Will EU regulators dump cold water on the Windows 8 launch party?

Will EU regulators dump cold water on the Windows 8 launch party?

Summary: Microsoft announced today that Windows 8 will be ready for the public on October 26. But antitrust regulators in the European Commission are threatening to spoil the celebration with a new investigation triggered by rival browser makers.

TOPICS: Software, Microsoft

Microsoft announced the official General Availability date for Windows 8 today. The new OS, three years in development, will be available for sale, in retail packages and on new PCs, on October 26, 2012.

That would normally be cause for celebration in Redmond, but antitrust regulators in Europe are poised to toss a bucket of cold water on the launch party.

A Reuters report today confirmed that the European Commission is investigating Microsoft's decision to block rival browsers from installing on Windows RT, the variant of Windows 8 that runs on ARM processors. The investigation will also look into whether Microsoft is blocking access to application programming interfaces in Windows 8. It's not clear whether those latter allegations affect only Windows RT, or whether the investigation covers the x86/x64 versions of Windows as well.

The new allegations mean an additional IE-related headache for Microsoft, which is in trouble for a possible violation of its agreement to provide EU Windows customers with access to a "browser ballot." That code was dropped from Windows 7 Service Pack 1, meaning some 28 million Windows customers didn't get the required browser ballot at startup.

In a public statement, Microsoft admitted it had "fallen short in [its] responsibility" to update Windows 7 Service Pack 1 "due to a technical error."

According to the report, the investigation was opened following complaints from several companies, which an EU spokesman declined to name. It's a safe bet, though, that Google and Mozilla are on the short list. Both companies, which compete in the browser space with Microsoft, have accused Microsoft of abrogating its agreement to provide open access to Windows for other browser makers.

In a May blog post, Mozilla's Asa Dotzler accused Microsoft of "trying to lock out competing browsers when it comes to Windows running on ARM chips. IE is allowed there but not Firefox or Chrome or Opera or any other competitive browser.”

The complaint about access to APIs, in fact, sounds like it was taken directly from a follow-up post by Dotzler:

It's not precisely "running a browser in Classic" that matters for Windows on ARM. It's that running a browser in Classic is the only way that Microsoft has allowed us to get access to the APIs that a browser needs to deliver modern capabilities and performance in Classic AND Metro.

That complaint is likely to fall on deaf ears in the United States, but the EU has been much more aggressive in recent years about making Microsoft pay, literally, for what it perceives as anticompetitive actions.

As I pointed out when this issue first came up a few months ago, Microsoft will likely argue that it doesn't have a monopoly in ARM-based computing, with literally 0% of the market today and formidable competitors in Apple's iPad and new Android tablets like the Google Nexus 7. The company will also argue that security and reliability are the primary motivators for its decision to lock down web browsing on Windows RT.

Unfortunately for Redmond and its large legal staff, the EU hasn't exactly been receptive to similar arguments in the past, and the result was a series of fines totaling more than $2 billion.

This promises to be a very interesting game of high-stakes poker.

See also:

Topics: Software, Microsoft

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  • Can't Help Thinking

    that forgetting the ballot screen in SP1 is going to be hard to present as an accidental omission.
    • Microsoft will pay huge price for 'technical error'

      Microsoft used to taking care of it customers and developers, not anymore.
      From WPF/WCF, office2007, VS2010, to this new win8, Microsoft is losing its soul.
      • Microsoft is losing its soul.....No they still have Loverock Davidson

        What value anyone puts on Loverock Davidson remains to be seen.

        But here at zdnet Lovie is still ............ I'll let everyone else fill in the blanks as they see them.

        Over and Out
    • MS fine threat

      M.S. said they would rectify the EU regulators concerns but didn't. Why should they not get a hefty fine ? Should they be allowed to make commitments, but not honour them ?
      • Re; Should they be allowed to make commitments, but not honour them ?

        No entity, person OR company should be allowed to make a promise and then be allowed to break the promise, without risking a penalty.
    • What is hard to believe that no one in Europe even noticed it ...

      ... Until Microsoft brought the oversight to their attention. Just goes to show you that European end-user don't really care because they download the browser they want to use ALL BY THEM SELVES - just like the rest of the free world does!
      M Wagner
      • nice try

        Reports elsewhere indicate this was brought to MSFT's attention a year or so ago by a European customer.

        No, there wasn't a huge uproar. Very likely many end users are used to downloading and installing their preferred browsers on their own, even in Europe.

        However, it was MSFT itself which entered the Browser Choice Screen agreement with the EU. If senior management didn't realize what they were getting into, they should claw back their lawyers' salaries. But I figure they did know, screwed up on this, so now get to help pay off part of the EU's budget shortfall.

        Maybe this is no more of a big deal than driving over the posted speed limit, but when you get a ticket, you have to pay. TS for MSFT.
  • Will EU regulators dump cold water on the Windows 8 launch party?

    I don't see it as being a problem at all. Microsoft can still continue to launch Microsoft Windows 8 everywhere else in the world. If the EU wants to be left behind and not get Windows 8 because of some minor glitch then so be it. The rest of us are going to move on and look forward to the future of Windows. The whole browser thing doesn't make sense to begin with anyway. Its Microsoft's software and they should decide what goes in it, not the EU.
    Loverock Davidson-
    • And don't come back until you do

      On what planet do responsible adults say, "We'll show the 500 million people who live in Europe! We'll take our marbles and go home!"

