Europe finds Microsoft guilty

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According to sources close to the investigation, the European Union (EU) has found Microsoft guilty of violating EU antitrust laws and is now debating a punishment. Sources close to the deliberations say that two requirements are on the table: forcing Microsoft to share more proprietary software code with competitors and making the company separate its media player from Windows. Whatever the EU decides, the union appears to be considering sanctions against Microsoft that go well beyond the punishment the software giant faced in its US antitrust case.

"We are making progress on the Microsoft case, but we do not yet have any announcements, any statements to make," a spokesperson for EU Competition Commissioner Mario Monti said yesterday, responding to queries about the case. "I am asking you to be a bit more patient and wait until the Commission has come to a conclusion on this case, which probably will take still months."

Before the EU can announce charges and Microsoft's punishment, the union will work to ensure that its case is airtight, both legally and technically. For the Windows Media Player (WMP) charges, this process is probably fairly straightforward. But requiring Microsoft to open up more technical information to competitors is fraught with problems, and the EU must figure out how to specify the technical details in a way that ensures a competitive playing field. The EU is convinced that much of Microsoft's success is a result of illegally tying its desktop products to its Windows Server products. So one of the EU goals is that Windows desktop users who sign on in the morning might be connecting to Linux or other servers on the back end, although the users won't see a difference.

The EU case against Microsoft is the culmination of a 3-year investigation that concentrated largely on server, rather than desktop-related, concerns, as well as charges that the company unfairly harmed competition by bundling WMP with its dominant OS. A final decision in the case isn't expected until June.

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