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Microsoft Pri0

Welcome to Microsoft Pri0: That's Microspeak for top priority, and that's the news and observations you'll find here from Seattle Times technology reporter Matt Day.

January 14, 2008 at 7:22 AM

EU round two: Commission probing Microsoft conduct on new issues

Four months after winning a major antitrust case against Microsoft on appeal, the European Commission is again coming after the Redmond software giant. The EC is launching a probe of Microsoft looking at whether the company illegally tied its Internet Explorer Web browser to the dominant Windows operating system, among other issues.

See coverage from Reuters, and The Associated Press.

The Web browser bundling inquiry stems from a complaint raised in December by the Oslo, Norway,-based Opera, which makes a Web browser by that name. At the time the complaint was raised, Microsoft said, “We will, of course, cooperate with any inquiries into these issues, but we believe the inclusion of the browser into the operating system benefits consumers, and that consumers and PC manufacturers already are free to choose any browsers they wish.”

This latest salvo from the EC is not surprising, especially given EC Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes’ comments last fall after winning her first case against the company, which centered on communications protocols allowing server software to interact with the Windows operating system for desktops. Bundling of another product, Windows Media Player, with the operating system, was also at issue. More on that after the jump.

Update, 9:55: Microsoft has issued a statement: “We will cooperate fully with the Commission’s investigation and provide any and all information necessary. We are committed to ensuring that Microsoft is in full compliance with European law and our obligations as established by the European Court of First Instance in its September 2007 ruling.”

Also, here’s a link to the European Commission’s press release.

“Microsoft must now comply fully with its legal obligations and desist from engaging in anti-competitive conduct,” Kroes said at the time of her September win. “The commission will do its utmost to ensure that Microsoft complies swiftly. … I will not tolerate continued non-compliance.”

In a second part of the probe announced today, the EC will investigate another complaint from the European Committee for Interoperable Systems. The EC is looking into whether Microsoft is withholding interoperability information for a range of products including Office, server products and the .NET framework.

I doubt Microsoft’s legal team is surprised by this. After the September ruling on the first EC case, I asked Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith whether any additional features of Windows could fall under the same scrutiny that Windows Media Player received.

Smith said:

“I think that it’s fair to say that features that the commission regards as being present in competing applications may be subject to the kind of scrutiny the media player was put under. We basically went through that kind of process already for Windows Vista. For example, there was a lot of scrutiny on the desktop search feature, on the encryption feature, on the various security features in general, on the new file format for portable documents and that’s probably a fairly indicative list of the kinds of features that one would predict they’d focus on in the future.

“It is, I think, extremely important that we were able to have a constructive discussion a year ago on Windows Vista. And, to some degree, having seen today’s decision, I can’t help but say, thank goodness that we had a good dialogue last year. It doesn’t mean that they won’t reopen something, but at least we start with having had a good dialogue and having really covered things quite comprehensively a year ago.”

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