      You have this all wrong. 500 million people? Figure out how to take their money. I repeat: figure out how to take their money. No marbles, no home, no snits.
      Robert Hahn
      • Not the whole story

        No news outlet is presenting the whole story - not Reuters, not AP etc. There must be a reason behind how the damages are calculated. In typical legalistic scenarios, damages are calculated using proportional schemes. So 28 million affected PCs out of an estimated 375 million licenses sold cumulatively for fiscal year 2011 will mean about 10% of affected revenue. That would imply fines totaling not more than 10% of the 16 to 20 billion dollars that the Windows division earned in that year. Which would be a total of not more than 2 billion dollars. And that is exactly what the Microsoft legal team seems to be planning on having the finance department pay into the coffers of EU treasury.

        Microsoft is in compliance for most of the licenses and not having compliance over one license scheme does not appearingly imply that they will be fined 10% of their overall revenue which is 70 or 75 billion dollars more.

        Are journalists trying to sensationlize the story so negative press trumps reality here?

        And on the WinRT front, as Ed pointed out, the EU regulators have no basis for a case. But they appear to have a case for the x86 tablets though since one could consider x86 PC OSs to be in the same market segment as x86 tablet PC OSs which is also the term used by Microsoft itself. But these are unreleased products. So I have no idea how the EU team will even arrive at the computation of the HHN index for determining the monopolistic marketshare when in fact it is not released at all and has zero marketshare.

        Are these scare tactics on the part of EU regulators against Microsoft instead of really going against them?
        • no case on x86 tablets at all

          because you can install any desktop browser you want & the Metro equivalent gets desktop code...
        • As other poster says, x86 tablets should really have no case

          The Windows 8 Pro tablets will run both the Metro and Desktop versions of Windows 8 (as opposed to Windows RT Tablets which just run the Metro Interface).

          As such, users will be able to install any desktop browser they want as per normal, which will all have the normal application access.

          All Microsoft would have to do is add the Browser Choice code into the Windows 8 Pro tablets and problem solved for those.

          As for the RT versions, I can understand the security concerns Microsoft have with allowing other browsers to be installed and they're approach is basically the same as the approach that Apple have taken with iOS.

          Put simply, should anything come of this, then we should really see the same action taken against Apple.
          • Since alternate browsers are easily installed on iOS

            WTF are you talking about?!?
          • Not true

            "Alternate browsers" on iOS are simply wrappers around Mobile Safari. That same solution is available for Metro browsers. But Google and Mozilla don't like it because they want their own extensions, HTML rendering engines, JavaScript interpreters, etc.
            Ed Bott
          • The question is ...

            If Apple can make those restrictions on iOS, why can't Microsoft with Windows RT?
            M Wagner
          • a fair question

            Though it would have been a clearer call had there not been a desktop version of IE for Windows RT. Why is desktop IE needed for Windows RT when there's Metro IE? Only reason I can think of is that it provides some web functionality in Office for ARM. Which leads to idle speculation that bundling Office with Windows RT raises antitrust issues or that it swells the OEM license cost for Windows RT, possibly making Windows RT tablets too expensive for people with no interest in using Office.
          • Re; If Apple can make those restrictions on iOS, . .

            why can't Microsoft with Windows RT?
            @M Wagner

            As far as I can see the "fruit company" only requires the browser to use webkit only.

            Webkit is not their property, it was developed by the KDE team, based on QT and it is under a public license.

            Konqueror (KDE browser and file manager) had it first. It is free to use.
          • The question is ...

            The question is ...

            If Apple can make those restrictions on iOS, why can't Microsoft with Windows RT?
            M Wagner
          • Surface vs other Windows RT tablets

            Fairness would allow MSFT to do whatever the heck it wants to with the Surface ARM tablet. Similar product specs to iPad: hardware and software branded by the same company.

            It gets a little muddier with OEM ARM tablets. MSFT is just licensing an OS. An open question of law just how much MSFT gets to dictate to manufacturer and end buyer what they can put on those systems. If Windows RT can support SOME desktop software, it's an open question whether it could support MORE desktop software. IOW, if it were possible for Google or Mozilla or both working in a joint venture to figure out how to build Windows RT desktop executables and how to install them on Windows RT devices, could OEMs install such software on Windows RT devices?

            Sure MSFT should have as much control of what goes on Surface ARM tablets as Apple has over what goes on iPads, but how much say should MSFT have about what goes on OEM Windows RT tablets? By just licensing the OS, it's hard to see why MSFT should have any greater say about what else goes on those tablets than Google has about what goes on non-Nexus Android tablets.
          • because Microsoft signed a legal agreement

            unless the legal document specifies the versions of windows or CPU types affected by the browser ballot, MS still loses this one.

            Personally I think there are a lot of things that need to be looked into for Mac and iOS, but first the iPhone LTE has to kick the crap out of Android phone sales for 12 months, then Google and all the other handset makers can file a class action suit against Apple for monopolistic practices, for not allowing them to use the OS on their devices, for not allowing them to license the patents and technologies that are required to be able to compete. And hope that a couple of governments will step in and perform antitrust investigations.

            It took Android till Jelly Bean to find a working solution to smooth UI, because Apple patented all of the algorithms needed to compute the method of touch into a fluid motion in the UI. It was not because everyone else wasn't smart enough to figure it out, it was just that there really is one way to do it and Apple locked it in their treasure horde and laughed manically. Google has been beating their heads against the wall on this and other OS patents that Apple has for years, trying to make the "next best" algorithms perform "almost" as well without violating the patents that Apple has locked up.

            What bothers me and the only reason I hate Apple for doing this, is that they are suing everyone else for not licensing their patents to Apple, but are refusing to license Apple's patents to anyone else. following Steve Jobs to the grave with his $0.25 lifetime charitable contributions. Apple too is the worst company in the world when it comes to helping others in need.

            On the other side of the coin, the only way Apple can keep it's market share if it starts licensing it's patents is if it also licenses it's OS to be used on other devices. This of course would destroy the iOS app market, unless Apple made specific limitations on the hardware, thereby causing further "issues"