Microsoft’s Battle With EC Could Conclude This Year


Microsoft will have a new European Commission Competition Commissioner in mid-January 2010, as Neelie Kroes steps down to take another position within the EU law enforcement body

Microsoft will face a new European Commission antitrust watchdog in mid-January, as European Union Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes steps down to take a new job as a vice president of the EC.

Due to replace Kroes is Joachín Almunia, who currently serves as commissioner for Economic and Monetary Affairs. Formerly the Socialist party candidate for Prime Minister of Spain in 2000, Almunia will likely continue the European Commission’s current crackdown policies with regard to monopolies. The potential Oracle-Sun acquisition is currently under rigorous review by the Commission, which has indicated that it has issues with the deal.

But many of Microsoft’s issues with the European Commission, the law enforcement body of the European Union responsible for its antitrust initiatives, may be resolved before the end of the year, according to new reports.

Arguably chief among those issues in the latter part of 2009 has been Microsoft’s plans to package Internet Explorer 8 into Windows 7. After the European Commission hinted that the operating system would have to ship in Europe without IE 8 pre-installed, in order to avoid anti-trust issues, Microsoft suggested in August that it would install an automatic “ballot screen” that would allow users to select between IE 8 and a competing Web browser.

Reports in November suggested that Mozilla, Opera and Google would all ask the Commission for last-minute changes to a possible agreement between it and Microsoft. Although Microsoft had taken steps with its ballot screen to present at least an ostensible choice of browsers, its rivals likely wanted to ensure that no deal passed that would give Redmond an unfair advantage.

In an October interview with eWEEK, Opera CEO Jon Tetzschner suggested that Microsoft’s ballot screen was a step in the right direction, but that he felt more work needed to be done.

“It’s good for consumers if there’s a choice of browsers and they will look at the ballot screen solution,” Tetzschner said at the time. “And if users are provided with a choice of ballots, I think that’s very good. That’s what we had hoped for. There are elements in this that we think could have been done better, but we’ll communicate that to the commission instead.”

On 3 December, Bloomberg quoted sources (“who declined to be identified because the terms of the settlement aren’t public”) as saying that Microsoft had agreed to make the changes sought by Opera. As a result, the agreement between Microsoft and the EU may be finalized as soon as 15 December, those sources added.

Kroes had previously suggested that she would like the deal over IE 8 to close by the end of 2009. The European Commission had previously fined Microsoft some $631 million in 2004, for allegedly monopolistic business practices.

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