EU may force Windows unbundling

14 May 2002 European Union antitrust regulators might try to force Microsoft to split up its Windows platform, even if their US counterparts do not achieve this themselves.

Microsoft’s ability to separate different applications in the Windows operating system is one of the central disputes in the company’s current US antitrust trial.

The company’s critics have demanded that it ‘un-bundle’ applications such as its Internet Explorer browser and Windows Media Player software from the Windows operating systems. It is argued that this will allow rival applications, such as the Netscape browser and RealNetworks’ media player, to compete for Windows users.

However, Microsoft’s chairman Bill Gates has testified that such un-bundling is simply not possible and would result in a degradation of the performance of Windows. Although several technical consultants testifying for the prosecution have claimed that un-bundling is possible, Microsoft may have ultimately won this dispute. According to the US media and industry pundits, Gates’ testimony on the subject has been received well in the US court and by presiding judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly.

Yet speculation has arisen that the European Union (EU) will not be so amenable. A report in the Financial Times, claims that European antitrust regulators may try to force Microsoft to separate its Media Player from Windows.

The rumour is based on a suspicion that EU competition authorities want to “flex their muscles”. The FT refers to similar circumstances when the EU blocked the €48 billion bid by conglomerate General Electric to acquire Honeywell in mid-2001, although it had been cleared in the US.

According to the FT, Microsoft is “genuinely bemused” by the possibility of the EU forcing it to remove Media Player from Windows, particularly because its closest rival is RealNetworks, whose products already account for 70% of the world market for software media players.

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...

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