Leader: Microsoft antitrust ruling is a hollow victory

Did the EU pick the wrong fight?
Written by silicon.com staff, Contributor on

Did the EU pick the wrong fight?

The EU appeared to gain the upper hand in the phenomenal five-year antitrust investigation into Microsoft's media player bundling today when it announced talks over a mutual settlement had collapsed.

The stage is now set for Competition Commissioner Mario Monti to deliver the fine, which could run into hundreds of millions of pounds, and the antitrust legal ruling that will force Microsoft to reveal Windows source code to its rivals and offer a version of the operating system without its Windows Media Player bundled in.

But the devil could still very much be in the detail and the final ruling may not be such a bad result for Microsoft after all.

Analyst firm Gartner points out that being forced to offer two versions of its operating system will in reality mean that the bundled and stripped-down version will be offered at the same price. And here's the twist - who is going to pay the same amount of money for a package that offers less functionality and features?

The fine will also have been budgeted for well in advance and, as far as Microsoft is concerned, is likely to be infinitely more preferable to being forced to change its practices wholesale, which is what the EU demanded if a settlement was to be reached.

The other question that has to be asked here is whether this investigation, which has taken five years and goodness knows how many millions of euros, was even justified.

Windows may come bundled with Media Player, but ask any regular PC user what audiovisual player software they use and most will probably reply that they use a mixture of all the main ones out in the market including Real Networks and Apple's QuickTime.

There will be plenty of discussion and analysis around the judgement when it is finally delivered next week but on closer inspection the decision could end up being a hollow victory for the EU.

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