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EC Deadline Nears for Microsoft in IE Bundling Case

The European Commission (EC) granted Microsoft another week to respond to a competition complaint involving its Internet Explorer Web browser.

April 28 will be the new deadline for Microsoft to respond to the EC's "statement of objections," a Reuters story confirmed on Wednesday. The EC had originally issued its charge against Microsoft back in January.

The EC claims that Microsoft's operating system monopoly with Windows has led to unfair competition in the European Union's Web browser market. Microsoft plans to appeal the EC's preliminary finding that Microsoft unfairly shut out competing browser-making companies by "bundling" Internet Explorer with Windows.

The case, originally filed with the EC in 2007 by Opera Software -- a browser maker based in Oslo, Norway -- has drawn the involvement of a new "interested third party." On Wednesday, the European Committee for Interoperable Systems (ECIS) announced that it has joined the EC's complaint against Microsoft.

The ECIS is a nonprofit coalition of companies that have had competitive disputes with Microsoft in the past. The roster includes "Adobe Systems, Corel, IBM, Nokia, Opera, Oracle, RealNetworks, Red Hat, and Sun Microsystems," according to the ECIS Web site. The ECIS even published a document, "Microsoft: A History of Anticompetitive Behavior and Consumer Harm" (PDF), that presents the case against Microsoft as an antitrust concern.

Other interested parties siding with the EC include the Mozilla Foundation (known for its Firefox browser, as well as Netscape Navigator) and Google, which makes the Chrome browser.

Software product bundling is an issue that the EC has considered before. In September of 2007, the EC found that Microsoft illegally tied its media player with Windows, giving it unfair market advantage, since Windows runs on about 90 percent of PCs.

The EC eventually slapped an 899-million-euro fine on Microsoft to address the media player bundling complaint, as well as a server interoperability complaint.

Microsoft indicated in its Dec. 31 10-Q financial statement that it might be compelled by the EC to separate Internet Explorer from Windows. Alternatively, the company might have to include competing browsers with Windows.

Perhaps coincidentally, Microsoft's newest operating system, Windows 7 (still in beta), will allow users to uncheck certain operating system "features." One of those removable features will be Internet Explorer, the company announced last month.

Microsoft previously lost a U.S. federal antitrust case in which it contended that its browser was inseparable from Windows. That U.S. case was settled with a final judgment on Nov. 12, 2002. However, Microsoft has been under U.S. court antitrust supervision ever since. The supervision has been extended several times, and it now concerns U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) oversight over Microsoft's technical documentation to enable interoperability with other software products.

That DOJ oversight looks to be extended once again. On Thursday, Microsoft and the DOJ agreed to extend supervision to May 12, 2011, although the agreement is still subject to concurrence by the federal judge in the case (PDF).

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for 1105 Media's Converge360 group.

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