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Microsoft, EU Reach Antitrust Accord 219

Posted by Soulskill
from the of-gift-horses-and-blind-squirrels dept.
alphadogg writes "Microsoft appears to have reached an agreement with the European Commission that concludes an antitrust battle that has lasted a decade, Europe's top competition regulator said today. A proposal the company offered in July to address charges of monopoly abuse were dismissed as insufficient by the Commission, as well as by rivals in the software industry. But the latest iteration appears to have mollified the EC's regulator. 'We believe this is an answer,' said competition commissioner Neelie Kroes in a press conference. 'I think this is a trustful deal we are making. There can't be a misunderstanding because it is the final result of a long discussion between Steve Ballmer and me.' The new settlement offer addresses charges that Microsoft distorted competition in its favor in the market for web browsers, by giving its Internet Explorer browser an unfair advantage over rivals." The Register points out this interesting quote from the materials Microsoft released on the subject: "Microsoft shall ensure that third-party software products can interoperate with Microsoft's Relevant Software Products using the same Interoperability Information on an equal footing as other Microsoft Software Products."
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Microsoft, EU Reach Antitrust Accord

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  • by danaris (525051) <danarisNO@SPAMmac.com> on Wednesday October 07, 2009 @10:16AM (#29669525) Homepage

    If this actually happens, it will be a Very Good Thing for the world in general, as Microsoft will no longer be legally able to keep changing their protocols to break access by non-Microsoft software.

    Given their track record, though, I don't believe for a minute that Microsoft will actually make all the information available in a clear and usable format. More likely they'll release some information that looks nice, to show what good boys they're being, then release some more information terribly scrambled, and keep most of the information to themselves, because by that point the EU will be paying less attention to them and they'll have to take them back to court to get them to do anything more.

    Same old story.

    And yes, I am a terminal cynic. Why do you ask? ;-)

    Dan Aris

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by BlackSash (1420967)

      That is possible, if not for the fact that if they do so, not only can the EU fire the ol' AT war machine right back up (they have lots of lovely documentation from this one just lying about they could scrutinize some more...), AND Microsoft would be breaking an actual law in plain sight. After all, it doesn't have to take a Kroes to get the word out: any lawsuit in any European country that could be connected to this anti-trust legislation and the FA mentioned 'new laws' would get instant attention from Mr

    • by Tom (822) on Wednesday October 07, 2009 @10:53AM (#29669943) Homepage Journal

      Actually, I'm not too sure.

      The EU antitrust body is a beast with teeth, and a lot more difficult to buy out than the US equivalent. Their power comes in large part by their demonstrated ability to battle and win against even the largest multinational corporations. They will not risk losing that reputation, and their fight with MS is being watched by players outside the software industry.

      I don't think they'll allow MS to play them for fools. If Balmer tries (and yes, I'm as certain as you that he will), they will smack him up fast and hard, because they know everyone they'll have to fight in the next 10 years is watching.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by TaoPhoenix (980487)

        Currently I never attribute to incompetence alone what is their brilliant mix of incompetent malice. I place more faith in MS's ability to be evil than the patience of even the EU commission.

        The EU thinks it has at least a Draw. MS will Shatnerize the Kobyashi Maru and announce it is playing some other game entirely. "Why yes, we'll support all relevant software. However, since we officially are ending support for XP on (___ date), then XP is no longer relevant, so we won't bother to make that interoperable

    • by truthsearch (249536) on Wednesday October 07, 2009 @10:56AM (#29669985) Homepage Journal

      "Microsoft shall ensure that third-party software products can interoperate with Microsoft's Relevant Software Products using the same Interoperability Information on an equal footing as other Microsoft Software Products."

      This is similar to the terms of the US settlement from a while back. The promised to document all protocols and interfaces. So we can already see if they would live up to the new promise.

      Before the US settlement they didn't publicly document all of their protocols. After the settlement they published many Word documents online, but for most you had to agree to incredibly restrictive terms to download them. IIRC they also charged money for some. And back then you had to purchase Word (or Windows and download a free Word viewer) to read the specifications.

