Microsoft got hit with a hard blow by the European Union. On Sept. 17th, 2007, the EU Court of First Instance (now there’s a lame name) ruled against Microsoft.

The EU Court of First Instance ruled against Microsoft on both parts of the case, saying the European Commission was correct in concluding that Microsoft was guilty of monopoly abuse in trying to use its power over desktop computers to muscle into server software.

It also said regulators had clearly demonstrated that selling media software with Windows had damaged rivals.

“The court observes that it is beyond dispute that in consequence of the tying consumers are unable to acquire the Windows operating system without simultaneously acquiring Windows Media Player,” it said.

“In that regard, the court considers that neither the fact that Microsoft does not charge a separate price for Windows Media Player nor the fact that consumers are not obliged to use that Media Player is irrelevant.”

And the report ends with this great quote:

Kroes said however that the victory did not yet mean that software customers have more choice than they did three years ago, when Microsoft was slapped with the original EU fine.

“The court has confirmed the Commission’s view that consumers are suffering at the hands of Microsoft,” she said.

Poor Europeans, suffering at the hands of mean and evil Microsoft. I’m sure Exhibit A in the case against Microsoft were the elite Microsoft sales teams who force the public to buy Microsoft software at the point of a gun. “You vill buy dis softvare, und you vill like it!”

Do people, even Europeans, have a choice to buy a computer without Microsoft as the operating system? Sure. People can use OS X from Apple, or if they don’t want to spend any money, they can install Linux, many versions of which can be downloaded and installed for free. Yes, free.

“But what about a word processor and other necessary programs?” Glad you asked. People can get a free word processor and other work-related tools for free from Open Office. Yes, free.

This reminds me of the browser wars of the 90s. Internet Explorer came automatically with Windows, but nothing said that I had to use IE just because Windows came with it. I was glad that Windows was bundled with IE because it made it easier for me to go to Netscape and download the latest version of their browser. I then deleted the IE icon off the desktop, and I was good to go. I eventually switched to IE, but not because it came pre-loaded on Windows. When IE surpassed Netscape in capabilities, I switched over.

Now ten years later, Europeans are whining because Windows comes bundled with Windows Media Player. “That’s so unfair! Wah!” So what’s stopping them from downloading the free sound and video software they want? Imagine buying a BMW with an BMW stereo bundled for free with the car. If you like the stereo, you can keep it, or you can easily switch it out for another free stereo by another manufacturer. In the case of Windows Media Player, Europeans get it free from Microsoft, or they can get a media player free from someone else, so where is the harm?

It must be emotional harm. And that explains the $613 million dollar temper tantrum the EU has thrown at Microsoft.

UPDATE (9/18/2007 9:41:09 AM): Seems like I’m not the only one to see this as a bad ruling.

Dick Armey of the government watchdog group Freedomworks added, “At the end of the day, this was a case about rival companies bickering about market share, not a case of consumer harm. Some companies may appreciate the big stick provided by European regulators, but consumers will see little benefit, and the business climate for American companies in the global marketplace just got tougher.”

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