Antitrust at the Speed of Government

Microsoft met a November deadline imposed by EU officials for sharing “interface’ and “compatibility’ information about its operating system to workgroup server market competitors who want to build for it. Since markets are incapable of something known as a “contract” or a “deal” or consumer rejection of overly exclusive behavior, regulators insist they have a role in helping competitors hitch their wagon by forcing Microsoft to provide a government-approved technical manual.

The original ruling came in 2004, addressing as well as server software issues. Record fines have been handed down on both counts, as well as a directive that Microsoft sell a version of Windows without Media Player software.

Now the company seems to have complied with the latest commandment, but we’ll just have to wait and see, won’t we? The European Commission said (excerpted from the Wall Street Journal) of the new “Handbook”:

In parallel the monitoring trustee will test the documentation in order to verify its accuracy….The commission will decide in due course whether or not Microsoft is in compliance with the obligation to provide complete and accurate technical documentation taking into account comments from the potential licensees and advice from the trustee.

That’s a little hard to translate from bureau-speak, but “in due course” must be really fast!

The U.S. helped export our reckless antitrust theories to Europe, where EU antitrust activism means getting another run at Microsoft beyond the U.S. border. Our own companies are perched there, exploiting antitrust at every opportunity in order to “compete,” even getting to say whether or or not this particular filing by Microsoft is sufficient. What a shame, when we contemplate what competition could look like if everyone didn’t have the option of running to court with every stubbed toe.