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Software Wars: EU, Consumers, Companies …

  • March 24th, 2013
  • Posted by EUEditor

microsoft.jpgSoftware services becoming all-but-indispensable to the world, on the strength of a good idea, have trouble from time to time with the idea of being regulated as businesses.

Microsoft has had a second tussle with the European Commission, reminiscent of the long contest that ended in 2007, which cost the company €497-million (then $A826-million) — while the EU itself now gears up for future challenges in  a “digitised” economy.

See background from 2007, involving objections to such practices as locking-in purchasers of packages, to use only Microsoft products: EUAustralia Online, “Court confirms: Microsoft must share”, 18.9.07; also “EU to probe Google”, 1.12.10.

At the same time this year, an attempt at regulation by customers, instigated by Choice consumer magazine in Australia, has seen Adobe, Microsoft and Apple jumping to justify higher prices being charged for their services in that country.

MICROSOFT AND THE EU

eu-flag-reduced-larger15.pngOn 6.3.13, the EC announced the outcome of the investigation and regulatory action this time:

“The European Commission has imposed a €561-million fine (A$697.67-million; xe.com, 24.3.13) on Microsoft for failing to comply with its commitments to offer users a browser choice screen enabling them to easily choose their preferred web browser.

“In 2009, the Commission had made these commitments legally binding on Microsoft until 2014 (see IP/09/1941).

“In today’s decision, the Commission finds that Microsoft failed to roll out the browser choice screen with its Windows 7 Service Pack 1 from May 2011 until July 2012. 15 million Windows users in the EU therefore did not see the choice screen during this period. Microsoft has acknowledged that the choice screen was not displayed during that time.”

The company disclosed the omission resulted from an error during an up-date of the product.

NEW EU INITIATIVES

eu-flag-reduced-larger15.pngWorking on within demanding legal structures in a sophisticated democratic state set-up like the European Union, can be somewhat removed from enacting a stroke of genius and taking the product out onto world markets, in the United States.

The European Commission, pressing on, has laid out an agenda for managing the digital future. Its “Digital To-do List” for 2013-14,  made public on 18.12.13, includes: creating a new and stable broadband regulatory environment; proposing an EU cyber security strategy and new EU law, a Directive; up-dating the EU copyright framework; accelerating cloud computing, and launching new electronics industrial strategy.

PRICES AND CONSUMERS IN AUSTRALIA

choice_logo_web.jpgSometimes consumers themselves may try to go beyond the simple impact of their buying power, which is the hope of Australia’s Choice magazine, as it announced this month:

“CHOICE research in 2012 looked into pricing for over 200 software and hardware products and found Australians are paying about 50% more than consumers in the United States. Today, Adobe, Microsoft and Apple are appearing before a Federal Parliamentary inquiry into IT pricing to explain why.”

The consumer outlet acknowledged arguments from the companies that their prices were affected by high rental and labour costs in Australia, taxation and copyright concerns; but contests those as justification for excessive price structures.

It has urged followers to join a continuing campaign for a change, and, with some cautions, has provided information to help online buyers of products get around geo-blocking, so they can buy directly from America or elsewhere.

Reference

European Commission , Brussels: “Digital ‘to-do’ list: new digital priorities for 2013-2014”, 18.12.12, IP/12/1389,
http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-12-1389_en.htm, (24.3.13); “Antitrust: Commission fines Microsoft for non-compliance with browser choice commitments”, 6.3.13, IP/13/196,
http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-13-196_en.htm, (24.3.13).

Choice, Sydney, “Eight things to know about IT pricing”.
http://www.choice.com.au/media-and-news/consumer-news/news/8-things-to-know-about-it-prices.aspx, (24.3.13).

Foo Yun Chee (Bill Rigby, Luke Barker, Anna Willard, Andrew Hay), “EU fines Microsoft $731 million for broken promise, warns others”, Reuters, London, 6.3.13. http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/03/06/us-eu-microsoft-idUSBRE92500520130306, (24.3.13).

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