March 24, 2004 9:04 AM PST

FAQ: What's ahead for Microsoft

Q: What exactly did the European Union say?
A: European regulators said that Microsoft broke EU law by abusing its "near monopoly" market power in the workgroup server and media player markets.

What does Microsoft have to do?
It must create a version of the Windows PC operating system that does not have the Media Player included and offer that to computer makers within 90 days. It also must create "complete and accurate documentation" within 120 days that will allow other companies' workgroup servers to be completely interoperable with Windows. It must pay a fine of about $613 million.

Who will enforce the decision?
The European Commission will appoint a "monitoring trustee" to ensure that Microsoft's Windows interface documentation disclosures are complete and that the two versions of Windows are equivalent in performance.

Can Microsoft appeal?
Yes, and the company has made it clear that it will appeal. The first round of appeals will go to the Court of First Instance in Luxembourg. If another appeal is needed, it will go to the European Court of Justice, Europe's highest court.

Is a settlement on different terms still possible if Microsoft appeals?
Yes.

Can Microsoft seek to have the impact of the decision put on hold pending its appeal?
Yes. If the Court of First Instance decides that Microsoft would be "irreparably harmed" by the ruling, it will stay the commission's ruling. That process typically takes nearly three months to complete, but can vary widely.



The European Union's sanctions against Microsoft are:

Too strong
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How long is an appeal likely to take?
Appeals to the Court of First Instance typically take one to two years to be heard. However, Microsoft could ask to put the case on a fast track, which could shorten that time substantially. Judges typically take a few months to issue a decision after oral arguments.

What products are affected?
Microsoft's Windows operating system is the only product in which direct changes are being ordered. The additional documentation could lead to new features in server products from other companies such as Sun Microsystems, however.

What does this mean for Windows prices?
The version of Windows without Media Player may be offered for a slightly lower price.

Does this mean that Microsoft will be sued by other companies or consumers in Europe?
In theory, companies or consumers could file antitrust cases, citing the commission's ruling. In practice, legal experts say Europe's private antitrust legal system is considerably less active than that of the United States, and additional cases are unlikely.

Are other governments likely to do the same thing?
Other governments could open their own proceedings on similar issues. Japan has shown some interest in antitrust issues, seeking evidence from Microsoft in that country. No other government has announced investigations on these particular issues, however.

Does this have any effect on the Microsoft software I've already bought?
No. All previously distributed Microsoft software will continue functioning as before.

Can the U.S. government do anything about it?
If the U.S. government believes that any business restrictions are meant to harm American companies, or to help European companies at the expense of U.S. businesses, it can file a complaint with the World Trade Organization. Experts say such an appeal is unlikely in this case, given the rigor of the European Union's antitrust procedures.

Will this affect other Microsoft products in the future?
The order affects only the Media Player and server interoperability issues today. However, the commission made it clear that it is concerned about Microsoft's other actions and intends the logic to apply to future markets as well. Experts said that this ruling, if upheld, would serve as a clear precedent for other potential features that Microsoft wants to add to Windows.

CNET News.com's Ina Fried contributed to this report.

 

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