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Microsoft’s Europroblems Just Won't Go Away

Europeans have taken to sticking the prefix “Euro” on all kinds of stuff, from the Eurostar train that connects Paris and London to the fantastically cheesy annual Eurovision Song Contest to the sports TV network Eurosport. So, with the European Union apparently preparing to do what the Department of Justice wouldn’t in the US — that is, really hit Microsoft hard with fines for anti-competitive practices — it’s time to start thinking seriously about Redmond’s Europroblems.

The scenario is pretty simple. Back in March 2004, the EU’s regulatory hammer ordered Microsoft to turn over information about how Windows works to competitors so that those competitors could better develop for the operating system. The idea was to prevent Microsoft from doing what it has done for a long time: tying its own applications to Windows and freezing out those from competitors that don’t have the advantage of native integration with the operating system. Hmmm...haven’t we heard all this somewhere before?

Well, Microsoft says that it has complied with the March 2004 ruling. The EU isn’t convinced, and there’s talk now (from "people," apparently, in the comically non-specific headline in the story linked below) that the EU will fine Microsoft $2.5 million a day for every day that it has not complied with the ruling. That Eurothreat has been out there for a while, but it’s now looking more serious than ever. And even for Microsoft, $2.5 million a day back-dated more than two years is a big chunk of change, especially with the stock price on the wane.

This is just another headache that Redmond doesn’t need. With investors grumbling about Microsoft’s stock price, Bill Gates announcing his slow pullback from the company and the sudden departure of Windows Live marketing honcho Martin Taylor all making headlines in the last couple of months, Redmond could use a little stability more than anything else. This Euromess getting ever more serious won’t help that cause, though.

Besides, our guess is that most of these EU regulators (sorry...Euroregulators) wouldn’t know Windows documentation from a copy of the now-dead European Constitution. They also don’t seem to realize that Microsoft got the pot of gold with Windows years ago, and the best way for competitors to deal with that is either for them to work with Redmond or develop applications that are markedly better than what Microsoft offers in the OS. The EU should leave well enough alone, but it’s worth watching this situation. Eurofines are surely something Microsoft, the partners who profit from it and the industry that lives off of it should hope to avoid.

Should the EU leave Microsoft alone? Tell me at [email protected].

(And coming Wednesday — Held Up in a Dallas Airport: Best of the Martin Taylor Reader E-mails!)

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Posted by Lee Pender on June 26, 2006