EU opens new antitrust probe against Microsoft

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The European Commission has initiated two new investigations against Microsoft, which is suspected of abusing its dominant position by tying a range of software, including the browser Internet Explorer, to its dominant Windows operating system and refusing to make its products interoperable with those developed by competitors.

Microsoft has already been condemned in Europe for its refusal to disclose interoperability information and for tying its media player software to the Windows operating system (EurActiv 23/10/07).

Now the Commission will investigate other suspected unfair practices. In a press release published on Monday (14 January), it listed the below products as targets for its investigation, which will not necessarily lead to the condemnation of Microsoft.

Interoperability disclosures:

  • Office Suite. Microsoft is suspected of acting in an anti-competitive manner by retaining secret information about its most frequently used software, such as Word, Excel, Power Point and Access. This makes them incompatible with other products developed by competitors, for whom such actions are damaging due to Microsoft's dominant position.
  • Server products. The software which allows the use of common programmes, such as Microsoft Outlook, is run thanks to external software contained in remote servers. The Commission will investigate the interoperability of these products, including Microsoft Exchange, one of the company's best-known products.
  • .NET. A programming language used by Microsoft to build its software. The EU investigation will try to verify if this code is made in a way that prevents competitors from developing their own languages freely. Java is one of the most famous alternatives to .NET and is developed by Sun Microsystems.

Illegal bundling:

  • Internet Explorer. The famous browser, tied to Windows, could affect competition from other browsers.
  • Desktop search software. The development by Microsoft of programmes that are able to search on the desktop and on the Internet at the same time is being questioned by EU antitrust authorities.
  • Windows Live. The tying of the Microsoft search engine to its operating systems could affect competition.

The new action follows a complaint filed in February 2006 by the European Committee for Interoperable Systems (ECIS) and last December by Opera, a software company (EurActiv 14/12/07). 

ECIS, which gathers together Microsoft's largest competitors, including Sun Microsystems, IBM, Adobe and Oracle, complained mainly about the incompatibility of products developed by Microsoft. "ECIS welcomes the Commission's announcement as a necessary step towards ensuring Microsoft's compliance with competition rules", it said yesterday.

Opera appealed for the Commission to act against the tying of Internet Explorer with Windows. ECIS immediately supported this new complaint. Opera is a member of ECIS.

In a statement, Microsoft said it "will fully cooperate with the investigation of the European Commission". 

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