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Microsoft's Long Road to Brussels

This week's ruling should come as no surprise to Microsoft. Already in 2001 the European Commission began gathering evidence against the U.S. software giant. Back then it looked like a quick resolution was in sight.


Microsoft founder Bill Gates may not be smiling much longer.

Case closed by 2002

Nov. 21, 2001 -- Europe's Commission for Competition announces its investigation of Microsoft's breech of fair trade regulations will be concluded by the end of the upcoming year. Meanwhile the Commission continues to evaluate the company's response to the antitrust authorities' claims that it exploits its dominant market position with the Windows operating system and built-in audio and video software to squash competition. The company had only recently signaled that following on the heels of a U.S. settlement on similar charges it was interested in reaching an amicable resolution with the EU. Microsoft retracts its request for a formal hearing at the end of December.

Microsoft defends itself against EU

Feb. 19, 2002 -- Microsoft presents the EU Commission with a proposal based on its successful resolution of the antitrust case in the United States. According to the company's lawyers, all of Europe's reproaches are already addressed in the settlement it agreed to with the U.S. authorities. The investigation in Brussels is therefore linked to the case in the United States, the company argues.
In the 2001 American antitrust case, the government has until Dec. 9 to present Microsoft with new regulative changes. Nine U.S. states and the Bush administration agree to end the dispute, while nine other states demand harsher penalties for Microsoft.

Brussels adds to list of Microsoft's offenses

Feb. 11, 2003 -- Europe's competition authorities receive a new complaint against Microsoft to add to their list of offenses. With the Windows XP operating system, Microsoft builds on its monopolistic practices of protecting itself while driving out rivals, says Ed Black, president of the Computer and Communications Industry Association in Washington. Competitors such as Oracle Corporation and Sun Microsystems have filed complaints against Microsoft for inhibiting the American companies' access to the low-end server market. They called on Competition Commissioner Mario Monti to sanction Microsoft for breaking antitrust rules in Europe. A decision is expected in mid-2003.

EU Commission goes for gold

Aug. 8, 2003 -- The European Commission accuses Microsoft of continuing abuses of competition regulations and plans to slap the software giant with hefty sanctions. The extent of the penalties rests on the severity and extent of the offences, and may be as much as 10 percent of global sales. Brussels grants Microsoft one last opportunity to address the grievances before the Commission ends its lengthy investigation and levies fines and enforced guidelines for the company's business practices. Microsoft has one month to respond.

EU Commission hears Microsoft's case

Oct. 10, 2003 -- In the dispute over Microsoft's alleged abuse of its dominant market position for personal computer operating systems, sources close to the case say the European Commission plans to invite the company to a hearing on Nov. 12. During the oral review, sources report that the Commission will allow both Microsoft and the company's critics to discuss proposed penalties.

EU closes in on Microsoft

March 15, 2004 -- European Union member states unanimously backed a draft Commission ruling on slapping sanctions on software giant Microsoft for abusing its dominant market position. In a closed-door session, representatives from the 15 member states agree to support the Commission's antitrust office in a draft ruling against Microsoft Corporation that sources say could impose up to $3 billion in fines and force the company to change the way it sells its ubiquitous Windows operating system in Europe. The ruling, which still has to be endorsed by an advisory panel on March 22, calls on the company to offer computer manufacturers a version of Windows without the pre-installed audio-visual Media Player to give rivals a fair chance at landing on consumer desktops. It also calls on Microsoft to release more basic server codes for Windows to improve "interoperability" with competing networking software made by Sun Microsystems and others.

The full Monti

March 22, 2004 -- Competition Commissioner Mario Monti endorses the draft ruling requiring Microsoft to pay €497 million euros ($613 million) in penalties and hands out painful "remedies" to redress the unbalanced effects of Microsoft's domination in the PC software market. Primarily, the Commission calls for a stripped down version of Windows without the Media Player and the sharing of source codes to allow for better interfacing with non-Windows operated computer networks. Microsoft vows to appeal the ruling at the European Court of Justice. The fine is the highest yet imposed by the Commission on a single company.

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