When Microsoft releases Windows Vista to business customers in Europe on Thursday, it will be offering an extra version of the OS to comply with the European Commission’s antitrust ruling against the company.
In its 2004 decision, the commission ordered Microsoft to release additional versions of Windows that come without its Windows Media Player software. The idea was to prevent Microsoft’s dominance in the desktop OS market from giving it an unfair advantage over rivals like RealNetworks and Apple Computer.
That resulted in versions of Windows XP called “Edition N,” which sold for the same price as the standard Windows XP. With the release of Windows Vista, Microsoft is having to do the same.
The company is still working with the commission to determine exactly how many N versions are required, but it expects to offer them for both home and business users, said Thor Windham-Wright, a spokesman with Microsoft’s public relations agency.
“To comply with the ruling, Microsoft will have to produce an Edition N for all future editions of Windows,” confirmed Tom Brookes, Microsoft’s spokesman in Brussels.
Microsoft released Windows Vista Business and Windows Vista Enterprise to its volume licensing customers on Thursday, along with Exchange Server 2007, its e-mail server product, and the Office 2007 productivity suite. The consumer editions of Windows Vista are due for release on Jan. 30.
The main advances in Vista are better security, its revamped Aero user interface and, for businesses, features to help to reduce PC management costs, Microsoft has said.
Critics have noted that there has been little support from PC makers for the “N” versions of Windows, undermining the effectiveness of the commission’s ruling. Most PC makers chose not to offer Windows XP PCs with Edition N, citing little interest from customers and the expense of supporting extra versions of the OS.
The antitrust ruling also ordered Microsoft to release protocols used by its workgroup servers to allow competing software to operate more smoothly with Windows. It isn’t launching the server version of Vista, code-named Longhorn, until late 2007, so the company doesn’t have to submit the protocol information for it yet.
“Documentation for Vista workgroup server products would be needed when they do launch a Vista server system, but we don’t require documentation from the Vista PC OS,” Todd said.
If rival software manufacturers are unhappy about Vista’s impact on competition and complain to the European competition regulator, Todd said the commission will consider their complaints “on their merits.”
It’s hard to predict how the coming months will proceed with Microsoft’s competitors and the commission, said Michael Silver, research vice president with Gartner. “I think as long as Microsoft is around and they’re dominant, they’re going to attract companies that say they are being treated unfairly,” he said.
Enterprises in Europe will probably take longer to adopt Vista than those in the United States, since European companies typically use their hardware and software longer, Silver said. Gartner predicts most organizations will test Vista for 12 to 18 months before widely deploying the OS.
“Certainly, this is just a beginning,” Silver said.
But Microsoft was quick to promote early adopters. The Arsenal soccer club, which plays at Emirates Stadium where Microsoft is holding its U.K. launch event Thursday afternoon, is among those already using the new software, the company said.
-Jeremy Kirk, IDG News Service (London Bureau)
(Paul Meller in Brussels contributed to this report.)
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