Antitrust Expert Criticizes EU's Microsoft Charges

Antitrust expert William Page, who coauthored a paper called "The Microsoft Case: Antitrust, High Technology, and Consumer Welfare," has described the European Union's (EU's) complaint against Microsoft's bundling of Windows and Internet Explorer (IE) as "silly" and "dumb." He points to the US antitrust case against the software giant, which sought to establish a bundling claim against the two products. An initial decision against Microsoft, however, was overturned on appeal, and the software giant was not required to stop including IE with Windows.

"This is old hat," Page says. "We've been over this a million times."

The regulation happy EU, however, has launched several more antitrust investigations into Microsoft in the wake of its initial court victory against the software giant. The IE charge, which does feel like deja vu to anyone familiar with Microsoft's decade-old US antitrust case, involves the "artificial distribution advantage" that IE gains by being bundled with Windows.

Not so, says Page. In fact, he says most consumers obtain Windows with a new PC and that PC makers are now able to replace Windows with a browser of their choice. None have done so. "\[PC makers\] are already free to delete most of the visible evidence of IE and to install another browser if they want," he says. "There's no \[PC maker\] I know of, though, that has actually installed a second browser."

The ability for a PC maker to replace IE with another browser in Windows came about, incidentally, in the wake of Microsoft's US antitrust case, further highlighting the fact that the EU case with both pointless and superfluous. "The \[US\] remedy was for Microsoft to remove icons and menu items related to IE, and so forth, and give \[PC makers\] the flexibility to install another browser," Page added. "With the spread of broadband, downloading another browser isn't any big deal anymore," as it was several years ago when the US announced its charges against Microsoft.

"I think that consumers benefit when a browser is included with the operating system," Page said. "It would be dumb to require Microsoft to delete IE and then require users to install a browser separately after they first use Windows. That's just silly." It should be noted that all of Microsoft's OS competitors, including Mac OS X and Linux, bundle browsers as well.

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