This week, European Commissioner for Competition Neelie Kroes revealed that officials from the US Department of Justice (DOJ) contacted her earlier this year in an effort to convince her to go easy on Microsoft. As most readers are probably aware, the software giant has been embroiled in a legal drama in Europe since 2004, when it was charged with violating European Union (EU) antitrust laws.
Kroes says that the DOJ asked her to be "nicer" to Microsoft in the days leading up to her fining the company $357 million in July. Kroes says the request was inappropriate. "This is of course an intervention which cannot stand," she said. "Like all companies great and small, Microsoft is not above the law. In my work, I cannot have a preference. I have, however, a personal opinion, but that is for Saturday night."
Actually, Kroes's opinion of Microsoft has become increasingly clear over the years, and she's treading dangerously close to the uncomfortable position US District Court Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson found himself in after ordering that Microsoft be broken up. After reportedly referring to Microsoft's executives as "gangland killers," Jackson was removed from the case and his ruling was overturned. Microsoft later settled with the US government and continues to dominate the software industry.
Kroes would clearly like to finish what Jackson began. She has entertained any and all complaints against Microsoft and is now considering investigations into both Windows Vista and the 2007 Microsoft Office system because of spurious complaints from competitors. The problem with this kind of heavy-handedness is that Kroes's vociferous attacks against Microsoft could eventually have the opposite effect she intended. Just ask Judge Jackson: A US appeals court said that Jackson's low opinion of Microsoft "tainted" his ruling. Kroes could face a similar backlash in Europe if she lets her desire to punish Microsoft outweigh common sense.