Responding to rumors that it had already reached a conclusion in its investigation of Microsoft's alleged antitrust violations, the European Union (EU) finally announced yesterday that a decision was still "months away." The EU has been investigating the software for over four years, and it had recently formed a so-called "devil's advocate" panel to debate the issues that might arise in court should its Microsoft decision be challenged. The EU instituted its devil's advocate panel after a major decision last year involving the planned merger of General Electric and Honeywell was overturned by European courts.
An EU spokesperson said yesterday that the Microsoft decision, which involves alleged violations in the server and media player markets, has been delayed yet again until roughly late summer. Originally, the EU had hoped to issue its decision in late 2002, and then in early 2003. But the complexity of the potential charges and the sweeping ramifications of the decision require more time, the spokesperson said. "At this stage we've not come to a final conclusion."
Despite Microsoft's settlement with the US government in a similar antitrust case there, the EU says that Microsoft's US case has no bearing on Europe. There, Microsoft is charged with engineering its server products so that they work best with the company's dominant desktop products, and with illegally bundling Windows Media Player (WMP) with Windows in order to shut out competition from RealNetworks and other companies. Meanwhile, Microsoft says that it is still working on a "positive resolution" in the EU antitrust case, though its unclear if the company can settle any suit before the EU presents formal charges.