EU: Microsoft Stifles Server Competition

Microsoft's antitrust problems aren't limited to the United States. After launching a second investigation against the software giant last February, the European Union (EU) recently announced that it was consolidating its probes to expedite the legal process. The EU charges against Microsoft differ somewhat from the American allegations, focusing on the server rather than on the desktop market.

According to the EU, Microsoft may have abused its monopoly power in desktop systems in a bid to illegally take the top position in the server market, where the company claims about a 38 percent share. Linux and Novell NetWare trail in the second and third spots, respectively. Industry analysts at International Data Corporation (IDC) say that Microsoft has come a long way in a relatively short time. The company sold more than 2 million copies of Windows NT Server 4.0 in 1999, compared to the more than 16,000 copies of NT that it sold in the year following the NT debut in 1992.

Sun Microsystems prompted the European case, complaining that the EU should require Microsoft to open up its server programming APIs so that Sun could more easily make complementary products. Sun says that Microsoft's desktop and server offerings are so integrated that making headway in the market is impossible for any other systems maker. Microsoft Office applications now work seamlessly with the company's server products, such as Microsoft IIS, but not with rival offerings. And when customers want to upgrade their Microsoft Access databases to a more scalable solution, Microsoft provides a simple upgrade for SQL Server. What it all points to, Sun says, is a concerted effort to shut out competition at every step of the way.

The European investigation gained momentum with the release of Windows 2000 Server, which includes several features that work well—or work only—with Windows clients. Chief among these features are the IntelliMirror user- and data-management features, Active Directory (AD), and Group Policies. Microsoft responded to the charges in November, although the company declined to publicize its specific response.

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