      Then, as expected, they continued to change their protocols and interfaces. So even if you did keep up with all the documents you couldn't possibly keep up with Microsoft's own interoperability.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by ciderVisor (1318765)

        And back then you had to purchase Word (or Windows and download a free Word viewer) to read the specifications.

        Couldn't you open it in OpenOffice.org under Linux ?

        • by selven (1556643)
          And then they implemented .docx and .pptx. And then the free software world adapted. And then they will implement something else. And so on.
      • "Microsoft shall ensure that third-party software products can interoperate with Microsoft's Relevant Software Products using the same Interoperability Information on an equal footing as other Microsoft Software Products."

        This is similar to the terms of the US settlement from a while back. The promised to document all protocols and interfaces. So we can already see if they would live up to the new promise.

        Well sort of. The US settlement applied only to APIs for interaction between Windows server and desktop versions and only for a limited time. A group was appointed to check on this and if MS was in non-compliance (as they have been several times) the courts had the power to keep watching them while doing nothing even longer.

        The EU agreement just created a template contract for MS and a competitor to sign, where MS will agree to provide the same APIs to a competitor that it uses itself. MS, of course, gets t

    • by ISoldat53 (977164)
      Nobody likes a poor thief.
    • by jonwil (467024) on Wednesday October 07, 2009 @12:22PM (#29671143)

      According to the SAMBA team, Microsoft has actually been fairly open (both in terms of providing docs and in terms of providing info/answers/clarification) when it comes to the protocols SAMBA deals with.

  • by R2.0 (532027) on Wednesday October 07, 2009 @10:17AM (#29669535)

    'I think this is a trustful deal we are making. There can't be a misunderstanding because it is the final result of a long discussion between Steve Ballmer and me.'

    I don't know what's worse - the possibility that he could be so naive, or the probability that this is a backroom deal, and we are never going to know the whole story.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by psYchotic87 (1455927)

      I don't know what's worse - the possibility that he could be so naive...

      This is as good a time as ever to let you know that Neelie Kroes is a woman

    • Well, it's nicely symmetric since we don't know the whole story on how this all started either.

  • by viralMeme (1461143) on Wednesday October 07, 2009 @10:20AM (#29669571)
    'This proposed measure ensures that PC manufacturers will continue to be able to install any browser on top of Windows and make any browser the default. It also ensures that PC manufacturers and users will be able to turn Internet Explorer on and off [microsoft.com] '

    And with 'search' going to be directly embedded into the applications, the 'choice' of browser is going to become moot.
    • But who cares? So what if the internal OS functions use IE to do internal OS stuff, like browsing folders or what have you?

      If the issue is *web browser* stuff, then that should be confined to *browsing the web* - right? And if they turn off IE to *browse the web* - thus allowing FF, Chrome, or what have you - isn't that what they asked for? They're not complaining that Microsoft can't use any of it's own applications for doing stuff within it's own OS. They're complaining that about the web browsing bit

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by viralMeme (1461143)
        "If the issue is *web browser* stuff, then that should be confined to *browsing the web* - right?"

        As I pointed out, the choice of browser is becoming moot, which is why MS is prepared to concede room to the others on their desktop. The next big-thing is with cloud applications, software as a service .. er renting the software. So it won't matter what browser you use, you still get to pay the Microsoft tax.

        "Forcing Microsoft to somehow completely remove any part of their OS that can interpret HTML beca
        • So... I'm not sure what the point is, then? What control over your own computer are you not getting?

          I agree, cloud/SaaS is the big thing, stupid or smart as it is ... but I fail to see why it's an issue if Microsoft develops their cloud/software that they charge for the usage of it. As long as they don't charge me for using it when I install Windows and as long as I am able to use a different one, then... ? I don't have a problem with them putting hooks into their OS that make it easy to hook into some o

    • And with 'search' going to be directly embedded into the applications, the 'choice' of browser is going to become moot.

