EU Has Microsoft Vista On Short Leash
Looking to avoid another half-billion dollar fine, Microsoft sent a feeler to European Union competition regulators inquiring about possible antitrust violations with its forthcoming Windows Vista operating system. The EU complied with a laundry list of concerns.
EU Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes wrote to Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer about the possibility that Vista will not offer consumers a “proper” choice in software packaging.
“We’re concerned about the possibility that the next Vista operating system will include various elements which are currently available separately either from Microsoft or other companies,” said EU spokesman Jonathan Todd.
Of chief concern was Vista’s embedded Internet search engine, document formats similar to Adobe’s PDF, digital rights management, and possibly, security software.
“There is also the possibility that we won’t have all the necessary technical information so that competitors will be able to make a product that is compatible with Vista,” Todd said.
Microsoft competitors are lobbying heavily to avoid a repeat of past dominance achieved by Windows software bundles. The Redmond, Washington-based software giant was fined nearly half a billion euros in 2004 in antitrust retribution, in part for bundling Windows Media Player in its operating system.
Many of those competitors jockeying for a block to monopolistic practices make up the European Committee for Interoperable Systems with members like IBM, Nokia, Oracle, RealNetworks, and Sun Microsystems.
The Wall Street Journal reported that Symantec had also complained to EU regulators about antivirus software that may be included in Vista, a claim that Symantec has denied.
“We are not part of any effort or any organisation advocating that a formal complaint be filed by the European Commission against Microsoft,” said the company in a statement.
“Symantec has received and has cooperated with requests for information by the European Commission. We have provided information to assist the government in understanding the complexity of the information security industry and our role in it.
“Symantec’s role in this situation is limited solely to its response to inquiries made by the European Commission and goes no further.”
Microsoft also denied claims that it will be bundling antivirus software with Vista, even though spyware removal program Windows Defender will be included.
“We assume that Microsoft has its own interests at heart,” said Todd. “It wants to launch another product without having to worry about the Commission instituting various actions under antitrust law.
“The commission’s concern is that computer manufacturers or consumers might be prevented from having a proper choice between different software packages.”
In a statement, Microsoft said keeping regulators informed of their product plans remains a priority.
“We have worked hard to include partners and competitors in our planning so they can build products and services that work with Windows Vista.”
The Commission sued Microsoft again in December for failing to honor the 2004 ruling against it. Microsoft disagrees that it has not been compliant, but if unable to persuade commission otherwise, the software company faces an additional 2 million euros per day until those obligations are met.
Microsoft announced recently that the consumer version of Vista would be delayed until 2007, along with its Office 2007 suite. Both offerings will be available to enterprises however in the third quarter 2006.