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Windows Media derailed as European Court rules against Microsoft

In a move that derails Microsoft’s plans for making Windows Media Player the defacto global standard for television and digital music on personal computers, a court has ordered the software giant to remove the media software immediately from personal computers sold in Europe.

A European Union court ruled last week that Microsoft will have to abide immediately by an EU ruling that forces the software giant to change its commercial practices before the appeals procedure runs its full course, a process that could take years.

The ruling of the Luxembourg-based European Court of First Instance has huge implications for the company, since it forces Microsoft to divulge some trade secrets and produce a version of Windows without its digital Media Player.

The ruling applies only to Europe, but it represents the first time since antitrust challenges to Microsoft began in the 1990s that the company will be forced to alter its bedrock business strategy of bundling its software products and features with Windows. The basic operations of more than 90 percent of the world’s personal computers are controlled by Microsoft’s Windows program.

The commission ordered Microsoft to offer personal computer makers and consumers in Europe a stripped-down Windows with Microsoft’s media player removed. The commission also told the company to license to competitors the technical information for Microsoft’s software for server computers, which would give rivals equal footing.

It also fined Microsoft 497 million euros ($665.5 million). Microsoft had already deposited those funds in an escrow account.

The European sanctions were harsher than those imposed on Microsoft in the United States. As part of a settlement of a federal antitrust suit in 2001, the company had to alter some contract practices, but the remedies did not include unbundling any software from Windows.

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