It is a good thing that Microsoft has deep cash reserves, given that the EU Commission is about to make a decision on how much to fine the company for including IE with its Windows product. The commission is an expensive and unforgiving master. European taxpayers have already benefited from over $2B in fines from Microsoft, stemming from its anticompetitive position in the Media Player market (iTunes, anyone?).
Microsoft has a simple, premeptive answer: it will ship Windows without IE in Europe. Selling a computer without a browser is not practical, so the OEMs will have to load a browser. Loading IE is probably the lowest cost path for the OEMs, there’s no need to explain to customers where the Internet went. But that seems to take us full circle, with the OEMs cast in the role of proxy market manipulator. How the EU interprets Microsoft’s move will be interesting.
An implication of the EU position is that Europeans don’t really know where to find Chrome, Safari, Firefox or Opera on the Internet. The alternative interpretation – that they don’t really care – would not support an antitrust action.
The EU antitrust actions could be interpreted as trade barriers designed to shield local interests, based on the contrast between U.S. and EU antitrust practices. Such an interpretation is unthinkable right now, but political and economic conditions can change quickly.
We are set for some interesting activity on the antitrust front. Think about it as a cost of being too successful in Europe. And watch for changes in the U.S. approach
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