest complaint, a year in the making, opens up a new front in the war against Microsoft. It accuses the company of planning to use soon-to-be-released products such as Vista, the next version of Windows, as well as upcoming Windows server software, and a new version of Office, to fence off ever bigger parts of the software universe.

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