EU Expected to Lower Boom on Microsoft

Rhett Pardon
BRUSSELS - European Union regulators next Wednesday are expected to force Microsoft Corp. to offer computer makers a version of Windows without its Media Player multimedia software for sale to European consumers. The company most certainly will be handed a huge fine, as well.

Troubles deepen further for Microsoft, which does $32 billion internationally.

Regulators will order it to lay down “clear principles” for future conduct worldwide and find it guilty of illegally abusing a near monopoly of its Windows operating system, according to Dow Jones Newswires.

The five years of investigation and settlement talks and fruitless meetings between chief European antitrust regulator Mario Monti and Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer ended without any mutual resolve.

The Redmond, Wash.-based software giant also is expected to be ordered to release enough new information about Windows to allow rivals Novell Inc. and Microsystems make software that functions in a Windows world.

The EU’s expected decision will go far beyond a 2001 U.S. settlement with Microsoft over its Internet Explorer browser, which let the company continue to integrate the browser with its Windows operating system.

Microsoft has maintained that it should have the right to bundle almost any new product or service with Windows in order to provide increased functionality for its users.

At a news conference Thursday, Monti said that a settlement in the Microsoft case “has not been possible” despite the intense high-level meetings.

“We made substantial progress toward resolving the problems which have arisen in the past, but we were unable to agree on commitments for future conduct,” Monti said.

“[It] is just another step in what could be a long process,” said Microsoft’s general counsel Brad Smith, who noted that it is likely that the company will appeal to the EU’s highest courts.

If Microsoft wins a temporary injunction against the panel’s order, it could avoid having to implement EU conditions until a final court ruling, which could take three to five years.

Dow Jones Newswires said Monti will ask his 19 fellow European commissioners next Wednesday to confirm his finding that Microsoft should be ordered to change its business practices and hit it with a fine that could be up to 10 percent worldwide sales, which would be equivalent to nearly $3 billion. But the fine is expected to be much lower.