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E.U. Commission: More Antitrust Trouble For MS 406

Tidal Flame writes "According to Wired news, Microsoft appears to be in hot water over antitrust issues again. The European Commission says it will require Microsoft to 'share more proprietary information with its rivals' and 'uncouple' it's Media Player audiovisual software from the Windows operating system." iCoach points to this article at The Register covering the same.
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E.U. Commission: More Antitrust Trouble For MS

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  • Ha! (Score:5, Funny)

    by arvindn ( 542080 ) on Wednesday March 12, 2003 @02:16PM (#5495433) Homepage Journal
    share more proprietary information with its rivals
    But that would only be a problem if they had any rivals...
    • Re:Ha! (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Pike65 ( 454932 )
      Also, does it really matter?

      Is there any 'propriety information' they've got that we want and that hasn't already been reverse engineered by someone@somewhere?

      (I can't believe 'we' just slipped so easily off the tongue there - the politics of this place must be getting to me . . .)
      • perhaps not, but this'll sure as hell get them around the DMCA for developing that stuff in Europe.
      • Re:Ha! (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Baki ( 72515 ) on Wednesday March 12, 2003 @02:35PM (#5495604)
        Yes, I think it does matter.

        There are companies that prefer to buy commercially developed software with support, guarantees etc. At the moment products such as Samba do work but cannot give any guarantee since MSFT might break their reverse-engineered implementation at any time. Office-compatability is sketchy as well and you never know if any document can be opened with other software.

        If a formal spec to the protocol/fileformat/API is available and it is 100% legal to implement products based on these specs, others can easier implement products that use the protocol and they can guarantee that it works.
        • Re:Ha! (Score:3, Insightful)

          by mpe ( 36238 )
          There are companies that prefer to buy commercially developed software with support, guarantees etc.

          Or rather that's what they think they are buying. As opposed to paying someone to tell you to "reboot, reformat, reinstall and upgrade".
      • The proprietary info isn't really the problem, neither is bundling, as such. I mean, in an ideal, non-monopolistic world, bundling wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing.

        The deal is, for lawyers to figure out a legal description of the problem that goes beyond just saying "M$ sucks". And that legal description has to be based in laws that were written long before computers... (Well, I'm thinking of US laws, EU laws are of course newer, but you get the idea...) So the legal case probably won't ever precisely address what seem like the obvious real issues. It is kind of like getting Al Capone for tax evasion.

      • Also, does it really matter?

        Is there any 'propriety information' they've got that we want and that hasn't already been reverse engineered by someone@somewhere?

        Whether or not they know about this proprietary information, it does matter. In some cases, you can be sued if you use code that you did not obtain legally, so many other companies won't take the chance. Having a government body say that it is okay to use this information would encourage its use.
  • by mooman ( 9434 ) on Wednesday March 12, 2003 @02:17PM (#5495438) Homepage
    They've had to "uncouple" IE. Now they're being asked to uncouple Media Player.

    What's next? Uncoupling the calculator? The start button? Command prompt?

    Following this line of thinking ad absurdum, what exactly is Microsoft allowed to package with Windows? Sheesh!

    • Next, on Jerry Springer:
      "Windows is a Kernel. Deal with it." :)
    • I agree with this. The bundling is (clearly?) not the problem. The GNU/Linux distros bundles browsers, media players, calculators and that's fine, that's a good thing.

      In fact I have a hard time considering an operating system that doesn't ship with a compiler.
      • by KoolDude ( 614134 ) on Wednesday March 12, 2003 @03:00PM (#5495839)

