What will Microsoft's loss in Europe mean to customers?

Word is out: Microsoft has lost its appeal of the European Commission's antitrust decision. Forget the spin from Microsoft, the EU and lobbyists. How will the Court's September 17 ruling affect customers in Europe and elsewhere?

Word is out: Microsoft has lost its appeal of the European Commission's antitrust decision. So now what?

There's no word yet if Microsoft will appeal again, which it has two months to decide whether or not to do. If it doesn't, the company will be forced to pay the $700 million fine, plus a big chunk of the EC's court costs. It also will have to finally find a way to make all of the server communications protocols and related documentation that it has been ordered to provide available fto its competitors.

(Sun and Novell -- now both staunch Microsoft allies -- were among those server vendors who were insisting on Microsoft making these protocols publicly available. Now that they're enmeshed in patent/interoperability alliances with Microsoft, I wonder if they care anymore.)

My biggest question in all this is how will the Court's September 17 ruling affect customers in Europe and elsewhere?

If you believe Microsoft's lobbyists, the decision means the end of the free-market economy and will be dire for Microsoft consumers and partners. If you believe the European Commission, the decision will create more consumer choice and all kinds of new market innovation. Communications protocols and their documentation will be provided. Bundling by Microsoft of applications and technologies for which there are non-Microsoft alternatives in future versions of Windows will be frowned upon.

Does the ruling affect Windows Vista? Office 2007? The pending Windows 7 and Office 14 products? If it does, I'm not sure how. Will today's ruling help Microsoft's competitors, such as Firefox, Adobe, Google? Maybe, if any of these competitors bring a new antitrust case against Microsoft to try to force Microsoft to cut XPS (Micorsoft's PDF alternative) or Vista's integrated desktop search and create yet more versions of Windows.

Microsoft isn't pulling its products out of Europe (as it threatened to do at one point). It will continue offering the Media-Player-less versions of Windows to consumers there,even though no one seems to be buying them. Another Microsoft watcher wondered about the impact:

"Much has been written in the United States about how anti-trust is supposed to be about protecting customers rather than competitors; it's not clear a similar philosophy is shared by the EU in this case," said Peter O'Kelly, an analyst with the Burton Group. "In the grand scheme of things, I don't think forcing Microsoft to, e.g., offer a version of Windows that un-bundles Windows Media Player or other basic features, is going to foster improved competition; I doubt European customers would be happy to use deliberately dumbed-down products in order to help EU commissioners reduce Microsoft's market share to what they somehow believe is a more appropriate level."

Me? I think it will be a good thing if today's decision results in Microsoft not bundling currently standalone products for which there are alternatives from third-party vendors  into future releases of Windows. Let users decide what kinds of add-ons they want and from whom they'd prefer to get them. Otherwise, I'm not sure that today's judgment means a whole lot to business and consumer users.

What do you say, readers?


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