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EC rejects Microsoft's browser promises

Smoke + mirrors

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The European Commission seems unimpressed with Microsoft's chest-beating - the company said yesterday it would release versions of Windows 7 without Internet Explorer in order to comply with EC competition law.

The Commission has rejected Microsoft's pre-emptive move, announced yesterday, to give computer manufacturers the option to buy Windows without a browser. The Commission said it was still deciding whether Microsoft's behaviour since 1996 had been anti-competitive, and if so what remedy would be required to improve consumer choice.

But it said: "If the Commission were to find that Microsoft had committed an abuse, the Commission has suggested that consumers should be offered a choice of browser, not that Windows should be supplied without a browser at all."

The Commission statement dryly notes: "Rather than more choice, Microsoft seems to have chosen to provide less."

The Commission made clear in its Statement of Objections in January that its prelimary finding was that Microsoft's tying of Internet Explorer to its operating system broke EC law on abuse of a dominant position - you're allowed to monopolise an industry in the EC, but being in that position brings special responsibilities.

The Statement of Objections outlined concerns that Internet Explorer enjoyed "an artificial distribution advantage" which protected IE from head to head competion with other browsers, which therefore reduced product innovation to the detriment of consumers. The investigation followed complaints from rival browser maker Opera.

The EC also said, perhaps rather ominously, that it would be guided "by the principles laid down by the Court of First Instance in its judgment of September 2007 in the Microsoft case regarding the tying of Windows Media Player and the Commission's experience with the remedy in that case."

Of course that case, based on tying of Windows Media Player, and leveraging its desktop monopoly into the market for workgroup servers, ended up costing Microsoft €497m for the original offence and another €899m for not complying with the judgement. ®

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