        The tricky part is that M$ is a monopoly. With 90-95% market share in Operating Systems, bundling browser with their operating system gives them 90-95% market share in browsers. Same goes for Media Player. This is considered as an unfair advantage.
        • The problem as I see it is that they work with non-free software (not only non-free from a copyright perspective, but hassled with patents as well). If they did free software the market share wouldn't be a problem since you could fork at any sign of misbehaviour (whether spyware or pricing).
      • GNU/Linux bundles these packages as.. yes.. packages, and they can be uninstalled. With Linux you also have a choice to roll your own without anything preinstalled. Things like Gentoo Linux come close, and Linuxfromscratch is the ultimate down this lane.
        However with Windows, I get everything except the kitchen sink (because mozilla already has that) and can't uninstall most of it. It does allow me to delete calc.exe and erase its icon, but who cares about calculators? The really important bits that rake in the $$$ are hooked and bolted onto the OS and I haven't managed to erase them without seriously destabilizing the OS. Now if I can't do that, how will Joe Sixpack do it? Of course, Joe Sixpack doesn't care.. *sighs melodramatically*
        • Right. I'm sure there might be technical differences (is Media Player as hard to uninstall as the shell or the file manager?) but honestly I don't think that integration and bundling is inherently bad. The problem is non-free software.

          The technicalities might have become worse over the years. The last Windows I tinkered with extensively was Windows 95, where I managed to replace everything (and then though "why bother?" and switched to GNU/Linux).
    • by truthsearch ( 249536 ) on Wednesday March 12, 2003 @02:24PM (#5495506) Homepage Journal
      The calculator and command prompt can be uninstalled. The Start button itself is not an application, so I won't comment on that. But Explorer, which provides the start button and desktop can be replaced. IE and the Media Player, however, can not be uninstalled. What's next is anything that is integrated which can not be uninstalled yet has competition.
      • IE and the Media Player, however, can not be uninstalled. What's next is anything that is integrated which can not be uninstalled yet has competition.

        Who cares if they can't be uninstalled? It is trivial to install a preferred player or browser and make it the default. With the size of hard drives today, the 10 to 100 MB that IE and Media Player occupy is trivial as well.

        • It was the initial bundling which causes the problem. The fact that they came as the defaults and at first could not be changed from being the defaults that get them in trouble. At the time of the abuse of monopoly, you could not change the default web browser or media player. Today it's trivial, earlier it wasn't.
    • Hey, having a media player come with windows server is the kind of value added benefit that Microsoft talks about when comparing Windows server to other operating systems. Now if only my racks came equipped with speakers in them, I'd be set. Maybe some zero-U solution can be found out there for me. The idea of watching streaming media while doing sys admin tasks is something that you just can't beat...
    • I think MS should be allowed to package any additional software it wants with windows as long as it is removable. MS does this to some extent already (some stuff can be chosen during install), but they could do a fair amount more.

      I think the stability and security of Windows could also be greatly enhanced from the ability to remove parts from windows. Sick of IE vulnerabilities, uninstall it. I use a fair amount of additional software that is installed with windows (movie maker, media player, IE, etc.), but I wouldn't object is someone else wanted to remove those components from their system.

      The flip side of the coin is the handiness of having things integrated. I like having the OS be feature rich out of the box. I don't like having to download additional software to perform basic tasks. I'm sure there are better calculators out there, but the one bundled with windows is ok for what I need it to do.
    • How about this: your OS is an OS, not an app. Your OS is a service provider between hardware and apps. Apps do things like play media files, browse the web, etc.

      There you go. Keep your OS an OS. Everything else is unneeded, undesired, and merely designed to widen monopoly to include the means of info distribution, what info is distributed, and who gets to access info.

      Sorry, this isn't a place for M$ (or any company) to control.

      • by tc ( 93768 )
        You're assuming the old skool model where apps are monolithic things completely separate from one another. These days, people try to build apps which reuse components. That's not sinister, it's just sane engineering.

        If MS wants to build, say a componentized HTML renderer, or media playback library (DirectShow) that any application on Windows can use what's so wrong with that? All that IE and MediaPlayer are are simple wrappers around those reusable components.

