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10.08.09

Microsoft Wins Free Software-Hostile Deal in Europe, Its Front Group ACT Pleased

Posted in Antitrust, Europe, Free/Libre Software, Interoperability, Microsoft, Patents at 3:25 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

EU and Polish flag

Summary: By pushing law-enforcing action to the end of term, Microsoft has successfully bamboozled the Commission

IT IS no secret that Microsoft has undergone scrutiny in Europe for only few of its many offenses. The BBC reported yesterday:

The European Union has begun an investigation to determine whether Microsoft is upholding pledges to curb anti-competitive practices.

[...]

The company was also told to give rivals more information about how Windows works, so they could make their own software integrate better with the operating system.

Microsoft appealed against the decision but lost its case in 2007.

The latest development was covered most closely by The Register, which wrote about a looming deal that the FSFE and a Samba lawyer warned about because they knew it would be bad. Here is Heise covering the opposition:

The Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE) has published an open letter addressed to European Commissioner for Competition Neelie Kroes. The letter arises out of the foundation’s concern that settling the two Directorate General for Competition cases against Microsoft too hastily could have long-term detrimental effects on the competitiveness of desktop systems. The European Commission is presently investigating the bundling of Internet Explorer (IE) with the Microsoft operating system. Furthermore, the European Committee for Interoperable Systems (ECIS) has complained of Microsoft’s reluctance to release important information needed to ensure the compatibility of open source software with Microsoft products.

FSFE warned about this in advance. And they were right.

Microsoft is a step nearer to settling a large part of its ongoing disagreements with the European Commission – the regulators have agreed to market-test Microsoft’s suggested solution to browser bundling.

The software giant offered to include a ballot screen which would show users a choice of possible browsers when a machine is first booted up.

It does not go far enough. And check out the following report:

The company promises to support public, open industry standards and document that support.

Access to interoperability information will be “subject to no more than a nominal upfront fee” – this issue particularly irking the open source community.

When it comes to Web browsers, 'Microsoft Meller' quotes Neelie Kroes as saying that she knew what she was getting.

Kroes said she is sure some of Microsoft’s rivals will not be satisfied by the new offer. “A number of people are never 100 percent satisfied,” she said.

So why make the deal in a hurry? There was a similar mistake being made in 2007 — a bad deal which was signed about 2 years ago. After a meal with Steve Ballmer, Neelie Kroes agreed to a deal which was hostile towards Free software, Microsoft’s #1 competitor. She is doing it again and Groklaw explains some of the obvious issues.

Here’s Microsoft’s statement, glowing with happiness that their two proposals, with some changes suggested in the last month or so by the EU Commission, have basically been adopted, if the test works out.

[...]

Privately enforced? Informal? Meaning we get to pay to sue Microsoft? The EU Commission washes its hands regarding enforcement? I’m afraid that doesn’t sound promising.

[...]

Famous last words. A trustful deal with Microsoft. Lordy. The problem isn’t that they don’t understand. Call me cynical, but I also don’t believe she suddenly trusts Microsoft. On what basis? Microsoft’s behavior for the last ten years in its dealing with the EU Commission? Puh lease.

Ms. Kroes’ five-year term ends in a month, unless it is renewed or extended.

[...]

We’ve already learned that it is not royalty-free. And I have a question. If you can’t patent software as such in Europe, how come the EU Commission allows patent licenses for a fee in Europe?

Microsoft’s front group ACT quickly appears on the scene to promote and praise the deal.

“We are glad that Microsoft and the EC have reached a compromise in which developers are not adversely affected by the removal of code from Windows,” said Jonathan Zuck, president of the Association for Competitive Technology.

CNET’s Microsoft PR person plays a role that’s similar to the lobbyist above by parroting Microsoft.

This whole episode comes to show that nothing has changed. Microsoft is passing some new self-serving laws, gently bribing/influencing the right people, and continuing to abuse the market as though it has a God-given right to do so. In this case, by procrastinating forever, Microsoft managed to push legal action to the end of the term, which then led to a rushed and foolish decision. As always, Microsoft relies heavily not just on lobbyists but also on endurance in court — that is, testing the regulators’ (law enforcers or competitors) patience and depth of pockets.

“Microsoft and its employees now think it is indeed the Master of the Universe.”

Stewart Alsop, Fortune

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4 Comments

  1. Needs Sunlight said,

    October 8, 2009 at 9:27 am

    Gravatar

    Sadly, the EU did not settle with Microsoft, it capitulated. The charge involved bundling and the offered solution gives the stamp of approval to the very behavior which the antitrust case was about.

    Any real solution has to involve either unbundling of MSIE from Windows or a plain old banket ban on Windows and or Microsoft products in the EU.

  2. Yuhong Bao said,

    October 8, 2009 at 12:08 pm

    Gravatar

    “Any real solution has to involve either unbundling of MSIE from Windows”
    Windows 7 is already released, so that would have to wait until next version of Windows. And even then things like HTML Help may need at least some part of IE.

  3. Yuhong Bao said,

    October 8, 2009 at 12:11 pm

    Gravatar

    But at least the browser ballot is a good step in this direction and IMO essential if IE is not going to be installed by default, because users need a web browser to download other web browsers. I mean, try installing a web browser on Windows 95 which did not ship with any.

    Mikko Reply:

    the browser and other programs came with a shareware cd from the store

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