The European Commission (EC), the antitrust arm of the European Union (EU), announced this week that it's expanding its probe of Microsoft just weeks before the company was to have argued its case in Brussels, Belgium. Today, the EC revealed that it's investigating Microsoft's licensing terms with PC makers. Regulators at the commission have begun asking major PC makers such as Hitachi, IBM, and Toshiba for more information about conditions for Windows preinstallations.
"Licenses for the installation of operating systems on the hard drive of a personal computer: That is the scope," said an EC spokesperson. This widening of the investigation makes the European antitrust case more similar to the US case; US regulators also questioned Microsoft's power over PC makers, which rely on the software giant's dominant Windows system and thus are often victims to Microsoft's whims. In Europe, as in the United States, the concern is that Microsoft might provide its closest allies with more favorable licensing terms, harming other companies.
The licensing probe is the third major avenue of investigation for the EC, which is wrapping up years-long investigations into Microsoft's Windows Media Player (WMP) software bundling and Windows Server interoperability. So far, the EC has contacted at least 20 PC makers, according to "The Financial Times."