      Not necessarily, if you can replace the IE Active-X components that Windows apps use by another dll -- e.g. http://www.iol.ie/~locka/mozilla/mozilla.htm [www.iol.ie].
      I doubt though that Mozilla will pull themselves together to release such a DLL, Google/Opera seem more likely (to me).

      Either way, I read the 'Register'-quote from the summary as exactly that: Search has to be replaceable with other browsers. Another way is to always call the browser, and not use in-application results.

  • by bheer (633842) <rbheer&gmail,com> on Wednesday October 07, 2009 @10:22AM (#29669591)

    'I think this is a trustful deal we are making. There can't be a misunderstanding because it is the final result of a long discussion between Steve Ballmer and me.'

    "This morning I had another talk with the German Chancellor, Herr Hitler, and here is the paper which bears his name upon it as well as mine [...] We regard the agreement signed last night and the Anglo-German Naval Agreement, as symbolic of the desire of our two peoples never to go to war with one another again." --Neville Chamberlain, September 1938.

    • by lordandmaker (960504) on Wednesday October 07, 2009 @10:24AM (#29669625) Homepage
      Sometimes it's appropriate to invoke Godwin.
      • Technically, Godwin requires one of the participants in the discussion to be compared to the Nazis. Comparing Microsoft to the Nazis is okay.
      • by Locutus (9039)
        what did you expect? Someone talks about an agreement with Steve Ballmer, Bill Gates, or Microsoft and the similarities of deception, double-speak, blind followers, and wrong doings just pour out on the floor. El Diablo quite often gets brought up too but Goodwin's got the rule.

        That was darn quick though, and could be a record for application of Goodwin's Law. What is the shortest thread length which was applicable? It took only the 4th comment in this case but this is /. and Mr ( El Diable ) Ballmer is wel
  • by BadAnalogyGuy (945258) <BadAnalogyGuy@gmail.com> on Wednesday October 07, 2009 @10:23AM (#29669611)

    This only affects the browser market where Microsoft is steadily losing ground anyway. The fact of the matter is that the operating system itself is still untouched and Microsoft still has no penalty for pulling more and more functionality into the OS itself.

    The problem has never been just browsers or messaging utilities or office suites or default home pages. It is about how Microsoft uses its monopoly power on the desktop to stifle competitors. This could have been handled years ago except the American judge couldn't stay awake long enough to do anything but parrot the prosecuting attorney's notes.

    MS should have been broken into an OS company and an apps company long ago. But it didn't happen, and we're all still the worse off for it. Trying to change anything by half-assed measures like forcing the user to choose a browser is just not going to work.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by sifi (170630)

      I totally agree with your comment.

      And why can't they sort something out about the bigger problem, namely that it is near impossible to buy a computer without any OS installed at all; so you get to choose whatever OS you want.

    • by drsmithy (35869)

      This only affects the browser market where Microsoft is steadily losing ground anyway. The fact of the matter is that the operating system itself is still untouched and Microsoft still has no penalty for pulling more and more functionality into the OS itself.

      What functionality has Microsoft "pulled into the OS" that was not in direct response to either a) customer demands or b) a competitor doing it first ?

      MS should have been broken into an OS company and an apps company long ago. But it didn't happen,

  • a little too late (Score:5, Interesting)

    by alen (225700) on Wednesday October 07, 2009 @10:38AM (#29669771)

    Microsoft's ActiveSync is already on 50 million and growing Apple devices, the Palm Pre and Google has licensed it for it's online sync service. IE is old news and MS doesn't seem to care about it anymore. Now MS owns the technology that transfers documents and email over the internet between devices.

  • Moonlight (Score:2, Interesting)

    by FlyingBishop (1293238)

    This sounds like it could provide strong legal protection for anyone that wants to use Moonlight should Microsoft start to invoke patents on non-Novell users.

  • Gee, too bad that quote didn't come from Apple.

