The pernicious unelected bureaucrats of the European Union really ought to look into using Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes as their pin-up girl. When she isn’t coming on as a scolding schoolmarm, she runs an interminable process that makes a sieve look tight with her as the head blabbermouth:
The European Union’s Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes said on Thursday she could see no way around fining U.S. software giant Microsoft for breaching the bloc’s antitrust rules.
Asked by reporters whether Microsoft would be fined for breaching competition rules, Kroes said she could not imagine another way.
So much for the integrity of the proceedings. I also imagine that the scent of big bucks in the offing must be like blood in the water to the perennially penurious functionaries in Brussels. More junkets ahead!
But as long as I am passing out brickbats, Microsoft surely deserves a few for their clumsy approach to dealing with the Eurocrats. The European Commission’s March 2004 judgement against Microsoft was amazingly sparse in the set of nits they decided to pick:
As regards tying, Microsoft is required, within 90 days, to offer to PC manufacturers a version of its Windows client PC operating system without WMP. The un-tying remedy does not mean that consumers will obtain PCs and operating systems without media players. Most consumers purchase a PC from a PC manufacturer which has already put together on their behalf a bundle of an operating system and a media player. As a result of the Commission’s remedy, the configuration of such bundles will reflect what consumers want, and not what Microsoft imposes.
As regards interoperability, Microsoft is required, within 120 days, to disclose complete and accurate interface documentation which would allow non-Microsoft work group servers to achieve full interoperability with Windows PCs and servers. This will enable rival vendors to develop products that can compete on a level playing field in the work group server operating system market. The disclosed information will have to be updated each time Microsoft brings to the market new versions of its relevant products.
Microsoft deftly fixed the first one by shipping Windows XP N without Windows Media Player and pricing it the same as regular Windows XP. Then they sat back and had a good laugh while nobody cared.
However, on the second remedy, Microsoft managed to fumble the ball. Microsoft claims they didn’t really know what the Commission wanted until a hearing in April of this year, but there’s a general belief that Microsoft was stiff arming the bureaucrats and got caught. In the press I have seen theories that this was because it meant revealing the “crown jewels” and that Microsoft might even be better off paying the $2.5 million a day fine rather than complying. Sorry, but I’m not buying it.
Work group serving means file and printer sharing with the associated identity and authorization management and that was reverse engineered long ago by the Samba team who only have some arcana in Active Directory left to duplicate because they won’t license the protocols made available under the US antitrust settlement or recently offered by Microsoft to placate the EU too. Anyone who cares to can implement a Samba “work group server” for Windows clients which, if not completely seamless, is at least functional, so it seems to me that the crown jewels were mostly on display already. Admittedly, Microsoft is making some enhancements to the base SMB protocols in Longhorn Server that they would have had to reveal, but I hardly think that they are critical competitive factors.
Of course, there’s another theory that Microsoft set a crew of monkeys to typing to generate the original 12,000 page document rejected by the Commission (subscription required, excerpts here), which gains credibility from the similar problems that Microsoft had in the USA and the current rush effort to create a new document for the EU. If that’s the case, then the current contretemps is even less understandable.
Microsoft’s objective should be to make this problem go away. If they can sweet talk the authoritarian regime in China into cracking down on software piracy, they ought to be able to handle the bureaucratic regime in Europe. Think of it as a cost of doing business.
A senior Microsoft official in the United Kingdom confirmed this week that no computer manufacturers took up the option to install Windows XP N, the operating system Microsoft created in response to the European Commission decision against it.
Windows XP N is a version of Windows that is unbundled from Windows Media Player. The EC decision prohibited Microsoft from charging more for the stripped-down operating system — Microsoft listed the product for the same price as the full version of Windows XP.
I believe we can file this one under “no brainer.”