Microsoft to Defend Windows/IE Bundling in June Hearing

Microsoft will defend its practice of bundling its Internet Explorer (IE) web browser with Windows in a closed-door hearing against regulators from the European Commission (EC) between June 3 and 5. The hearing will determine whether the bundling violates European Union (EU) antitrust laws. If so, Microsoft faces fines and, potentially, remedial action.

"This is an opportunity for Microsoft to orally state the arguments they outlined in their response to the statement of objections," an EC spokesperson said. Microsoft last week submitted its formal, 200-page response to the EU claims.

The EU claim arose out of a late-2007 complaint by Opera, the only browser maker that's been unable to increase its usage share against IE in recent years. (Browser makers Mozilla, Apple, and Google haven't had any such concerns.) Opera argued that Microsoft's bundling of Windows and IE hurt consumer choice and that IE's lack of web-standards support harms interoperability. Microsoft has since announced that Windows 7 users can choose to remove IE from that version of the OS and has shipped IE 8, which offers dramatically better support for web standards.

Case closed, right? No, not when you're dealing with the anti-Microsoft crowd at the EC.

Earlier this year, the EC released its preliminary findings, indicating that it believed that Microsoft was abusing its dominant OS monopoly by bundling IE with Windows. It has, however, not indicated what sort of action it would take against Microsoft if those findings were held up by European courts.

Since Opera made its claim, IE usage share has fallen from over 80 percent to about 68 percent. And as previously noted, all other browsers, save that made by Opera, have increased their usage share during this time.

Now, Opera is asking the EU to require Microsoft to offer competing browsers via the Automatic Updates mechanism in Windows. Why Opera's transparent attempts at using the court to make up for its lack of competitiveness aren't patently obvious to the EU is unclear. From what I can tell, the real problem here is Opera—not IE.

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