EU Slap Down Wouldnt Be Worst Thing for Microsoft

Opinion: Unbundling integrated pieces of Windows just might be the bitter pill that Microsoft needs.

Theres no Christmas present that Microsoft officials want more than the European Unions remedies to be postponed until Microsofts appeal in the never-ending EU versus Microsoft antitrust trial is heard.

Microsoft doesnt seem to care about the $613 million it has been ordered by the European Competition Commission (ECC) to pay for allegedly abusing its desktop-operating-system monopoly.

But Microsoft does care very much about being forced to ship a version of Windows that does not include Windows Media Player bundled into it.

And Microsoft also is loath to provide more communications-protocol information to its competitors that would allow them to more smoothly integrate their servers with Windows desktops.

On Wednesday, a European Union court judge will decide if Microsoft should be forced to comply with these remedies now, or if Microsoft will be allowed to wait for years (perhaps as many as five) before being required to do the bidding of the ECC.

Whichever way the judge rules, its not hard to see why Microsoft wants the remedies, especially the Windows Media Player one, overturned. The Redmondians have been on a roll, "innovatively integrating" formerly separate products and technologies into Windows.

The fear inside the hallowed halls is that once one bundled piece of Windows is exorcised, any and maybe even all of them might be.

If Windows Media Player can be stripped out of some versions of Windows, why not Internet Explorer? Or the Windows Messenger instant-messaging client? Or the Windows Firewall that shipped as part of Windows XP SP2 (Service Pack 2)?

And if Windows were to be pared back, what would happen to Microsofts strategy to conquer by smothering the world with increasingly fat ("smart") clients?

My take? Requiring Microsoft to unbundled IE, Media Player and other formerly separate technologies from Windows might not be the best thing for non-tech-savvy consumers who are uncomfortable finding, downloading and ensuring compatibility between Windows and these elements.

That said, I believe unbundling could end up being a positive thing for Microsoft. I am not being facetious.

Look at Internet Explorer. Microsoft hasnt done a completely new rev of its browser since 2001. Sure, it made some IE tweaks in service packs, including XP SP2. But think of how much more feature-rich, standards-compliant and possibly even more secure IE would be if Microsoft felt compelled to compete fairly and squarely with Firefox, Opera, Netscape, etc.

Instead, the IE team has slacked off with next-to-no negative impact, since Microsoft could count on maintaining its 90-plus-percent market share simply by virtue of IEs inclusion in Windows.

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