What he instead should have said is, "To heck with Mario Monti."
To be sure, theover antitrust charges in the 1990s to avoid making inflammatory statements in public.
If you don't think politics is behind the EU's muscle flexing, I've got a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you. Monti, who finishes out his term this year, has bagged the biggest enchilada of his regulatory career. Forcing Microsoft to bow to the will of a pan-European governing body stands in stark contrast to the U.S. Justice Department's feckless attempt to rein in the software maker only a few years ago. What's more, it establishes the EU's primacy as an arbiter of the technology business.
That's why Microsoft has been fighting tooth and nail to resist the Brussels bureaucrats, who want to decide what should go into Windows. Step away from the immediate controversy, and you see that the exclusion of Media Player from the operating system is small potatoes, compared with the precedent such a decision might set.
Wishful thinking. If the EU gets its way, Ballmer better develop a liking for , because he'll need to spend plenty of time in Brussels over the next few years.
At the heart of the EU case is a philosophical dispute about the future and who should get to decide the contours of a still-amorphous landscape. During this old-new debate, Microsoft has bloodied many a rival--browser maker Netscape being the most famous example--by incorporating similar functions into the Windows operating system. That was one of the considerations that convinced the Justice Department to bring an antitrust lawsuit in 1998.
If Microsoft fails to block the EU's designs, it can't again afford to play cute by purposely rigging an inferior Media Player-less version of Windows. A better strategy is to let the market force the politicians to step aside. Bureaucratic dictates will be less telling than original equipment manufacturers' decisions. And the fact is that Microsoft's Media Player is as good, if not better, than RealNetworks' player.
Not that this is going to be a cakewalk. The behind-the-scenes bargaining promises to be intense. Some PC makers may hold out and demand discounts from Microsoft in return for stocking separate versions of the software. Certainly, no computer maker will pay for the inclusion of Media Player--not when consumers can simply download the software from the Internet. But if customers think the "OS complete" version is a better deal, Microsoft can still come out ahead.
And there's not much Monti or the European Union can do about that.