RealNetworks cries foul over Microsoft antitrust case

Microsoft has been accused of dragging its feet over the introduction of a version of Windows that doesn't include Media Player

RealNetworks has criticised Microsoft for failing to provide a fully functional version of Windows that is unbundled from its media player, twelve months after the European Commission (EC) ruled that Microsoft was stifling competition in the market for media player software.

Back in March 2004 the EC had demanded that Microsoft produce a new version of its operating system that is not bundled with Windows Media Player and that this version must not be made "less attractive" to PC manufacturers through any commercial, technological or contractual terms.

David Stewart, the deputy general counsel for RealNetworks, told ZDNet UK on Wednesday that RealNetworks believes that Microsoft is deliberately delaying providing an unbundled version of Windows.

"One year after the Commission's historic decision, Microsoft is still flouting the law," said Stewart. "[Microsoft] is still refusing to release an unbundled Windows that complies with the decision, choosing instead to play games with the Commission and to denigrate the operating system it has been ordered to release. The longer Microsoft drags its feet, the longer it denies European consumers the full benefits of competition, innovation and choice."

Stewart had previously told The New York Times that Microsoft has deleted various registry entries in Windows, which means that rival media players cannot work with other applications such as Word documents and some Web sites. This technical problem means that the unbundled version of Windows is likely to be less attractive to PC manufacturers, which would contravene the EC ruling.

Stewart claims it is possible to remove Windows Media Player from the operating system without any side effects. "Last year, RealNetworks provided independent verification that Microsoft could separate Windows from Windows Media Player to develop the fully functioning, unbundled operating system required by the Commission," said Stewart.

A Microsoft spokesman confirmed on Wednesday that it was aware of this issue.

"The point on the registry entries has been raised as part of our ongoing dialog with the commission," said the spokesman, who insisted that Microsoft has merely complied with the EC's request to delete 186 Windows Media Player files from Windows.

"We haven't done anything else apart from removing the 186 files," said the spokesman. "By taking these out it has certain effects."

Last week the EC rejected Microsoft's proposed server interoperability licence — another consequence of the antitrust case — saying that it contained a number of serious flaws including unjustifiably high royalty fees and the exclusion of open source vendors.