        If you think about it, apart from the very i

  • by Sunnan ( 466558 ) <> on Wednesday March 12, 2003 @02:21PM (#5495466) Homepage Journal
    It's like telling a thief to "steal less". As long as Microsoft does non-free software (as opposed to GPL or BSD-style), rulings like this will only help legitimize them rather than raise concerns of their ongoing practices.
  • by k3v0 ( 592611 )
    I was greeted with a microsoft screen-covering advertisement when I clicked to the article.
  • Options (Score:2, Interesting)

    by kc8ioy ( 640909 )
    Why can't they just have a checkbox when you install Windoughs for if you don't want these things (such as IE or WMP)? Linux Distrubutions usally don't make you install a certain browser (depends on the distro). If they do this, they probably will make you enter the product key 6 more times per product checked to not be installed;-).
  • by SirLantos ( 559182 ) on Wednesday March 12, 2003 @02:23PM (#5495503) Homepage
    Of course Microsoft will do everything in its power to find a loop hole or get the decision overturned.

    I wonder if MS was hoping that nobody would notice they did the same thing with Media Player that they did is MSIE.

    I could see a conversation between a consumer and MS now:

    Consumer: "Hey! You guys are shoving Media Player down my throat."

    MS: "Media player? What Media Player?"

    Consumer:"Oh, come on! You didn't actually think nobody would notice did you?"

    *MS waves hand in front of consumers face*

    MS:"There is no Media Player."

    Consumer:"There is no media player."

    MS:"You don't want any plugins."

    Consumer:"I don't want any plugins."

    MS:"Move along."

    Consumer:"Move alone. Move along."

  • then, when I clicked back to the page after my posting, the ad link was broken, giving me a 404 error.
  • by G3ckoG33k ( 647276 ) on Wednesday March 12, 2003 @02:27PM (#5495541)
    Please make Microsoft explain why they bought key OpenGL patents during 2002 just to jump off the OpenGL group the year after.

    Please, force them to keep those patents open to the community for at least fifteen more years, or something like that.
    • Easy - they jumped off the OpenGL board specifically because they wouldn't commit to not using those patents against other ARB members (which is a requirement for being on the ARB).

      Ergo, they intend to use those patents someday - and why not (from their point of view), they no longer require OpenGL to succeed in the 3D areas that interest them.
  • How about this? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by dizzl ( 575193 ) on Wednesday March 12, 2003 @02:29PM (#5495559)
    Just a brainstorm solution for *all bundling* of software: Why not let MS bundle any software it likes, but under one condition: It has to adher to open standards. If it wants to distribute WMP, let it do so, but only the codecs that play open and well-defined media formats. So it has the choice to remove WMx-files or to document them fully. The same line of reasoning could be followed for future inappropriateness. dizzl
    • Re:How about this? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by pmz ( 462998 ) on Wednesday March 12, 2003 @04:05PM (#5496468) Homepage
      Why not let MS bundle any software it likes, but under one condition: It has to adher to open standards.

      What's so sad is that many other companies do this by choice or are forced by the market, but Microsoft has to be forced to do it by governments. This is sickening.

      Outside of Microsoft, the computer industry has settled on things like TCP/IP, NFS, POSIX, various ANSI standards, IEEE standards, several ISO standards, etc. just so any amount of progress is possible. When there is real competition, sometimes competitors really do what they don't like: working together for their common benefit. This is a good thing. But Microsoft is like the toddler who hasn't learned to share: mine, mine, mine! This is bad for anyone who does business with MS.
  • God dammit. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by JanusFury ( 452699 ) <kevin,gadd&gmail,com> on Wednesday March 12, 2003 @02:32PM (#5495591) Homepage Journal
    I'm sorry, but this is idiotic. I've had about enough of this 'coupling' shit.

    This is how it works:
    Media Player and IE are both FULLY REUSABLE ActiveX components that come with windows. Any windows developer can 100% rely on the fact that they will be installed on a windows machine (Well, not 100% with media player, but with IE, 100%). This means you can add simple media playback and web functionality to a program without having to purchase external tools or spend hours integrating some external solution!

    I don't WANT components I rely on to be uninstalled. All Windows Media Player and Internet Explorer really ARE is glorified activex component hosts. The real work is done by DirectShow and the Microsoft HTML library.

    I can see how this is bad for competition, but we're going after the wrong target here - IE and Media Player aren't the problem; the way they're being used is.
    • >> I can see how this is bad for competition

      I cant. Make linux/BSD/OS2/BeOS/WhateverOS competitive, use the same techniques.

