EU expands Microsoft investigation

The European Commission confirmed Thursday that it is merging its two antitrust investigations into Microsoft's operating systems, but that it will not seek to block the launch of the company's new operating system, Windows XP.

"This Statement of Objections supplements one sent to the company a year ago and adds a new dimension to the Commission's concerns that Microsoft's actions may harm innovation and restrict choice for consumers," the Commission said in a statement.

The European Commission, the executive body of the European Union, said Microsoft may have violated European antitrust rules by "using illegal practices to extend its dominant position in the market for personal computer operating systems into the market for low-end server operating systems."

Low-end server systems are cheaper servers usually used as file and print servers as well as Web servers, the Commission said.

Microsoft has about two months to reply in writing to the latest statement of objections "which is now merged with the existing procedure triggered by a Sun Microsystems complaint," the Commission said.

The software giant put on a brave face amid the intensifying antitrust pressure coming from the European Union. "Today's decision is a constructive step forward. By merging the two cases, the Commission is narrowing the range of issues involved," said John Frank, senior corporate attorney for Microsoft Europe.

"The first case was quite free-ranging about the topics they were asking about," he said. "Now they have added two issues and restated the Sun Microsystems complaint."

The first case was sparked by a complaint by Sun Microsystems Inc. in 1998, which alleged that Microsoft was using its Windows operating system software to muscle rivals out of the market for server software. It focused on Microsoft's alleged discriminatory licensing and refusal to supply software information to allow for the interoperability of rival server products with older versions of Microsoft's Windows operating systems.

In February 2000 the Commission launched a separate investigation on its own initiative to see if Microsoft was doing the same thing with the latest version of its OS software Windows 2000.

As with the first case the Commission believes that Microsoft may have withheld from vendors of alternative server software key interoperability information they need in order to allow their products to communicate with Microsoft's dominant PC and server software products.

Microsoft may have done this by refusing to reveal the relevant technical information, and by engaging in a policy of discriminatory and selective disclosure on the basis of a "friend-enemy" scheme, the Commission said.

"The commission is concerned about how we structure our client access licenses. They are effectively complaining about the terms of one of our business models," Frank said.

The similarity of the two cases led the Commission as far back as November 2000 to consider merging the two cases. But the Commission's findings announced Thursday go much further than common concerns about Windows 2000 and its previous versions. The main new element is the tying accusation concerning Microsoft's streaming software Media Player.

"Microsoft may deprive PC manufacturers and final users of a free choice over which (streaming software) products they want to have on their PCs, especially as there are no ready technical means to remove or uninstall the Media Player product," the Commission said.

"Competing products may therefore be at a disadvantage which is not related to their price or quality and the result is a weakening of effective competition in the market, a reduction of consumer choice, and less innovation," the Commission said.

Media Player functionality has been included in Windows since 1990, Microsoft pointed out in a statement, claiming that Microsoft's player and media formats are more open than those of its competitors due to its broad licensing of the formats.

"We had talks with the Commission regarding Media Player. We believe we will be able to put together a persuasive argument," Frank said.

Microsoft will request an oral hearing with the Commission, but scheduling the hearing is at the Commission's discretion.

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Paul Meller

Computerworld
Show Comments

Cool Tech

Toys for Boys

Family Friendly

Stocking Stuffer

SmartLens - Clip on Phone Camera Lens Set of 3

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Aysha Strobbe

Microsoft Office 365/HP Spectre x360

Microsoft Office continues to make a student’s life that little bit easier by offering reliable, easy to use, time-saving functionality, while continuing to develop new features that further enhance what is already a formidable collection of applications

Michael Hargreaves

Microsoft Office 365/Dell XPS 15 2-in-1

I’d recommend a Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 and the new Windows 10 to anyone who needs to get serious work done (before you kick back on your couch with your favourite Netflix show.)

Maryellen Rose George

Brother PT-P750W

It’s useful for office tasks as well as pragmatic labelling of equipment and storage – just don’t get too excited and label everything in sight!

Cathy Giles

Brother MFC-L8900CDW

The Brother MFC-L8900CDW is an absolute stand out. I struggle to fault it.

Luke Hill

MSI GT75 TITAN

I need power and lots of it. As a Front End Web developer anything less just won’t cut it which is why the MSI GT75 is an outstanding laptop for me. It’s a sleek and futuristic looking, high quality, beast that has a touch of sci-fi flare about it.

Emily Tyson

MSI GE63 Raider

If you’re looking to invest in your next work horse laptop for work or home use, you can’t go wrong with the MSI GE63.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?