Why the EU’s sanctions against Microsoft are wrong

I don’t normally bother to read about Microsoft’s latest legal battle when yet another competitor cries out that nobody buys their product because it’s free/cheaper/better/more widely available* (*delete as appropriate) from Microsoft, but yesterday’s rejection of Microsoft’s appeal against European Union sanctions concerns me greatly.

Forget the €497m fine – Microsoft can afford it!

Forget the trade secrets – Microsoft’s crown jewels are Windows and Office – most of that source code is still safely locked up in Redmond. Besides which, perhaps we’ll get a better quality of third-party software if it works more closely with Windows.

What worries me is that Microsoft has been forced to ship a version of Windows without Media Player.

It may sound inconsequential but its the wider ramifications of this ruling that concern me. Last week, Microsoft bought an anti-spyware company. Many believe that this sort of technology should be bundled with the operating system (more so than a media player), but this latest legal ruling in Brussels means that Microsoft now needs to be wary when including any new technologies in Windows, just in case a competitor cries foul.

The unbundling of Windows Media Player achieves nothing – those of us who use it will go and download it from Windows Update instead. Real Networks are upset because they only have a tiny proportion of the market. Boo hoo! Apple’s proprietary iTunes service is tied to the iPod meaning that they have a huge percentage of the portable digital music market sewn up, but as far as I am aware no-one is challenging them in court for that (only for charging more for downloads in the UK than elsewhere in Europe). My past experience of RealPlayer is that it is unstable, that I can’t download it without giving away my e-mail address and that it keeps popping up messages on my desktop. I only use it at all because I need it for certain websites that only offer digital media content in RealPlayer format (i.e. the BBC Radio Player). That is the crux of this issue – consumers will use whatever player they need to access their content, be that Apple QuickTime Player, Real Networks RealPlayer or Microsoft Windows Media Player – it often depends on the technologies used by the website serving the content, not what is bundled with the operating system.

4 thoughts on “Why the EU’s sanctions against Microsoft are wrong


  1. I agree completely; MS will no doubt appeal, and I don’t think this will be upheld…

    But if it is, it’ll be interesting to see what happens. It opens up an interesting question: what exactly should an OS do? should it just literally be a disk operating system, allowing you to interact with stored data and nothing more? And if it supplies more services than that, where does the line get drawn? Media Player is a bit of a grey area: it’s not essential to the OS function, like Messenger isn’t (hence why although MS ships WinXP with Windows Messenger, it’s not changed since initial release – everyone downloads and uses the unbundled MSN Messenger).

    I ask myself this question every time MS announces a new technology initiative, or new features for Windows; you mentioned MS’ aquisition of GIANT Company, but I had similar thoughts when MS acquired an antivirus software company (apparently MS will be releasing their own antivirus prog, which I assume the anit-spyware bits will be integrated with), and also when they announched WinFS – the ability to store your photos using metadata may well put Adobe (who make Photo Album)and other companies’ noses out of joint.

    I must say, I hate Real Player – I find it intrusive (shortcuts to the thing plastered everywhere, a service running in the background, prompts for registration, bah!), and itunes really, *really* sucks! Unfortunately, I have an ipod so am forced to use it, which really annoys me. I still use Media Player to organise and play media on my machine though. Perhaps Apple should be forced to make ipod Media Player compatible?

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