      Lets see some real binary code reuse in linux, and not this crap where App A needs and App B needs If I need two different versions of the library for two different apps, guess what, that ain't code reuse.

      I mean sue Microsoft when they break laws. Having a better product isn't anti-competitive. It is competitive, it's just that noone else is competing.

      Linux (for example) will neither gain mind nor market share in the courtroom. You cant mandate 'make your product shitty so the alternatives dont look so bad'.

      • Kinda like this?


        msvcp50.dl l
        msvcrt .dll
      • Re:God dammit. (Score:4, Insightful)

        by maraist ( 68387 ) <michael.maraistN ... .com ['pam' in g> on Wednesday March 12, 2003 @04:07PM (#5496488) Homepage
        Lets see some real binary code reuse in linux, and not this crap where App A needs and App B needs If I need two different versions of the library for two different apps, guess what, that ain't code reuse.

        Would you rather App A symply not work because App B's required isn't backwardly compatible? Or would you rather have everything staticly linked?

        Heck, half the time, is a symlink to 3.4. I don't understand what your problem is.

        I mean sue Microsoft when they break laws. Having a better product isn't anti-competitive. It is competitive, it's just that noone else is competing.

        While in principle I agree with you (people should focus energies on outclassing MicroSoft), the reality is very different. The issue that has to be addressed is the barrier to entry.

        1'st tier: Make an audio platform that can be used by 3'rd parties.

        This would require that each apps that wants to use widget-class-X needs to be able to go fetch / download and install it without bothering the user. Any complications in this process are such that app developers won't want to be bothered or liable for the associated tech support. Thus, if there is a "standard" garunteed installation of widget-class-X, then any sane developer would use the default. Since MS ships many and eventually all widget-classes, the defaults are usually/always MicroSoft apps.

        BUT, any such app is really just part of a widget-class. Thus any non MicroSoft producer is likely to not be purchased if there is already a bundled default.

        The cycle repeats itself as MS includes more and more default widgets.. Now you may think this trivial for something like media.. Maybe you even think it's trivial for a web browser... How about a web server? How about a file-system diagnostics? So on and so forth.

        Now you could argue that these attributes are part of the Operating Environment (OS is a tainted word). This is merely the platform for the "real" user applications. Like video games, office products, money/resource managers, etc.

        But the next issue is application interaction. Media is regularly communicated between different PC's.. Via email/sneaker-net/etc. The format of that media MUST be compatible.. Thus either you need an application that can render the media or you need to own the same software-vendor's media-package.

        By media, I'm actually speaking of word-processing, spread-sheets, presentors more than jpg, .avi, .wma. There are plenty of popular tools to generate .png/.jpg/.mpg, and windows actually supports these formats. More-over there are currently no proprietary "extensions". But word-documents are the foundation of the work-place. The fact that MS won in the office wars is not a problem. The fact that the format of office documents is not reliably renderable on peer machines is the problem.

        The reason MS is the champion of office apps is because they killed off their competition, and they've managed to get people to regularly upgrade to the latest version.

        They way they do this is through lack of backward compatibility... If userX upgrades office; they'll generate documents that are not renderable by other peer users. Thus what often happens is that other users are greatly encouraged to upgrade as well.

        Likewise, competing WordPerfect or what-have-you is generally incompatible and thus TCO is reduced if only a single vendor is consolidated to..

        Thus their monopoly developed out of a cripling of one of the points of an application; interfacability (being interfacing with the user or other apps).

        To be fair, it is unlikely that they went too far out of their way to hold a proprietary format.. It is more the fact that they didn't abstract the document format from the rendering process. (Embedded links to applications). I'm sure they made a contious design decision to lock customers in, however.

        The problem is that once a person is has something that is adaquate, they will be unwilling to replace it was something completely new.