  • by mpapet (761907) on Wednesday October 07, 2009 @11:17AM (#29670263) Homepage

    Will anyone else be surprised when Microsoft backs out on today's agreement when they take exception to some fuzzy detail?

    This is a classic delay tactic. Meanwhile the EU is conditioned to accept their misbehavior thus paving the way for more abuse.

  • Was there something in the OEM licenses that prevented PC vendors from installing 3rd-party browsers? The "settlement" spends a lot of time talking about the ballot screen for selecting browsers. But I'm not sure why another vendor could not have made their own ballot screen if they wanted. Or just install whatever browser they like.

    • by 99BottlesOfBeerInMyF (813746) on Wednesday October 07, 2009 @11:40AM (#29670529)

      Was there something in the OEM licenses that prevented PC vendors from installing 3rd-party browsers? The "settlement" spends a lot of time talking about the ballot screen for selecting browsers. But I'm not sure why another vendor could not have made their own ballot screen if they wanted. Or just install whatever browser they like.

      In the past there were but that is no longer necessary. The EU did poll OEMs and ask if they were being pressured by MS before they implemented this solution. Do OEMs feel they will be discriminated against in bulk licensing if they make a different browser the default or offer their own ballot? The results of this poll were not made public, but we can infer the response based upon the EU's solution. However, even if MS does nothing at this point market forces resulting from their previous abuses will push OEMs to install IE as the default browser. This is because MS's intentional breaking of standards ala the famous "embrace, extent, extinguish" memos have resulted in a significant number of Web pages that only function properly in IE. Further, previous findings of fact in other jurisdictions have concluded this was intentional and not an accidental result of MS's actions. As a result, the state of the Web itself motivates OEMs to make IE the default and that state is the result of previous crimes.

      The EU chose to make the ballot the default to minimize MS's ability to retaliate against OEMs. Until Web standards become the norm, however, any remedy from the EU will be only partially effective in restoring real competition and allowing that competition to drive innovation as it would in a capitalist, competitive free market.

  • by Locutus (9039) on Wednesday October 07, 2009 @12:15PM (#29671051)
    <b>'I think this is a trustful deal we are making. There can't be a misunderstanding because it is the final result of a long discussion between Steve Ballmer and me.'<b><br><p>

    This sentence sent the hairs on the back of my neck on edge. How many times have we seen people, companies, legal systems make agreements with Microsoft only to find out that what Microsoft decided the meaning meant was completely different from what the other parties, and common sense, believed the agreement meant? The Novell / Microsoft agreement of recent which was made public the day after the signing of the agreement. Microsoft said it was about patents and Novell said it was about interoperability. To top if off, Novell people said that the patent stuff was thrown in at the 11th hour so you know this bait and switch was planned from the start at One Microsoft Way( FYI, that's the name of the street their headquarters are on ).

    Good to see others are feeling the same way about this too. This does go to show yet again that legal systems are not going to protect the public from Microsoft's attack on small startup businesses, new ideas and... wait for it.... innovation. A decade of playing cat and mouse with Microsoft? Even SCO is still around so forget about the legal systems doing a thing to change Microsoft's way of doing business.

    LoB
  • by Teun (17872) on Wednesday October 07, 2009 @12:23PM (#29671159) Homepage
    Weird, or not so weird, save for a few pdf most documents on the Microsoft site are in proprietary formats like silverlight and MS Office.

    Is that how they plan to advance interoperability without hindrance?

  • The regulator is not naive. He knows he's rubberstamping, and giving a lame excuse.

    If I were debugging a program and I said:

    'I think this is a trustful design change we are making. There can't be a design fault because it is the final result of a long debugging session between the application and me.'

    You would probably think I was crocked in the head. Long sessions usually indicate deep faults, not easy design fixes. Long negotiations don't suddenly become "trustful" just because the two parties couldn't

  • "Whereas, Company does not desire to receive any information that could be used to clone or port Microsoft products in whole or in part" I don't see the point, then.

"The pyramid is opening!" "Which one?" "The one with the ever-widening hole in it!" -- The Firesign Theatre

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