Somewhere, a chair was cringing in fear…

…this morning as the news came out that Microsoft lost their antitrust case in Europe in a big way.  I’m sure Mr. Ballmer had a nice little tantrum and fired some lawyers, maybe ate a few souls or something, possibly knocked over some old people in walkers.  This all goes back to the 2004 case, but this was the appeal and it’s done now.  Microsoft has to pay almost 3 quarters of a billion dollars in fines and learn to play nice.

Now, I don’t know that I understand all the nuances and effects this will have (and by all means, feel free to comment and tell me what it means to you), but at this point I am gonna go ahead and guess that none of this will actually affect Microsoft’s bottom line in the short term; I’m guessing that the fines were earmarked back when the original case was completed and they lost.  It won’t mean that overnight MS’s market share in the EU will shrink to 34% from 95% or anything drastic like that.  And I would guess that it won’t affect us on this side of the pond at all for some time.  But long term…

The root of this case as I understand it is that Microsoft can no longer build non-compatibility into their Windows XP OS; if I want to make a browser that’s native to Windows, I have to be allowed to do so and be given support for it.  And I can’t be forced to use IE anymore (a good thing, as I haven’t used IE for years…); XP has to allow for interoperability and that’s that.  In Europe.  Will that filter down to us here, or will there be XP for Europe and Windows North America?  Which one would be better, more useful, better attributed?  Does any of it mean diddly squat as we move to Vista (if we ever do; my understanding is that there’s still a boatload of bug fixing to do there, but that’s a whole other conversation)?  I believe there is a similar antitrust case in play in the EU right now for Vista, so perhaps by the time it reaches end of life they’ll have completed that one too.

It would be nice to see a new world order of open standard OS’s in the mainstream and a highly collaborative atmosphere in the OS vs application space, but I’m not sure it will happen any time soon.  Large companies like MS do like to keep their separate silo’s profitable by making different applications fully integrated with each other better than competition can do, and the products they don’t make themselves they like to keep strong partnerships on.  I just don’t know how easy it would be for a company like MS to make everything open standard.

Of course, as I said earlier, I don’t know that I fully understand all the factors at play in this; this is all just how I see it.

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