Ballmer Bails on MMS 2004 Keynote

Microsoft Corp. on Tuesday cancelled the keynote address by Steve Ballmer, its CEO, which was scheduled for Wednesday morning at its annual Microsoft Management Summit here.

While a Microsoft spokeswoman would only say that Ballmer's schedule had changed and that he was no longer available to give the keynote, sources close to the Redmond, Wash., software firm confirmed that he was in fact in Brussels negotiating with European officials.

That last-minute move by Ballmer comes just a week ahead of a final decision on the long-running antitrust case.

The meeting between Ballmer and European Union officials also comes a day after antitrust advisers from the 15 EU countries approved a draft ruling by the Commission that said that the software giant had broken antitrust law. A final decision is expected on March 24.

Microsoft hopes to avert a far-reaching order that would result in a fine of up to $3 billion and which would force the company to strip Media Player from its flagship operating system in Europe, giving rival products from competitors including RealNetworks Inc. a better chance of getting onto consumer desktops.

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