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Europe extends deadline for MS' antitrust probe response

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The European Commission has extended the deadline for Microsoft to file its response to charges that it's unfairly using its dominance in the PC market to achieve a similar position for Win2k in the server market. Microsoft now has until the middle of next month to come up with what we can expect to be a monstrously large pile of paperwork.

Microsoft itself asked for the deadline extension, while Sun originally asked for the investigation. According to our calculations, Microsoft should actually have had its response in at the beginning of this month, but we presume the intervening weeks have been spent discussing the company's sick note.

By the standards of the US trial, the six weeks or so slippage isn't massive, and as Europe still seems to be shadowing the US authorities to some extent, the Commission might well view it as politic to slow to a gentle stroll. The last sighting of a Commission target for a ruling was not before "early next year," but we might now be expecting action around March time, which is now the earliest ETA for the US appeal process to complete.

Europe, however, is in the happy position of being able to pull the trigger more or less when it wants. As and when it does want to move, the Commission can move fairly fast, without having to engage the protracted legal looping that constitutes the US antitrust system. Microsoft (and indeed the Commission, let's be fair) can stall at the various filing stages, but we could easily be talking months rather than years for the European action, if the Commission wills it.

Bad things could happen to Microsoft. It could get whacked for 10 per cent of its global annual revenues, and the Commission's inclination seems to be to view Windows as an essential facility, and therefore to force Microsoft to open it up. Competition Commissioner Mario Monti has also indicated that Microsoft might as well forget the copyright defence. This, he thinks, is a smokescreen Microsoft can't hide behind. ®

Related Stories:
MS wins more time in Euro antitrust case
EU goes legal against MS - company should open up Windows
MS tells EU it's always pushed standards, interoperability
Blizzard of documents dumped on Europe MS probe
EU keeps MS antitrust enquiry pot boiling

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