24 February 2004 Europe’s single-market Commissioner has intervened in the European antitrust case against Microsoft to ensure that the final decision is not too harsh.
Commissioner Frits Bolkestein is concerned that conditions that could be imposed against Microsoft may force it to share too much of its source code with rivals. However, analysts have suggested that Bolkestein is more worried about Microsoft contesting the decision in court.
At the same time, the EU’s antitrust chief Mario Monti, who has been in close contact with Bolkestein’s officials, claims to have set a date for a final decision, but said that this gave no indication of the final outcome. “Until the moment that a decision is taken, nothing is impossible,” he said.
The Commission has already made a preliminary decision against Microsoft on the grounds that it is engaging in an uncompetitive practice by bundling its Windows Media Player product with the Windows operating system.
But discussions initiated by the Commissioner over how much information Microsoft should have to disclose, suggest that the organisation will be let off more lightly than had previously been expected.
Microsoft has always denied the charges, claiming that consumers will suffer if Media Player is unbundled from the operating system. But it has said that it is continuing to work with the Commission on an amicable settlement.
If found guilty, the software giant faces fines of up $4 billion. Alternatively, the Commission could order the company to draw up a plan of action for ending its offences.
Internal discussions are a normal part of procedures when a decision is near, said the Commission. Negotiations are likely to come to a head on 3 March when a draft decision is expected to go to an advisory committee of national regulators.
Although a date for a final decision has not yet been disclosed — nor would the Commission state whether Microsoft has been informed — analysts believe that a final decision could be made before the end of March.