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Behind Microsoft's IE-free, Windows-for-Europe ploy

The slacker Euroreaucrat offensive, reworked

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Microsoft's offering what it's called the best solution to shipping Windows 7 in Europe while staying within European regulatory law.

The answer? For European Union (EU) member states to get 12 versions of the forthcoming Windows 7, each without the browser. IE will be available to Windows 7 customers "separately and on an easy-to-install basis."

The EU has quickly rejected Microsoft's answer as inadequate, while Opera Software, who brought the original complaint against Microsoft to regulators, has fulminated.

Microsoft's legal history suggests this a tactical move against regulators and competitors, not a genuine offer of peace. The move is designed to put pressure on one and outmaneuver the other while maintaining as much of IE's declining market as possible.

The company's legal and business teams are used to playing hardball, mixed with a strong dose of theatrics, to put regulators and competitors on the back foot.

Play the man, not the ball

In February 2006 Microsoft took the unprecedented step of publishing confidential documents in a previous case with the European Commission. Microsoft claimed it was not getting a fair hearing in that case, saying officials were not reading documents and ignoring complexities.

But the company went further. It impugned officials by suggesting they'd rushed the case simply to wrap up in time for the approaching Christmas holidays. In other words: they were being unprofessional.

At the time, Microsoft was under a cloud of a daily fine of $2.4m for not complying with the earlier ruling it was appealing. That ruling had said Microsoft must provide technical documentation to competitors at an affordable price on Windows server protocols.

With the legal process running on and avenues running out, Microsoft tried to shake up the game by shaming commissioners into a hasty and favorable decision.

but the Commission was not moved, and a month later, Microsoft reverted to working through the legal process by using negotiation: It offered free support to licensees signing up to see server code to settle.

This also failed, and 19-months later, Microsoft agreed to abide by 2004 ruling. For the record, Microsoft was fighting against a program it was already offering across The Pond. That program resulted from the settlement of US government and state's antitrust prosecution of Microsoft.

Coming up to date, Microsoft's latest move on IE in Windows is clearly premature. It comes ahead of a final ruling by the body investigating the bundling of IE and Windows and the body empowered to mandate the official resolution. That body is the EU's Directorate General for Competition of the European Commission.

Making Windows 7 available in Europe minus IE should be seen as more judicial and extra judicial maneuvering to achieve a favorable outcome. Microsoft is trying to outflank the legal system by presenting a fait accompli: a solution the EU will be forced to accept.

This is from Microsoft's legal playbook: During the long-running settlement phase of Microsoft's US antitrust case, Microsoft kicked out Windows XP Service Pack 1 to hide Windows Media Player (WMP) and IE from the end user ahead of a settlement that came two months later.

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