MS responds to Europe's move to open up Windows

But we're still in the slow phase of this antitrust 'trial'

Microsoft filed its response to the European Commission's "statement of objections" on Friday, but both sides are keeping quiet about the case, and it could be months before the next move is made. The Commission can move fast if it wants to, and Microsoft can request an aural hearing to support its defence, although it has yet to do so. But if neither of these things happen within the next couple of weeks, the European antitrust action will stay in the shadows into next year.

The Commission's action stems from a complaint by Sun, and has potentially serious implications for Microsoft for a number of reasons. It covers claimed attempts to leverage a monopoly of desktop operating systems into a server monopoly, and discriminatory practices claimed to lock rivals - like Sun - out. The Commission has the power to impose huge fines, and Competition Commissioner Mario Monti has shown signs of wanting his very own nuclear button, the power to break companies up.

That one would be a major diplomatic incident if he intended to impose it on Microsoft, but he's already indicated a more immediate threat - forcing Microsoft to disclose its APIs, perhaps even forcing Microsoft to licence Windows source. That's potentially far more serious than any fine, and is an age-old concern of Sun's, appropriately enough. The Register by coincidence found its Sun WABI coffee holder just this past weekend...

The Commission also doesn't have to go through anything like the tortuous US legal hoops in order to pull the trigger. So far progress on the complaint has been fairly slow, and depending on political conditions and progress of the action in the US, that could carry on being the case. But if Monti wakes up one morning and sees the US action deep in mire and unlikely to make progress this side of Windows 3000, it could all happen very fast indeed.

Which in itself might be a major diplomatic incident, whichever US administration finally gets in... ®

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