Maybe I'm just feeling snarky today. Whatever it is, my usually cheery mood with all things European has turned decidedly sour. The reason? The European Union has decided that it's not in the best interest of consumers for Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT ) to bundle much of anything in Windows Vista.
According to yesterday's edition of The Wall Street Journal, Neelie Kroes, the EU's antitrust commissioner, sent a letter to Mr. Softy in which she outlined her expectations for a thinner, less-functional version of Vista. She then elucidated that view in an interview with the Journal. According the paper, she said it "would be rather stupid" to create an operating system that isn't in line with EU competition laws.
Well, duh. But here's the problem: Those laws limit all kinds of software bundles. For example, you can't have Windows Media Player out of the box if you buy your PC in Europe. Don't get me started on how little sense that deal made. Instead, let's focus on the core issue: Just how bare should Vista be when it ships in Europe?
That's not an easy question to answer. So let's take what we know from the Journal article. Among the areas of concern for bundling are: security, digital rights management, and search. Both DRM and search I get, sort of. The extreme scenario in DRM is that Microsoft could encode documents to be accessible only by other Microsoft software. That could give Office an unfair edge. And the extreme scenario in search says that Microsoft could direct searches through MSN, cannibalizing competitors such as Google (Nasdaq: GOOG ) .
But security? Security?!?
Symantec (Nasdaq: SYMC ) has apparently complained to the EU that Microsoft could install its own version of antivirus software in Windows Vista, which could take market share from its popular Norton Antivirus. You know what? Boo-freaking-hoo. Layering Windows computers with all kinds of so-called digital protection hasn't stopped hackers a bit. Shouldn't we have the best minds working on closing the open doors? And should we care if those minds happen to work at Microsoft?
For its part, Microsoft says it has no plans to bundle antivirus software. But it is working on a program to kill spyware, which, once installed, performs evil digital deeds in the background, without users knowing it's there. Sounds like a great idea, but I fear the EU will kill it.
I'm going to risk sounding like comedian Bill Maher and say a new rule is needed. From now on, no policymaking on anything information technology-related unless the law applies equally across all companies. That means, if this silliness persists, that Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL ) must disable Disk Utility (no more cleaning up permissions without Drive Genius!) in the Mac OS, and Red Hat (Nasdaq: RHAT ) must remove SELinux (better remember that root password!) from its European distribution. Or something equally ridiculous that leaves users exposed.
Ms. Kroes, with all due respect, there's a distinct difference between placing common-sense restrictions on monopoly power and requiring users to accept less-than-excellent software. I think you know the line. You're about to cross it.
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Fool contributorTim Beyersdidn't own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this story at the time of publication. You can find out what is in his portfolio by checking Tim's Foolprofile. The Motley Fool has an ironcladdisclosure policy.