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2007/09/25 - Daniel Rodríguez Herrera - Libertad Digital

The EU Messing with Microsoft

The Court of First Instance of the European Union, after deliberating forseventeen months and, according to some, having the president cast the deciding vote, ruled in favor of the Commission in almost everything it decided regarding Microsoft’s "abuse of dominant position."

Specifically, the Court approved imposing a €500 million fine. The Court also approved forcing Microsoft to offer Windows without Media Player and a commitment to reveal to competitors, in exchange for payment, all the details of its network protocols.

It does not appear, however, that Microsoft has much competition, despite the efforts of various anti-monopoly authorities to make it as easy as possible for would-be competitors. Apple has a wonderful and secure operating system, but it is fairly well-established in a number of niche markets (design, publishing, multi-media) and doesn't appear to have much interest in expanding beyond them. And as long as it doesn't have somewhere around 20 percent of the market, it can't touch Windows in the area of specialized applications where Bill Gates' system excels, mainly because everyone on earth runs it, including programmers.

For its part, Linux has had over a decade to equal Windows in attracting users and, no matter how much Mark Shuttleworth tries and improves Ubuntu, it has yet to catch on. By lowering the price of its licenses, the giant of Redmond was able to keep businesses and governments from experimenting with free software. Like those who declare climate change the most important issue facing the planet and then refuse to reveal the electricity bill for Moncloa (the Spanish President's residency), it is always easier to talk the talk than make an effort to be consistent and walk the walk.

Above all, whether or not Mac OS X or Linux make the leap doesn't appear to depend too much on what regulatory measures Brussels imposes on Microsoft during a process that will last more than ten years, an eternity in the computer industry. What does a €500 million fine or forcing Microsoft to sell a version of Windows without Media Player (which not a soul has purchased) matter? Strangely, Redmond offered to send manufacturers (HP, Dell, Acer, etc.) a version of Windows that included Quicktime and Real Player in addition to Microsoft's player so they could preinstall them on computers, something that without question would have had a greater impact if what the Commission wanted was to reduce Media Player's market share and not simply thumb its nose at Bill Gates' company for being huge, American and unpleasant.

The European Commissioner for Competition, Neelie Kroes, has said she is worried because, despite her considerable efforts, Microsoft keeps growing. She shouldn't worry so much; Vista has shown Microsoft is perfectly capable of squandering its own monopoly, as ends up happening to everyone after a while. That is the thing with competition, it makes you work; competition from Firefox forced Microsoft to release Explorer 7 and competition forced it to start selling Windows Mobile and the Xbox.

For those who enjoy other people's misfortune, it might be good to remember that after Microsoft, Kroes will be taking aim at Apple and its iTunes store's dominant position (it isn't my term) in paid music downloads and Google for its dominant position in Internet search. It doesn't matter competition is a click away. When it comes to imposing absurd regulations, no one can compete with a European social-bureaucrat.

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