Microsoft Rivals Issue New Complaint to EU

By Mark Berniker

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The European Commission is looking into a new complaint by several of Microsoft's rivals alleging unfair practices through the software giant's Windows XP operating system.

EU spokesman Amelia Torres told reporters the European Union has received a complaint from some of Microsoft's competitors, and the commission will soon begin reviewing its contents. The new complaint is not expected to delay a current investigation by the EU of Microsoft, which expected to be completed in the coming weeks, or perhaps months.

The latest complaint by Microsoft's rivals is being put together by the Computer and Communications Industry Association (CCIA), a coalition that includes Nokia Corp., Kodak Co., Fujitsu Ltd., Sun Microsystems, AOL Time Warner and Oracle. The legal complaint asks European regulators to prevent Microsoft from extending its Windows market dominance into new markets.

The CCIA's legal complain was filed in Brussels on January 31st, and is a legal strategy to complicate Microsoft's plan to settle a series of European antitrust allegations that are still pending. The CCIA is pushing for European regulators to force Microsoft to remove music, video and Internet-surfing aspects of Windows in the European market.

The complaint goes onto allege that Microsoft's Windows XP operating system constitutes a new threat to competition, particularly in the fields of mobile communications, digital music, video distribution and Web services. The complaint also says Microsoft market dominant Office software suite is designed in a manner that makes it difficult for customers to use non-Windows programs, including Linux and Apple-based software.

The legal filing goes onto accuse Microsoft of being in violation of the European Union Treaty's Article 82, dealing with antitrust matters. The complaint alleges Microsoft is unfairly bundling products and giving its own products preferential treatment, which it claims is in violation of European Union statutes.

European regulators are known to be tougher in slapping restrictions on companies, than their U.S. counterparts. The question remains will the CCIA's complaint pass muster with the commission. It says beyond Microsoft bundling its new products into Windows XP at the expense of its competition, it is going further by using its market muscle to push itself deeper into Web browser software market.

The CCIA complaint says it "puts it (Microsoft) in the strategically critical position of controlling Web standards," aimed at ringing alarm bells in Europe. The CCIA goes onto say Microsoft its using a similar tactic by leveraging its Media Player software to become the de facto digital content standard for video and music on the Web.

The complaint goes ask to request regulators to force Microsoft to unbundled several of its products. The EU is expected to examine Microsoft's instant messaging, e-mail, Internet Explorer browser and Movie Maker software, and the ways that they are integrated. It goes onto to back legal moves to force Microsoft to include Sun's Java technology in its Windows operating system.

The CCIA is arguing that Microsoft has violated European Commission competition law. While it could be weeks that the EU could render a judgement on the initial antitrust probe within weeks, there is not likely to be any decisions on the latest complaint from CCIA for months.