03.01.2004 12:00 PM
Europe may disarm Microsoft’s Media Player

Antitrust regulators from the 15 member nations of the European Union are reportedly on the verge of disarming Microsoft’s Windows Media Player in an effort to prevent it from becoming a global standard for video and music entertainment on PCs.

The group will gather in Brussels March 15 to discuss a European Commission antitrust ruling against Microsoft, the New York Times reported. The commission has drafted a preliminary ruling that finds the software company guilty of abusing the dominant position of its Windows operating system, a finding that is expected to be supported by the national regulators, the report said.

A second meeting will be convened within a week to discuss corrective measures to impose on Microsoft. The second gathering of the so-called advisory committee will also discuss how much to fine the company. The commission typically makes a final ruling a few days after the second meeting, which means this ruling may come March 23 or March 24.

Last August, the European Commission told Microsoft that its practice of bundling Media Player into Windows amounted to an abuse of the operating system’s dominant position because it placed rival music and video players at a disadvantage.

The commission agreed with Microsoft’s rivals, who argue that record companies and Hollywood studios will increasingly tailor their digital products exclusively for Microsoft’s Media Player, because it will be the only player they are sure that people will have on their personal computers.

Microsoft violated antitrust law on two counts, according to the draft ruling. By tying its music and video player software into Windows, the Times reported, Microsoft put rivals at an unfair competitive disadvantage. And by withholding information about how Windows works, the company hindered competitors in the market for server software that runs networks.

Microsoft could be fined at least $100 million. To end the violations, the commission wants Microsoft to sell two versions of Windows: one with Windows Media Player stripped out and sold separately, and the other with the software included.

Regulators may also demand that Microsoft itself propose “within a few months of a ruling” what computer code for Windows it should disclose to make the operating system fully compatible with programs and servers manufactured by rivals.

Microsoft still hopes to settle the case. The European antitrust matter “is the most important case for the company, shareholders and customers,” Microsoft’s chief financial officer, John Connors, said, in a report published by Dow Jones.

In the meantime, Japan’s Fair Trade Commission announced last week that it had raided Microsoft’s Tokyo office. The commission is investigating whether the company has violated the country’s anti-monopoly law. The investigation is related to Microsoft’s Windows XP software, a commission official said.

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