Trade groups pick sides in EU-Microsoft battle

Software organizations take opposing views on how the multimillion-dollar antitrust fine will affect the industry.

Industry trade groups weighed in Wednesday on the European Commission's decision to levy a historic $357 million antitrust fine against Microsoft.

The organizations fell into two camps in their opinion of the penalty imposed on Microsoft for noncompliance with the Commission's 2004 antitrust order to share and license protocol information with rivals. One side said the move will discourage U.S. businesses in Europe, while the other said it sets a precedent that will help smaller software companies.

Americans for Technology Leadership, which lists Microsoft as a founding member, expressed concern that the Commission's action will dampen technology companies' desire to seek a market-leading role in Europe. It also said the ruling will lead to uncertainty on businesses' part about how to work with European regulators. Poll

The EU has hit Redmond with a multimillion-dollar fine--again. What effect will that have in the antitrust saga?

None. It didn't work the first time, and the company's got money to burn.
A little. It'll keep some programmers busy making tweaks to code that won't make much difference.
Plenty. Microsoft will finally have to deliver the goods, and soon.

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"All American companies doing business in Europe should be concerned," Jim Prendergast, the executive director of Americans for Technology Leadership, said in a statement. "This development makes clear that successful American companies will face a higher regulatory standard in Europe and that their entire global business strategy may be hostage to the whims of a few European regulators."

The Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA), a third-party intervener that testified during a Microsoft and European Commission hearing in April, echoed those comments and described the Commission's fines as "arbitrary and capricious."

On the other side, the Software & Information Industry Association (SIIA) and the European Committee for Interoperable Systems (ECIS), praised the regulatory body for pursuing the issue, stressing the benefit to third-party software makers.

"The precedent set by this case will be vital for the viability of future software products likewise dependent on full interoperability with Microsoft's interlocking monopoly systems," Thomas Vinje, legal counsel for ECIS, said in a statement.

The SIIA, meanwhile, said it hoped that Microsoft's interoperability documentation would be "forthcoming promptly."

ECIS, whose membership includes a number of Microsoft competitors, from Oracle to Sun Microsystems to RealNetworks, filed a complaint with the Commission in February over making sure third-party software would be fully interoperable with Microsoft Office.

In the antitrust case, Microsoft faces a drop-dead deadline of July 24 to deliver the last set of protocols to the European Commission, which is then expected to take another six weeks to vet out the accuracy and completeness of the material.

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