Europe will conclude Microsoft antitrust inquiry next year

The European Commission expects to conclude its antitrust investigation into Microsoft Corp. next year, a spokeswoman said Wednesday, but she declined to comment on whether the company’s rejection of an oral hearing might speed the process up.

“We are examining the written reply Microsoft sent us on Nov. 16. The investigation continues whether or not there is a hearing. The Commission will conclude (the antitrust investigation) next year,” said Amelia Torres, spokeswoman on competition matters for the Commission.

“Whether it is two months earlier I don’t know,” Torres said, referring to the possible effect on the timetable of Microsoft’s decision Tuesday not to attend a hearing with the Commission.

Microsoft had earlier asked the Commission to cancel a hearing previously scheduled for Dec. 20 and 21.

Third parties, including complainants such as Sun Microsystems Inc., have the right to request a hearing too, Torres said – but she would not say whether Microsoft could be forced to attend such a hearing.

“That is for the hearings officer to decide,” Torres said.

The European Commission, in Brussels, can be contacted at

. Microsoft, in Redmond, Wash., can be reached at