The Principality of Microsoft

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Microsoft has received a whopping $1.4 billion fine from the EU:

The European Commission has fined US computer giant Microsoft for defying sanctions imposed on it for anti-competitive behaviour.

Microsoft must now pay a record 899m euros ($1.4bn; £680.9m) after it failed to comply with a 2004 ruling that it abused its position.

The ruling said that Microsoft was guilty of not providing key code to rival software makers.

EU regulators said the firm was the first to break an EU anti-trust ruling.

The fines come on top of earlier fines of 280m euros imposed in July 2006, and of 497m euros in March 2004.

“Microsoft was the first company in 50 years of EU competition policy that the Commission has had to fine for failure to comply with an antitrust decision,” Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes said in a statement.

Note that this fine was assessed one week after Microsoft had announced that it was opening some of its technology, by which I presume is meant source code and documentation, to scrutiny. This move sounds like a vote of no confidence to me.

The upshot of this is that most of us who buy Microsoft operating systems and applications will now be paying a nice little chunk of the EU’s budget. The amount of Microsoft’s fine is larger than the contributions of all but 17 of the EU’s member countries. And I suspect this is just the start.

Why has Microsoft gotten itself into this fix? I know how but why? First, despite Microsoft’s obvious monopoly and obvious abuse of its monopoly no U. S. judge has seen fit to enforce U. S. monopoly law with respect to Microsoft, presumably out of a fear of killing the goose that lays the golden eggs.

The problem with this reasoning is that Microsoft lays its golden eggs only for its stockholders with much the largesse going to the very largest stockholders. Microsoft employs relatively few people for a company of its wealth, an increasing number of those aren’t in the United States or are being imported into the United States, and I believe it’s at least arguable that Microsoft is a net drag on computer technology.

Microsoft’s annual revenues are something like $50 billion. That’s larger than two-thirds of the world’s countries—greater than EU members Slovenia, Slovakia, Croatia, and Luxembourg, nearly that of Morocco. Perhaps Microsoft’s managers think of it as a country. Hail, the Principality of Microsoft!

2 comments… add one
  • As one who neither uses MS OSs (except when needed at work) nor MS applications (well, except that my kids play Halo, and I have MS apps for when I need something in MS formats, which are all that some clients will accept), and who is not an MS stockholder, I find myself sanguine about this. But what I really wanted to note was that, when you said, “I believe it’s at least arguable that Microsoft is a net drag on computer technology,” the “at least arguable” is a remarkable understatement for someone not actually British.

    (And for those who think I’m doing the Mac vs. PC vs. Linux thing, grow up; I am a computer professional, not a teenager.)

  • My professional assessment is that Microsoft is a substantial net drag on computing overall; my business judgment is that they are a slight net drag or, possibly, break even. From a business standpoint Microsoft was once a net positive from the standpoint of the computer industry, possibly a net positive from the standpoint of business, generally.

    IMO anybody who thinks that Microsoft is a strong net positive on computing is either poorly informed, unrealistic, or has some sort of interest.

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