What does it take to satisfy the antitrust litigants of the European Union (EU)? No one seems to know, at least not in Redmond, Wash. According to reports this week, Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT ) offered to settle the Euro flap over its Windows Media Player by including competing computer-media products -- like Apple's (Nasdaq: AAPL ) iTunes and RealNetworks' (Nasdaq: RNWK ) players -- on a separate CD along with its Windows operating system.
Not good enough, said the EU. It is, apparently, too much to expect users to actually insert a CD into their new computers and run an installation program. You will forgive my lack of tears for those poor, put-upon European computer users.
It gives me no particular joy to defend Microsoft, because the software gorilla has done plenty to deserve its reputation as the neighborhood bully, but the EU's anti-Media Player stance strikes me as very odd. Sure, the program is pre-installed on the world's most popular operating system, but if there's any evidence that Microsoft has used this advantage to choke off the burgeoning business of online media sales, it's pretty well buried under the news avalanche of Apple's robust music sales. Microsoft doesn't even have a comparable music service yet, though some are in the works via partner Loudeye (Nasdaq: LOUD ) .
The EU's rejection of the latest Microsoft offer looks like a sour grapes strategy of picking on the big guy. Follow the logic and you end up in Bizarro World.
Should Wal-Mart's (NYSE: WMT ) greeters tell me about the fashionable cut-rate apparel across the road at Target (NYSE: TGT ) ? Should McDonald's (NYSE: MCD ) be forced to hand me a menu from Wendy's (NYSE: WEN ) ? Should it be forced to sell me a Taco Bell (NYSE: YUM ) chalupa?
Sounds silly, doesn't it? That's because, despite the dominance of the aforementioned giants, consumers still have choices, exactly as they do in the case of choosing Windows media software. The competition is already just a free download away, and now Microsoft has offered to save users the bandwidth. European regulators could find greater injustices to address, while for Microsoft shareholders, this is just another legal case to follow.
Motley Fool contributorSeth Jayson is only a laissez-faire reactionary when provoked by business news from Europe. He has no stake in any companies mentioned here.