It's really hard to be a monopolist these days. That's what Microsoft found when Monday the European Union slapped down its appeal to an antitrust decision made several years ago. Apparently there are a few places on earth where money can't buy Microsoft happiness. I'm glad that one of them happens to be an enormous market like Europe. According to a story on Vnunet.com:
Microsoft is now facing a record 497 million Euros fine as well as having to pay 80 percent of the legal costs of the case.
The software giant will also have to assist its rivals with third-party integration through documentation and support, and strip its media player software from a version of Windows.
The Luxembourg court said in its ruling: "The Court of First Instance essentially upholds the Commission's finding that Microsoft abused its dominant position."
Microsoft, for its part, was publicly a very gracious loser, though no doubt the scheme machine is in high gear in the background.
What will this mean for the average user? Not much. A few extra clicks to get Microsoft's software is all. But hopefully it paves the way for greater competition on the vendor side. Hopefully.
This was expressed well by Red Hat's CEO, Matthew Szulik (in a press release received via e-mail):
Today's decision by the Court of First Instance in Luxembourg in the Microsoft matter is great news for innovation and consumer choice, both in Europe and around the world. The Court has confirmed that competition law prevents a monopolist from simply using its control of the market to lock in customers and stifle new competitors. In our business, interoperability information is critically important and cannot simply be withheld to exclude all competition. Given Red Hat's firm belief that competition, not questionable patent and trade secret claims, drives innovation and creates greater consumer value, we were pleased with the overall decision and look forward to examining the decision in greater detail.
In a Financial Times story, Microsoft, for its part, notes that its competitors, like Red Hat and Google, should be careful what they wish for, as this ruling could also be applied to their detriment.
Can Microsoft compete on equal terms? Of course it can. Will it? Undoubtedly so. Microsoft doesn't need monopoly to compete well. That it resorts to this regularly is simply due to a lack of creativity. It has shown that its products can compete on their own merits. Let's hope that this decision prods Microsoft to do just that. Added competition will be good for everyone involved, and especially the customer.