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FAQ: Impact of Microsoft's EU defeat explained

How Microsoft's landmark defeat affects you

In addition, the outstanding complaint made last year by a group backed by IBM might now be shoved to the forefront. The group charged in February 2006 that Microsoft had stymied competition to its Office suite with its proprietary document formats.

Even before the Court's ruling on Monday, however, pressure from rivals had been sufficient to get the company to announce changes to Windows Vista. Although complaints to the Commission last year about Vista's PatchGuard technology did not result in any former action by the EU, it did push Microsoft to promise APIs (application programming interfaces) that will allow security developers limited access to information going into the kernel. And like regulators in the US, the Commission questioned Vista's search features after Google grumbled. In the latter case, Microsoft made concessions that will be implemented in Vista Service Pack 1 (SP1).

Some analysts have also warned that the affirmation by the Court will embolden the Commission to make new charges of market dominance against the likes of Apple or Google, which own the bulk of Europe's digital music and web search business, respectively.

When did this start?

Monday's ruling can be traced back to August 2000, when the European Union's Competition Commission filed its first 'Statement of Objections', or official complaint, against Microsoft. The first of five (so far), that complaint accused Microsoft of withholding technical information that would have let other server operating system developers make their products interoperate with Windows clients. The actual ruling at issue on Monday, however, stems from the decision handed down on March 24, 2004, when the Commission ordered Microsoft to pay a $613m fine, sell a version of Windows without Media Player and provide rivals with the information they needed to make their server software run more smoothly with Windows.

How long has the Court had this case?

The day the Commission announced its ruling and fine, Microsoft said it would ask the Court to stay some of the Commissions sanctions pending an appeal. "I do expect that we'll ask the court to suspend the part of the order that would require us to produce a second version of Windows that has the Media Player code stripped out of it," Microsoft's general counsel Brad Smith said at the time.

It wasn't until June 7, 2004, however, that Microsoft filed its appeal with the Court, and nearly three weeks later - June 27 - that it officially asked the Court to suspend the Commission's orders pending appeal.

The Court held two days of hearings on the stay request on September 30 and October 1, 2004. A little less than three months later - on December 22 - the Court ruled against Microsoft, telling it to toe the Commission's line, appeal notwithstanding. Microsoft had not proved that complying with the sanctions would cause "serious and irreparable harm" to its business, the court said.

During a week-long session from April 24 to 28, 2006, the Court of First Instance listened to arguments from lawyers representing both Microsoft and the Commission. Then, on July 17, the Court announced it would issue its decision on Monday, September 17.


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