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.”

The right of freedom of speech is protected in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and it’s pretty easy to understand. Nestled in with the rest of the rights explained in the First Amendment is the following: “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech.” U.S. citizens aren’t alone in this right. Chinese citizens also have freedom of speech, as outlined in Article 35 of the Chinese constitution: “Citizens of the People’s Republic of China enjoy freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly, of association, of procession and of demonstration.” I would say that the hundreds dead at Tiananmen Square reveal the truth about Chinese freedom of speech, assembly, and demonstration. But that’s what you get when you have a “living Constitution” that means whatever the current government says it means. In the Constitution of the European Union, freedom of speech is covered by Article II, 71: “Everyone has the right to freedom of expression.”

Well, not any more:

European Union on Thursday made inciting racism and xenophobia crimes throughout its 27 member states in a landmark decision tempered by caveats to appease free speech concerns.

The new deal specifies one- to three-year prison terms be available for incitement to violence or hatred “against a group of persons or a member of such a group defined by reference to race, colour, religion, descent or national or ethnic origin”.

That could include the sending of “tracts, pictures or other material.”

Germany has long held a tight rein on free speech. After World War II, it became illegal to publicly display the swastika or deny the Holocaust. I can understand the Germans’ loathing of Nazism, but I have a stronger love of free speech than my loathing of mass-murdering Nazi poopheads. I prefer to allow neo-Nazis to spout their hate and let people clearly see them for the wild-eyed fruitbars that they truly are. As I see it, once we start to block the political speech of people we dislike, how long will it be until our own political speech is blocked because someone else doesn’t like it? But the new rule in the EU goes even further than limiting incitement of violence or hatred:

The text also notes that “member states may choose to punish only conduct which is either carried out in a manner likely to disturb public order or which is threatening, abusive or insulting.”

Did you catch that last bit? It is now illegal to insult someone in the EU. No more Triumph the Insult Comic Dog in the EU. And for that matter, no more Jay Leno, Dave Letterman, or any other comedian who might make other people feel bad. I think a case could be made that just watching Rosie O’Donnell on “The View” is abusive and insulting, but since she doesn’t live in the EU, Rosie is safe for now.

Do you think I’m making a mountain out of a molehill over the phrase “threatening, abusive or insulting”? Take a look at this relevant tidbit from Denmark:

Three Danish lawmakers, all members of the anti-immigration Danish People’s Party, have been reported to police for making remarks comparing Muslim women’s headscarves with swastikas.

The three were reported by the Documentation and Advisory Center on Racial Discrimination, Line Boegsted, spokeswoman of the Copenhagen-based non-governmental organization, said today in a telephone interview.

“The comments they’ve made were deeply unpleasant,” Boegsted said. “The question is now if they also were illegal.”

Parliament member Soeren Krarup was cited in daily Politiken and other Danish media on April 18 as saying that Muslim women’s headscarves, like Nazi Germany’s swastikas, symbolized totalitarian repression.

Welcome to the new, progressive European Union, where freedom of speech is a thing of the past.