Korea mirrors Brussels antitrust move

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The decision on Wednesday by Korean regulators to crack down on Microsoft mirrors the European Commission’s long antitrust campaign against the US software group.

The Commission ruled in March 2004 that Microsoft had broken European competition law, and imposed a record €497m ($585m) fine. In a move that foreshadowed the Korean ruling yesterday, Brussels also forced Microsoft to offer an unbundled version of its Windows operating system that strips out its Media Player software.

Mario Monti, the former European Union competition commissioner who was responsible for the Microsoft ruling, argued that by integrating Media Player into Windows, the group had undermined the chances of rival media players to win their share of the market.

Microsoft has launched a legal challenge against the Brussels ruling, but was forced nevertheless to begin shipping an unbundled version of Windows this summer. Though some computer manufacturers have signalled their readiness to offer personal computers without Media Player, few believe that the unbundled version of Windows can capture a meaningful share of the market.

Some Microsoft rivals blame this on the Commission’s refusal to impose a price difference between the bundled and unbundled versions of Windows, and have lobbied the Brussels regulator with a view to making the unbundled version cheaper.

However, that pressure had diminished significantly since October, when Microsoft’s biggest rival in the media player market decided to reach an out-of-court settlement with the Redmond-based group.

In exchange for US$761m, RealNetworks promised to drop all antitrust complaints against Microsoft.

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