By David Worthington | Wednesday, December 16, 2009 at 11:05 pm
Microsoft may have settled its differences with the EC over the antitrust complaint Opera Software’s levied against it, but I do not expect that the European Commission’s scrutiny of Microsoft will lapse. I just hope that the EC is judicious in exercising its regulatory authority against the company in the future.
Opera filed a complaint with the EC in 2007 alleging that Microsoft illegally bundled Internet Explorer with Windows. That complaint was settled today when Microsoft and the EC came to an agreement over a browser ballot for Windows that lets the end users choose which browser they would like to use as their default.
The EC has changed Microsoft’s behavior–for better or worse. It has levied approximately $2.3 billion in fines against the company following its landmark 2004 antitrust ruling, where it was found to have abused it dominant market position. The EC has likewise compelled Microsoft to share information about its products, and to modify Windows in Europe.
I believe that those actions helped bring about the innovation that is happening in the development of Web browsers today, but at the same time, I cannot downplay the impact that the innovative work of Google, the Mozilla Foundation, and others have had on the industry. The EC also instigated Microsoft to be more responsive to customers’ requests for greater interoperability.
After much soul searching, Microsoft is now willing to embrace open source software when its business objectives are being met. The same goes for its new found emphasis on interoperability– its biggest customers wouldn’t have it any other way. Embracing cross platform scenarios has become a business opportunity for Microsoft. Innovation and standardization on the Web has changed the competitive environment.
With that change underway, the question is where the EC’s oversight should go from here. If Google is able to tie its browser into Chrome OS to rapidly bring users to its Web properties, why can’t Microsoft? It cannot chart the same source as Google, in part because it is a convicted monopolist, and Windows is still practically everywhere.
If and when Microsoft does attempt to leverage Windows in new ways, its actions will be heavily scrutinized. It could preempt further antitrust action by making features such as the browser ballot a default part of Windows.
The EC should keep its powder dry unless Microsoft is clearly in the wrong (and then be punished severely). As the industry continues to innovate, Microsoft should contribute significantly to the development of new technologies. I just hope that the EC realizes that Microsoft can play a constructive role in the industry.