Another Microsoft Antitrust Probe

SAN FRANCISCO (02/11/2000) - Microsoft Corp. may be sighing with relief over the hacks. Buried by the avalanche of media coverage over the break-ins is the news of yet another antitrust investigation involving Redmond. This time it's European Union officials who are peering into Microsoft's doings - they're investigating anticompetitive charges against Windows 2000.

Most outlets were fuzzy over exactly what the conflict is with Windows 2000, which is set to hit the streets on Feb. 17. The Financial Times quoted EU competition commissioner Mario Monti as saying that the Commission had received complaints from rivals and customers that "Microsoft had designed its new product to allow it to extend its dominance in PC operating systems into other markets for servers, and ultimately electronic commerce."

Sounds important - and familiar - but what does it mean? According to the Wall Street Journal, unnamed sources pegged Windows' Active Directory and Intellimirror as features that are fully functional only when Windows 2000 is running on both the desktop and server. The Journal noted that while other industry players have been working on directory standards, Microsoft is promoting Active Directory as - surprise! - the de facto industry standard.

The dustup may have come as a surprise to Redmond. Although several outlets wrote that the EU's competition watchdog had sent a formal request for information to Microsoft last week and had given the company four weeks to reply, the Guardian reported that no one gave Microsoft a heads-up about yesterday's announcement. If the Commission finds that Microsoft has broken competition law, it can force the company to alter Windows 2000 or stop selling it in the EU, according to media reports.

As for who's behind it all, the EU's polite drill was that it had received complaints from customers as well as small and mid-sized businesses. But outlets sniffed Sun Microsystems. The Journal identified Sun among the complainers.

Microsoft wants to get along with Sun, international general counsel Brad Smith told the Washington Post. But darn it, Sun just won't cooperate. Smith said that Sun had recently canceled an information-sharing meeting. "It is discouraging to us that they are canceling meetings in which we want to share technical information while at the same time flying to Brussels to have meetings with officials to get them to take action against Microsoft," he told the Post. Hey, everyone's got priorities.

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