It all started late in 1998 when the European Commission received a complaint from Sun Microsystems arguing that Microsoft had refused, perhaps understandably, to provide the information they had requested that would enable the Solaris OS to interoperate with Windows PCs. In less than 2 years the EU had charged Microsoft with withholding technical information in order to maintain dominance of the server software market, and within a year also charged with violating antitrust laws by wrapping WMP into the OS so tightly as to try and squeeze RealPlayer out of the market.
Fast forward to March 2004 and the EU fined Microsoft $613 million as well as demanding Media Player is unbundled from the OS, the first appeal from Microsoft coming just two months later and gets thrown out of court in December. A year later and the EU starts to get stroppy with Microsoft over the time it is taking in providing the protocol documentation, as ordered, to rival server software developers. A formal objection is filed by the EU together with the threat of fines in the order of $2.37 million per day, to be backdated a year.
After much legal argument during the following year, eventually on July 3rd the EU member states representatives responsible for antitrust regulation unanimously voted to uphold that daily fine, and today (12th July) the inevitable happened: the EU commission hit Microsoft with a silly big bill (every pun intended) of $358 million and warned it that if it doesn’t comply then it can expect new fines at the special increased rate of $3.8 million per day.
This is the first time in the 49 year history of the EU that any company has had to be fined for non-compliance with an antitrust issue. Begging the question, just who does Microsoft think it is? Bigger than the European Union, surely not even Bill’s ego is that overblown?
Now I know that, even in these days of the Google uprising, Microsoft remains a big company with deep pockets. But no matter how much money you have in the bank, no corporation can afford to throw that sort of money down the drain. Perhaps it is time for Microsoft to do the decent thing, throw its hands in the air and say (in the best tradition of UK cop dramas) it’s a fair cop, guv'nor.
All will be revealed by 31st July, I hope, otherwise those new daily fines start racking up.