Microsoft hit with $1.3 billion EU antitrust fine

The company refused to provide rivals with an easy way to interoperate with Windows.

Published February 27, 2008 5:32PM (EST)

If you've observed the tech business at all recently, you've likely developed a soft spot for Microsoft. How could you not? The company appeared to have dropped its cowboy ways, and to struggle for it; buffeted by rivals, it now seeks salvation in a dubious merger with another loser in the Internet business, really a quite sorry end.

But yippi-ki-yay, people, Microsoft's no downtrodden saint, and today's news shows it hasn't entirely changed its ways, either. Regulators at the European Union announced a $1.3 billion fine against Microsoft for noncompliance with a 2004 antitrust ruling.

The charge, which stems from Microsoft's long refusal to divulge to rival companies the software protocols necessary to communicate with its Windows operating system, is the latest in a long line of fines that EU regulators have imposed on the company. The antitrust fees total $2.6 billion, more than any other company has ever been charged for ignoring EU rulings.

Microsoft responded to the ruling with a shrug. The EU fines were for issues that had already been resolved, the company said. Last week, Microsoft announced a major initiative to make its products more open to rivals, and that effort should satisfy the EU, it said.

But Microsoft is still under investigation by the EU, and Neelie Kroes, a regulator, told the Associated Press that Microsoft's "talk is cheap." She added, "Flouting the rules is expensive."

Jeremy Allison, one of the creators of Samba, the open-source protocol that allows Windows to talk to other systems, was also skeptical that the fine was large enough to change Microsoft's behavior.

"That's not a fine, that's just a way of getting their attention," he told IDG.

By Farhad Manjoo

Farhad Manjoo is a Salon staff writer and the author of True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society.

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