Judge queries EC-ordered remedies to curb Microsoft power

The judge in the European Union anti-trust case against Microsoft has questioned whether the steps ordered by the European...

The judge in the European Union anti-trust case against Microsoft has questioned whether the steps ordered by the European Commission will effectively curb Microsoft's power.

"Is it realistic that this remedy will have a real effect? Isn't it a bit dramatic to impose a remedy where you don't know the result?" Bo Vesterdorf, president of the Court of First Instance, asked.

The commission's view is that preventing Microsoft from bundling its Windows Media Player with Windows will restore competition in the media player market and reverse Microsoft's growing dominance in that sector.

The commission admitted it could not be sure how many PC manufacturers will choose to ship Windows without the media player if given the option, but lawyer Per Hellstrom insisted that the demand is "reasonable" and will help consumers and suppliers select a media player based on the merits of the competing products.

The judge, who will make his decision in the next two to four months on whether to suspend the demands, also seemed concerned that Microsoft was being asked to sell a product without many of the features customers had come to expect.

Microsoft demonstrated at the hearing how a version of Windows without its media player would not be able to perform functions such as playing an audio CD, opening MP3 files and handling some tasks in Microsoft Office.

Vesterdorf seemed to toy with the idea of letting Microsoft restore some of the 186 files it was asked to delete from Windows to remove the Windows Media Player. That idea was strongly opposed by the commission, whose representatives warned against diluting the remedy, which is intended to mitigate the risk of Microsoft achieving a near monopoly in the media player market.

The judge also investigated Microsoft's claim that it will be severely damaged by the commission's order to share some interoperability information on its workgroup server software, in light of Microsoft's admission that it was prepared to go even further on interoperability disclosures to settle the case.

Simon Taylor writes for IDG News Service

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