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EU MS probe: hearings next month, verdict early 2002

Monti does his enigmatic bit

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European Commission hearings into Microsoft's conduct in Europe are to go ahead in late December, it was confirmed yesterday. Delphic as (almost) always, competition commissioner Mario Monti skated round the little matter of the DoJ's baseball bat turning into a daffodil, and said it was "too early to state to what extent the proposed US settlement satisfied all of the concerns in our statement of objections [i.e., the rap sheet]."

Monti fanciers might read into that a near confirmation that the settlement is not going to satisfy all of Mario's concerns, and that more give will be required. The statement of objections leaked to the WSJ last month, so we know that the Commission is accusing Microsoft of trying to use its Windows monopoly in order to dominate the server market, and of illegal bundling. The US settlement terms tackle (a most inappropriate word, under the circumstances) these issues via licensing of MS communications protocols and the introduction of a facility for users and OEMs to remove bundled/integrated software.

That ability won't be likely to be available until well into the second half of 2002, so it won't have any great impact on the XP rollout, and it won't immediately satisfy the Commission concerns, which are at least notionally over Windows 2000. The status or non-status of a Commission investigation into XP remains murky. Microsoft actually asked it for questions about the OS back in May, these were submitted, answers were given. The Commission has simply commented that it is not at present investigating XP - but there seems an inevitable logic to it wanting to do something about XP while it's dealing with the Microsoft matter.

Microsoft is due to hand in its homework, its response to the statement of objections, this week, and the hearings - just before Christmas - are the next stage. Then it gets interesting for Microsoft, if not quite as a spectator sport.

The Commission will come to a decision after the new year, and that, essentially will be that. No long procedural wrangles, no labyrinthine appeals processes, whatever the Commission decides will be the verdict and sentence, and Monti can take Microsoft out and shoot it if he likes. It's more probable however that more concessions will be required and that Microsoft will feel able to accept them.

The trick then will be for us to figure out how effectively the European deal addresses the European concerns, and how many loopholes Microsoft has managed to retain. It is, in the words of the man himself, "too early to state." ®

Related stories:
All you ever wanted to know about the DoJ's Windows cave in
Will MS cut a deal with Europe over WinXP?
Leaked EU papers signal guilty verdict, vast fine for MS

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