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Open up servers, unbundle WMP, Europe tells MS

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Microsoft must open up on its server interfaces and either unbundle Media Player from Windows or ship competing players with the product, the European Commission said today in a 'last warning' to the company. According to the Commission, "Microsoft's [antitrust] abuses are still ongoing," and the company is being given one final chance to answer the objections before Europe pushes the button.

Competition Commissioner Mario Monti has been investigating Microsoft since before computers were invented - or at any rate, that's what it feels like. But the two outline remedies put forward in the Commission's third and last "statement of objections" indicate that the two key beefs, leveraging client dominance in order to gain share in the server market, and tying of Media Player, have remained constant and unshaken throughout.

The latest puts forward evidence garnered in a "last" market enquiry, and says this "confirms that Microsoft is leveraging its overwhelmingly dominant position from the PC into low-end servers." The data here was gathered from "a significant number of small, medium and large enterprises selected from all industrial sectors and from across the entire EEA, and [provides] information on whether interoperability considerations were a factor in their purchasing choices, and whether non-disclosures of such information by Microsoft influenced their purchase decisions." From the response the Commission concludes that an "overwhelming majority of customers" felt their purchasing choices were skewed in favour of Microsoft by the company's non-disclosure of interface information.

Data for the tying allegation was garnered from "a representative sample of randomly selected content owners, content providers, and software developers across the EEA and the United States." This data, says the Commission, indicated that "the ubiquity of Windows Media Player on PCs artificially skews their development incentives in favour of Microsoft."

The remedies the Commission puts forward should probably be seen as indicative right now, and we'll have to see more details on how they'd be implemented before we can gauge their likely impact. How Microsoft responds will also have an effect. The company could argue, ask for more time, produce more piles of paper, it could wriggle about implementation, with a view to converting the remedies into something harmlessly DoJ-ish, or it could do both. It could even (the nuclear option?) talk up the brutality of the European proposals, compare and contrast with the US, and start hollering about free trade. And complaining about having to do a 'special' version of Windows for Europe looks a potentially promising line to take.

Whatever, after all these years it really is starting to look like the fat lady's going to sing. She's unlikely to sing this month (the Commission firing the last warning shot in August is quite weird enough), but before the end of the year is surely achievable. ®

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