European users support Microsoft ruling

Last week's European Commission's decision to fine Microsoft and force it to alter some of its products was done ostensibly with...

Last week's European Commission's decision to fine Microsoft and force it to alter some of its products was done ostensibly with users' needs in mind. On the whole, reaction from European users has been favourable. 

The EC has told Microsoft it will have to create a version of its Windows operating system with no media player software included, and will also have to provide information to competitors to help them develop server software to run well on its products and interface properly with other Microsoft systems.

"In all fairness, I think it's probably a good thing," said Chris Champion, network and communications manager for Mencap.

"It'll make the market more competitive and make prices more attractive, and give a little more flexibility in terms of interoperability. The biggest frustration in the past has been getting Novell and Microsoft software to work together smoothly, you're always looking for fixes. This could iron out a lot of the problems."

Mencap's network runs on Novell's NetWare server software, except for some Windows 2000 application servers.

Graham Snudden, the vice president of Cambridge-based startup BlueGnome, considered installing Microsoft server software on its single "homemade" server, but that was going to cost about £10,000.

Instead, BlueGnome hired a Linux specialist who set up a Linux server to work with the company's Windows PCs. "It is tricky," Snudden said. The company would have installed the software itself but getting Linux to work with Microsoft Windows was too complex. Instead, BlueGnome hired a local specialist to come and install Linux server software for £1,500.

"If the EC is saying that Microsoft is using its position to drive sales, then I can see what they're trying to do," he said.

Mencap's Champion agreed. "Microsoft has been unfair and some of their competitors have suffered as a result. On the Media Player side, they've done exactly what they did to Netscape. Microsoft threw a free browser into their operating system and Netscape was pushed to one side. That's what's happening to RealPlayer now."

However, a London webmaster was not so happy. "This decision isn't fair, because it's [about] Microsoft's intellectual property.

"They've spent millions developing software only for third parties to piggyback off their success. It's like if you wanted to become a car manufacturer you couldn't walk into Ferrari and ask for their engine."

He added that consumers do not care what products they use so long as they can use the full functionality.

"Although, admittedly, Microsoft has a complete monopoly - it's everywhere," he said.

At Numerica Business Services Group, infrastructure manager Kit Constable said the decision will not affect his company much. "We're a Microsoft house, almost entirely, we're a big Microsoft fan. The Microsoft platform has always offered everything we need," he added.

Numerica has acquired a number of smaller businesses over the past year or so, but always immediately replaces their server and e-mail systems with Microsoft products, he said. " We transfer rather than integrate. So the decision won't have any effect on us," he said.

Olivier Beauvillain, an analyst with Jupiter Research in Paris, said that in the longer term the media player decision will help companies such as Google as well as media player companies, because it will give them a better chance to have a presence on the desktop with products like the Google toolbar.

On the negative side, the decision will cause problems for companies that have entered into cross-marketing agreements with Microsoft based around Windows Media Player. It will be harder for Microsoft to market those products once Media Player is not on every desktop, he said.

Gillian Law writes for IDG News Service. Additional reporting by Scarlet Pruitt

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