EU’s Antitrust Case Against Microsoft Could Mean Endless ‘Crapware’ on PCs

The European Union’s antitrust case against Microsoft Corp. over Internet Explorer could be a nightmare for small- and medium-sized computer makers and set a dangerous precedent, a longtime trade group ally of Microsoft said.

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Computerworld — The European Union’s antitrust case against Microsoft Corp. over Internet Explorer could be a nightmare for small- and medium-sized computer makers and set a dangerous precedent, a longtime trade group ally of Microsoft argued today.

Antitrust regulators at the European Commission want to force Microsoft to open Windows to other browsers, such as Mozilla’s Firefox, Google’s Chrome and Opera Software’s Opera. That, said the Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA), a group with members throughout the technology food chain, would impose an unfair burden on computer manufacturers.

“The commission’s proposed remedy is a ‘must-carry’,” said Lars Liebeler, CompTIA’s antitrust counsel, referring to a requirement that the EU has hinted it will force on Microsoft. According to the commission, as well as regulatory filings in the U.S. by Microsoft, antitrust officials are considering ordering the company and OEMs to offer users a choice from several browsers when setting up a new PC.

“Such a remedy might include a requirement that OEMs distribute multiple browsers on new Windows-based PCs,” Microsoft said in a January filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

“The commission may demand [Microsoft and OEMs] add an undetermined series of events to Windows to choose between an unknown number of browsers,” Liebeler said. “This would interfere with PC makers’ autonomy.”

CompTIA, which has been granted “interested third-party” status to the case, filed a confidential statement with the commission today, taking Microsoft’s side.

Liebeler, who has read the 154-page commission charges — dubbed a “Statement of Objections” by the antitrust agency — called the possible remedies “sketchy at this point,” but noted that the phrase “ballot screen” was used by the commission to describe what users would face when they selected their preferred browser.

He argued that while all computer makers would be affected by such a decision, smaller companies would face the greatest burden because they don’t have the resources to administer the changes.

More important, he said, was that a must-carry move by the EU would strip computer makers of their right to decide which software they include on their PCs, as well as set a dangerous precedent.

“If this case stands, anyone will be able to petition [the commission] and say, ‘I’m not getting a fair shake and I want to be part of a must-carry’,” Liebeler said. “It’s obvious that a browser is indispensible, but we don’t see any line between what the commission would think is indispensible and what’s not indispensible.” He cited antivirus software as one possibility.