Microsoft against free competition

FSFE and the antitrust case against Microsoft

Europe's most important antitrust action in the software field was the European Commission's case against Microsoft, running from 2004 to 2007. FSFE participated as a third party, providing expert input on Free Software, interoperability and competition. We worked closely with the Samba team, which develops a Free Software alternative to Microsoft's proprietary workgroup server.

The European Commission imposed a record fine of EUR 497 million on Microsoft. In 2012, the European Court of Justice ruled that Microsoft would have to pay another EUR 860 million for failing to comply with the Commission's decision.

FSFE represented developers' interests

FSFE played two key roles in this case. We represented the interests of Free Software developers. In our official role as Intervener, we persuaded the European Commission to reject any royalty requirements that would be incompatible with Free Software. We also argued constantly for the publication of useful technical documentation and against lock-out of Free Software based on arbitrary manipulations of formats and standards.

FSFE's most important achievement was to make sure that Free Software developers could actually use the interoperability information which Microsoft was forced to release to build competing products.

Incorruptible

FSFE was one of only two public interest organisation which Microsoft could not buy off. The case began with many companies giving testimony of Microsoft's breaches of antitrust regulation, but one by one these companies made deals with Microsoft and withdrew from the case. FSFE and SIIA were the only two organisations that pursued this case from start to finish. We were later joined by ECIS, who did extraordinary work. Without this sustained support, the Commission would probably not pursued the case as decisively as it did.

Getting interoperability information

At the heart of this case was that the European Commission would require Microsoft to publish interoperability information. This type of information is necessary for non-Microsoft software, such as Samba running on GNU/Linux, to communicate and function fully within existing client-server Microsoft networks. The interoperability information was not secret because it was valuable. It was valuable only because it was secret.

Ruling confirmed at all levels

Supported by the persistent work by Carlo Piana, Andrew Tridgell, Jeremy Allison, Volker Lendecke, Georg Greve and other people acting on FSFE and Samba's behalf, the Commission's decision that Microsoft had breached competition rules was upheld at the highest level.

Interoperable applications now possible

Information has now been published and is being used by the developers of Samba and many other projects to improve network interoperability for Free Software applications. This facilitates migration to Free Software. The court rulings have also set important precedents as to what business practices are considered acceptable.

Free Software Foundation Europe
Schönhauser Allee 6/7, 10119 Berlin, Germany
E-Mail: office@fsfeurope.org
Phone: +49-30-27595290
http://fsfe.org/activities/ms-vs-eu