March 18th, 2004



The EU is going to stick Microsoft with a fine somewhere in between 100 million and 1 billion euros for monopolistic abuse. Microsoft president Steve Ballmer refused to split Windows Media Player (among other applications) out of the core Windows product, nixing the idea of a "Windows XP Euro Edition" that would have averted the fines. His decision to refuse was probably a wise one, given that doing so would have opened up Microsoft's previous American anti-trust issues with a vengeance. (In the US DOJ lawsuits, Microsoft swore time and again that it was impossible to remove Internet Explorer code from Windows 98, in spite of the fact that a couple of completely unfunded college kids had done so in their spare time, creating the immensely cult-popular "Windows 98 Lite" patch kit.)

However, the intrinsic question of what happens when Microsoft continues selling their products in the EU in what has now been ruled an abusive fashion hasn't been settled. The next step, hopefully, would be for the EU to simply ban Microsoft's operating system altogether since they have refused to comply. This would be a rather larger blow to Microsoft than it would seem at first glance. While being prevented from "collecting the Microsoft tax" in all the countries comprising the EU would obviously be a significant loss of revenue, in the long term what would really hurt MS is the inevitable large-scale adoption of Open Source / Free software to fill the void.

The biggest advantage to Open Source isn't necessarily the obvious one either - undoubtedly, a lot of that missing Microsoft revenue will get funneled into funding new Open Source development, and that's a very good thing. But in the long run, the critically important gain would be the addition of millions and millions of users to the desktop as well as the server side. Open Source development is aided by cash, but it's truly fueled by the presence of users and developers-who-use - the presence of lots of software "itches that need scratching", in the words of Eric S. Raymond and many others.