Alan Reynolds

As if it wasn't bad enough to have both state and federal prosecutors trying to fine and regulate American business to death by whim, the European Union is now getting into that game. Microsoft's deep pockets are, of course, an even more tempting target than Wall Street's. And any European pickpocket's best friend is antitrust -- a sport where government officials bet with other peoples' money and make up the rules as the game progresses.

The new European version of the old Microsoft antitrust game has gone on nearly five years, so far. EU Competition Commissioner Mario Monte finally got around to accusing Microsoft of doing something terribly naughty by: 1) giving consumers for free Media Player with Windows, and 2) not giving competitors a free tour of the inner workings of Windows. Those odd complaints were accompanied by threats of big fines, which could theoretically top $3 billion. The stock market took one look at the evident absurdity of the charges and yawned, dropping Microsoft stock by one penny.

In the real world of political influence-peddling, any theoretical virtues of antitrust soon turn to vice -- protecting competitors rather than protecting competition. Europeans are not even shy or subtle about their intentions. The EU Commission claims to have gathered "evidence from a wide variety of consumers, suppliers and competitors." The comment about competitors is certainly true. The commission has been heavily lobbied by the Computer and Communications Industry Association, which represents the likes of Sun Microsystems, Oracle and AOL. As Brad Hill remarked in E-Commerce Times, the unseemly sight of watching U.S. companies go after another U.S. company in Europe is "an unusual and perhaps unique precedent."

One of the EU's two complaints is that Microsoft has an advantage in relatively inexpensive servers, those that link office PCs or workstations, because servers based on UNIX or Linux supposedly have trouble communicating with desktops using Windows. If that was a real problem with cheap servers, why would it not also be a problem with costly servers? If big UNIX and Linux servers also had trouble talking to Windows desktops, then Windows desktops would not work well on the Internet, which is dominated by UNIX-Linux servers.

Alan Reynolds

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