It seems that Microsoft will never be able to satisfy European Union (EU) antitrust regulators. Yesterday, representatives of the European Commission (EC) once again complained that the software giant's response to its 2004 antitrust ruling was inadequate, and raised the possibility that Microsoft would face further fines.
"This is the first time we have been confronted by a company which has failed to comply with an antitrust decision," EC spokesperson Jonathan Todd said yesterday. "We are in unknown territory."
This issue has been dragging on for so long, it's hard to even keep the details straight. The short version goes like this: In March 2004--about three years ago--the EC found that Microsoft had violated various EU antitrust laws; the commission fined Microsoft approximately $630 million and ordered the company to make several changes. One of these changes required Microsoft to create a set of documentation that would help licensees create software that could interoperate with its Windows Server products. Microsoft delayed complying with virtually all of the EC's requirements, but the documentation issue has dragged on the longest, with the EC repeatedly finding Microsoft's submissions inadequate. It happened again this week.
On Wednesday, the EC sent Microsoft yet another statement of objections, which complains that Microsoft's latest submission is, once again, incomplete. The company has four weeks to respond to the objections, and the EC says that Microsoft faces possible fines of $4 million a day for noncompliance at that point. Microsoft was previously fined $371 million, in July 2006, for not complying with this same part of the antitrust ruling.
Furthermore, the EC complains that Microsoft is charging its competitors too much for the documentation. The EC says that the documentation doesn't warrant exorbitant pricing because it offers "no significant innovation." But give Microsoft credit for one innovation: They've really figured out a way to drag out compliance to unrealistic lengths. "This is a company which apparently does not like to have to conform with antitrust decisions," Todd said.