EU Hones Antitrust Strategy

   According to various sources familiar with the case, European Union (EU) antitrust regulators will demand that Microsoft let PC makers choose which media players to include with their Windows-based PCs, rather than force the software giant to ship a stripped-down Windows version in the European market. The EU is said to be walking away from the stripped-down Windows version concept out of fear that few people would want such a product and because Microsoft might argue that developing a custom product for just one region of the world would be unnecessarily difficult.
   Under the new plan, PC makers would be able to remove Windows Media Player (WMP) from Windows only when customers didn't want it or when PC makers made deals with WMP competitors. HP recently signed an agreement to ship its consumer PCs with Apple Computer's iTunes, for example, and various PC makers offer RealNetworks' RealPlayer as an option on their machines.
   In addition to the media-player changes to Windows, the EU will also likely impose a fine on Microsoft. Sources say that the EU is considering a fine of about $250 million. However, a settlement by mid-March could cut that figure in half.
   Although a settlement seems like a distant possibility, given the rapidly approaching mid-March deadline, both Microsoft and the EU say that they're investigating possibilities. EU sources say that the required Microsoft changes likely will be applied globally to ensure that black-market Windows versions don't become a problem in Europe and that EU restrictions applied only to the European market would probably be ineffective in curbing Microsoft's predatory behavior, anyway.
   If a settlement isn't reached, Microsoft will likely immediately appeal any decision. And as happened with the US antitrust case against the company, that action could delay the outcome for years.

According to various sources familiar with the case, antitrust regulators from the European Union (EU) will reportedly demand that Microsoft let PC makers choose with media players to include with their Windows-based PCs, rather than force the software giant to strip a stripped-down version of Windows in the European market. The EU is said to be walking away from the stripped-down Windows version out of fears that few people would want such a product, and because Microsoft might argue that it would be unnecessarily difficult for it to develop a custom product for a single region of the world.

 

Under the new plan, Microsoft would be forced to allow PC makers to remove Windows Media Player from Windows only when customers decided they didn't want it, or when PC makers had struck a deal with a Windows Media Player competitor. HP recently signed a deal to ship its consumer PCs with Apple iTunes, for example, and various PC makers offer RealNetworks' RealPlayer as an option on their machines.

 

In addition to the changes to Windows, the EU will also likely impose a fine on Microsoft. Sources say the current fine amount being bandied about is about $250 million. However, if Microsoft is able to settle the case by mid-March, that figure could drop by half.

 

And though a settlement seems like a distant possibility, given the rapidly approaching mid-March deadline, both Microsoft and the EU say they are investigating possibilities. EU sources say that it will likely require that any changes Microsoft makes under a settlement be applicable globally, to ensure that black market Windows versions don't become a problem in Europe. Also, if the EU's restrictions are only applied to the European market, they will likely be ineffective in curbing the software giant's predatory behavior.

 

If a settlement isn't reached, Microsoft will likely appeal any decision immediately. And as with the similar US antitrust case against Microsoft, that action could delay the outcome for years.

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