Microsoft to cooperate with EU antitrust investigation

Microsoft Corporation this week confirmed that it is being investigated by the European Union (EU) for antitrust violations in Windows 2000, its upcoming operating system for business users. Microsoft says that while it will "cooperate fully" with the request for information, this action will have no effect on the commercial availability of Windows 2000, which is scheduled for release next week.

"The Commission has asked us to provide certain information by the beginning of March, and we look forward to doing that," says John Frank, the director of European Law and Corporate Affairs at Microsoft.

Oddly, Microsoft noted that the desktop version of Windows 2000--Windows 2000 Professional--was not being bundled with the Server editions and that any of the products could be purchased separately and used by customers in heterogeneous environments. The EU is investigating whether Microsoft's bundling of middleware products in Windows 2000 indicates a violation of European antitrust laws.

"We have shared a wide array of technical information about Windows 2000 broadly with software developers, customers and competitors long before the product was ever released, and we are confident that the Windows 2000 desktop client is fully interoperable with other server operating systems," says Microsoft international general counsel Brad Smith.

More intriguingly, Microsoft states that the EU investigation was instigated by Sun Microsystems, which complained "that the advances in the Windows 2000 desktop and server technology will make it harder for Sun to compete" (Microsoft's words). Sun, of course, sells the popular UNIX variant Solaris, which includes its own set of middleware.

"Sun wants new government action to overcome the fact that Microsoft's server technology provides a better price and performance value to customers," Smith says. "Independent tests show that Sun's combined hardware and software solutions typically cost three times as much as comparable solutions running Windows. The irony is that we in fact have sent developers at Sun's request to visit their offices in California to provide them with technical information about our products, only to have Sun cancel the meeting and leave our developers sitting in their hotel rooms. Instead of competing in the marketplace, Sun continues to call for governments around the world to regulate more heavily the software development process, a change that we do not believe would serve well the fast-paced technological innovation that is today the driving force of the world economy.

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