Discussions this week by the European Commission on how it will define -- and deal with -- companies it believes are using anti-competitive practices in the European Union have led one member of the European Competition Commission to float the idea of a Microsoft break-up, closely followed by statements from an unnamed former U.S. justice official intimate with the details of a past break-up attempt in the U.S. The official says, at this time, that sort of punishment doesn't fit the "crime," and the company shouldn't be punished, anyway.
Reuters reported earlier this week that in preparing to give said guidelines, the Commission's competition unit indicated that a big case is complicating and most likely heavily influencing the conclusions of the unit. It didn't mention Microsoft, but we can draw our own conclusions.
The conclusion of the U.S. justice official seems to be that the EU would pursue a bust-up as a punitive measure, whereas the Justice Department began its actions solely to address a lack of competition -- but then abandoned them. So the problem is that we can never know how successful the Justice Department would have been, since it didn't finish the job of slicing up the company, nor did it levy fines while it investigated how to proceed, as the European Commission has, to the tune of over a billion dollars, to date. Hey, at least they're getting paid.
Since the EC began fining Microsoft in 2004, the company has filed a series of appeals and complained bitterly and publicly that it is being treated unfairly. Some outsiders tend to think it may have a point, and a court is expected to rule on Microsoft's appeal of the EC's authority over its business practices later this year.
The Reuters piece makes it sound like the DOJ sought a structural change in Microsoft that would somehow not hurt the company's market positions, but the EC would institute a more damaging plan. Perhaps the distinction is lost in translation, but isn't the purpose of government-designed anti-trust regulation to change the monopolistic market positions of those companies found in violation?