Microsoft Responds to EU Antitrust Charges

Microsoft Corp. Wednesday confirmed it met the deadline for replying to European Union (EU) antitrust allegations that the company "shields" Internet Explorer (IE) from competition by bundling the browser with Windows.

The contents of its counterclaim, however, are confidential, said a company spokesman, who declined to comment on what arguments Microsoft made in its defense.

In January, EU antitrust regulators accused Microsoft of "distorting competition" in the browser market by including IE with Windows. This "tying," said the EU's Competition Commission, gave IE "an artificial distribution advantage which other Web browsers are unable to match."

Originally, Microsoft was to respond to the charges by March 12, but the EU agreed to two extensions , first to April 21, then to Tuesday, April 28.

The commission's charges stemmed from a December 2007 complaint by Opera Software ASA, the Norwegian developer whose Opera browser currently accounts for less than 1% of the market, according to Web metrics vendor Net Applications Inc.

Since January, several Microsoft rivals, including Mozilla Corp. and Google Inc., which make Firefox and Chrome, respectively, have joined the case as third-party participants. Two weeks ago, a trade group that includes other competitors, among them Adobe, IBM and Oracle, was also given access to the allegations.

The commission has not specified what action it might demand Microsoft take, although it has hinted it could fine the firm, force it to let users choose alternate browsers to install in Windows or require it to disable IE if a different browser is desired.

Microsoft has added a "kill switch" of sorts to Windows 7 that will let users prevent IE8, the new operating system's updated browser, from running. Opera's CEO, however, has said that he considers Microsoft's move insufficient.

Contrary to some reports, Microsoft has not formally requested an oral hearing, according to sources close to the matter. The company, however, continues to reserve the right to ask for a hearing, those sources said.

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