        The end result then becomes an unregulatable monopoly. This monopoly allows them to basically tax every computer-bering man-woman-and-company on the face of the planet.. That in turn gives them enough resources to hire large numbers of "talented" people. Which in turn allows them to more quickly write widget-classes to encroach into ever newer markets, persisting the cycle.

        The problems for the end user are that we're basically semi-willing citizens of an software dictator.. If they charge more money, we're forced to pay (their military is the BSA). If they break compatibility and successfully promote a version upgrade in one segment of the world, eventually everybody must upgrade to follow sute; and thereby pay their MS-tax. If they want to police you (as in 1984) then they are fully capable: (media player CD-title taddle-taleing, Win-Update installed-software taddle-taleing, and lord knows what-else).

        Our lives within the computer are litterly based on the whims of MS. The only thing that prevents them for doing more to subvert us and charge more from us are practicality measures.. Suppy and demand limits their fees (but they grow as much as as fast as they can), policy viability (Their hailstorm failed in it's first attempt).

        MS MUST be checked somehow, and it is unlikely to be viable through competition. Even if we wanted to, we could not all migrate to Mac's (the next most practical alternative). The application base just isn't there.

    • Re:God dammit. (Score:3, Insightful)

      by manyoso ( 260664 )
      And that's why the only appropriate remedy for this or any of the other illegal anti-trust actions is to fine Microsoft *heavily*. This will serve as a powerfull more anti-competitive actions and it is decidedly in the interest of consumers. The key really is making the fines large enough for the shareholders to demand accountability from Microsoft.

      In the end money is the prime motivator for Microsoft and hitting them in the pocketbooks is the only way to make sure they _listen_. With everything else MS will just wiggle around and delay until the 'remedy' is void of any real teeth.
    • Re:God dammit. (Score:2, Insightful)

      by wwest4 ( 183559 )
      I agree that embedded, even truly "coupled," components are not evil. But the use of these components to control standards is.

      IE has become a de facto standard for how your HTML should render. The W3C should be the authoritative source, not just MS. Similarly, industry consortium should decide on A/V delivery standards. Microsoft should not be allowed to use their OS monopoly to unfairly affect this decision to their exclusive benefit, but clearly they have been doing so - see the Windows Media sticker on your new DVD player.

      It's not all MS' fault. Morons everywhere confuse the terms "protocol" and "product" and let MS walk all over the rest of us.

      Bottom line - evangelize and trust bust until they stop it. Maybe people are sick of hearing about it. Sorry, we need to keep whining until they are stopped... or until all means have been clearly exhausted.

  • EU (Score:4, Informative)

    by farmerj ( 566229 ) on Wednesday March 12, 2003 @02:32PM (#5495594)
    The EU commission unlike its American counterparts is made up of a diverse mixture of cultures and backgrounds.
    Playing to the commission and its composition authority will be orders of magnitude more difficult than doing it in the US, especially the French and Germans.

    Not to say its not possible, just a lot more difficult.
    • US Dollars spend well in all cultures. It may require more dollars to buy them off (than it did here) but it's not like Microsoft has a shortage of cash.

  • by weave ( 48069 ) on Wednesday March 12, 2003 @02:45PM (#5495698) Journal
    No, not Media Player, but that Real crap. I wish they'd just go tits up (nod to the reg []). If Microsoft reigns for a thousand years and slaughters helpless companies left and right, it'll be a small price to pay if it rids the earth of the real player. Oh forgive me, the realone player.
  • and 'uncouple' it's Media Player audiovisual software from the Windows operating system
    I wonder if some of the new 'proprietary information' will include some of the WMP technology so that Winamp [] et. all can play the files properly. At the moment nullsoft is required to not do anything to WMP files but play them - no visualisation etc.
  • by LiquidEric ( 658463 ) on Wednesday March 12, 2003 @02:46PM (#5495713)
    I enjoy having media player come with windows, but it does give Microsoft even more power in the industry. The long term cost to consumers from this market power could be greater than the short-term cost of further separating Media Player. Secondly, Microsoft does need provide more information to third party software developers. According to this article at ZDNet,,t297-s2121402,00. html "Microsoft used undocumented application programming interfaces (APIs) to make the company's software work better with Windows than competitor's" products. This is an example of the anti-competitive behavior Microsoft exhibits.
  • by solarrhino ( 581267 ) on Wednesday March 12, 2003 @02:49PM (#5495735) Homepage Journal
    Tell them to have the U.N. write a resolution against you. That way everybody wins: they get to look busy, and you don't ever have to comply!
  • Bundling... (Score:3, Troll)

