A LETTER FROM LONDON
The midsummer is upon us, and Europe is closed . . . wait, what's that
it's a bushwhacking in progress! The mighty Microsoft supply wagon,
lumbering through the sleepy summer landscape has been set upon by a war
party of eurocrats . . . Oh, horrors, they've pulled the tarpaulins
off and are showing everyone who wants to see big lumps of the cargo of
secret API code!
Well, that's how it was supposed to go, but in fact what has happened is
that the European Commission, which has been investigating an antitrust
matter involving Microsoft's effect on competitors for lo, these last four
years, has now allowed the company time to "consider" its
European anti-trust laws tend to emphasise protection of competitors, while
US regulators look to protect consumers. A set of "objections"
presented to the company are close to the last step before
"recommendations" are presented, and compliance demanded.
It must be galling, and confusing, for Microsoft to try to get their heads
around this approach to the world -- after all, it isn't easy for those of
us who live our lives under the slightly crazed rule of the United States of
Europe, or by way of acronym, USE.
The commission said its evidence taken across all industrial sectors and
across the European Union, showed Microsoft leveraging its dominant position
in the PC to corner the market on low-end servers.
USE investigators carried out a market enquiry which highlighted
Microsoft's non-disclosure of interface information, necessary for competing
servers to properly communicate with Windows based equipment, snd its effect
on customer choice in selecting Microsoft's server products.
The commission said, "The company's behavior is detrimental to
competition on the merits."
USE can fine, under its regulations, any company felt to be threatening
"competition on the merits" up to 10 percent of annual revenue,
or, in Microsoft's case around $3 billion.
USE regulators also have the power to demand changes to software.
How do you live with them? Isn't business about killing off competition?
Being the only kid on the block? Just ask JR Ewing, Redmond's VP for
"Waal," Ewing said recently, "people who listen to my advice
in bidness, and wise men usually do, will tell you I've always said y'all
shouldn't trah ta do bidness over theyar ... s'all commies and dogooders
from one end to th'other, but Ah do believe in conversation."
"Yessir, Ah'm goin' to have a little set me down with that fellah
in Italy who heads up thisyur European thang, and Ah am told he is a man
with who you can do bidness!" he said, with a slow wink, pulling on his
In the meantime, Microsoft is said to be "considering" the
objections of the commission, and the level of concern in the company is
likely to be high.
The company is able to be ordered to release core details of its server API
unbundle parts of its windows interface, ensure that competitors are on a
"level playing field" and in general behave in a way absolutely in
the teeth of its highly proprietary, private and secretive campaign to
dominate the IT industry.
If the European Union (sorry, USE) never does anything else before its
inevitable descent into a spitting match, with member states heaving
brickbats at each other before the familiar all out war, it will
perhaps have bought about an epiphany at Microsoft; a complete change of
Hear that oinking, up there?