More Microsoft competitors join European browser-bundling antitrust case

On April 15, the European Commission (EC) granted a request by the European Committee for Interoperable Systems (ECIS) to become an interested third-party in the current browser-bundling case involving Microsoft. ECIS is an association whose members include a number of Microsoft rivals, including Adobe, Corel, IBM, Nokia, Opera, Oracle, RealNetworks and Sun.

On April 15, the European Commission (EC) granted a request by the European Committee for Interoperable Systems (ECIS) to become an interested third-party in the current browser-bundling case involving Microsoft.

ECIS is an association whose members include a number of Microsoft rivals, including Adobe, Corel, IBM, Nokia, Opera, Oracle, RealNetworks and Sun.

Microsoft also has been granted a second extension -- until April 28 -- in its deadline for responding to the EC's statement of objections, issued in January.  (A statement of objections is roughly equivalent to a preliminary finding.)  Originally, Microsoft had until April 21 to make its case regarding its business practice of including Internet Explorer with Windows. Microsoft has argued in the past the its browser is an inextricable part of its operating system.

ECIS joins Mozilla and Google as other entities which have been granted third-party status in the case -- the result of an antitrust complaint lodged by Opera against Microsoft in December 2007. The EC said in its preliminary conclusion it believed Microsoft's tying of IE to Windows harmed competition among Web browsers and reduced consumer choice.

In March, Microsoft acknowledged that it is adding the ability to remove IE from Windows 7, a feature that will debut first in the Release Candidate build of Windows 7 that Microsoft is expected to make available to the public in May. Windows 7 is widely expected to ship this fall.

Given the EC's past record when it comes to Microsoft-related actions, I'd be very surprised if Microsoft had luck in getting the EC to reconsider its preliminary conclusion. Whether the EC considers the new "remove IE" checkbox option to be remedy enough will be interesting. If the growing number of Microsoft competitors have their say, I'd bet other additional remedies (plus fines) will be required of Microsoft, too.

Antitrust cases are supposed to be about proving harm to consumers. Do you feel that Microsoft's policy of bundling IE with Windows can be shown to be harmful to users -- and not just Microsoft's competitors? If it were any court other than the EC, I'd say proving that contention might be tough. But in this court, all bets are off....

Update (April 20): Now the Association for Competitive Technology (ACT) has been granted third-party status in this case, as well. ACT will be, as it always is, supporting Microsoft and its arguments.