    by TheShadow ( 76709 ) on Wednesday March 12, 2003 @03:17PM (#5495975)
    It's funny that Microsoft gets a lot of shit for bundling software with Windows when just about every Linux distro you find at the local Best Buy comes with 10x more user applications... everything from web browsers to graphic editing tools to compilers to word processors... etc... etc...

    So, why is it wrong for MS... but alright for Red Hat, Mandrake, etc?
    • Re:Bundling... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 12, 2003 @03:49PM (#5496324)
      That depends on your definition of bundling. I bundling means that the option is available to be installed and uninstalled at the users whim, then Red Hat is bundling, and M$ is not.

      However M$ has used its market & political clout to ensure that their software cannot be uninstalled. "Why?" you ask. The answer is obvious, to kill the competition. They produce a product that most end users will accept blindly and force distributers to use that product and not others. If it could be uninstalled, some companies might accually install another browser in its place.

      Look at the transcripts from the Anti-trust suit over IE. Many major distributers (Compaq, Dell, etc.) were forced to remove Netscape as an installation option, or face the revocation of their license to install Windows on their systems. Micro$oft wouldn't do this if kind of marketing on a whim, and I don't think that they are doing it for tech support reasons.

      Microsoft has a knowledgable grasp of consumer markets. The economy is driven by laziness. The key to dominance its to produce something difficult to remove and make it difficult to obtain alternatives.
    • Re:Bundling... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by pmz ( 462998 ) on Wednesday March 12, 2003 @03:56PM (#5496386) Homepage
      So, why is it wrong for MS... but alright for Red Hat, Mandrake, etc?

      The Linux distributions, for example, bundle to increase user choice. Microsoft bundles applications to decrease user choice.

      Why is this do difficult for many people to understand?
      • The Linux distributions, for example, bundle to increase user choice. Microsoft bundles applications to decrease user choice.

        How can the same action result in two opposite outcomes?

        Because what actually reduced user choice in Microsoft's case is not bundling (which in fact increases choice), but its other actions, such as preventing OEMs from also bundling Netscape.

        In fact, if Microsoft had allowed Netscape to ship with OEM PCs, provided a start-up option to choose Netscape or IE as the default browser, and actually respected that setting even in its own software (when launching a HTTP link from email, for example), then I don't think many people will disagree that it'd be a rather fair fight. A monopoly is required to bend over backwards like that for a competitor.

        It's not the "bundling" at all, and I'm only explaining all this because you were wondering:

        Why is this do difficult for many people to understand?

    • The issue isn't that MS is bundling these apps; the issue is that a *predatory and abusive monopoly* is bundling apps. The former is fine (meaning any company in general); the latter is what's problematic.
  • by geomon ( 78680 ) on Wednesday March 12, 2003 @03:18PM (#5495988) Homepage Journal
    We might as well face the fact that regardless of whether they are found guilty of collusion or price fixing, today's corporations are now governments unto themselves. They have no fear of government sanctions because they can sway public opinion just by disconnecting whatever service/product they offer from the retail pipeline. The resulting outage produces indignation adn outrage from consumers that is powerful enough to cow any elected official and can bury any meaningful reform to the system.

    We are all screwed. Your computer is not yours, it belongs to WinTel. You do not own right to listen to the music you just purchased, you just rented it. You do not have the right or the option to choose where your utilities come from (or how much you are going to pay for them), the phone and power companies have made that decision for you.

    This whole idea of democracy was a crazy experiment to begin with. The new monarcy is fully in control.

    Fucking give up and quit whining (I'm now off to mail my monthly Microsoft/Intel/Verizon payment).

System restarting, wait...