The European Commission and Microsoft don’t get along, we know that. And I’ll not comment on the actual disagreements (although there is much about them that I find troubling). Last year the European Commission found that Microsoft had abused its OS near-monopoly, fined the company €500m, and ordered Microsoft to release a version of Windows minus Windows Media Player. Reluctantly Microsoft agreed. So now what’s the fight about? The product name. Microsoft wanted to name this modified Windows “Windows XP Reduced Media Edition”, a name the Commission rejected because it could put off buyers. Microsoft made 9 additional name suggestions, all of which the Commission rejected. Until finally the Commission suggested the brilliant name “Microsoft XP N”, a name that Microsoft reluctantly accepted. (Stories on CNN, InfoWorld, and more). Which begs the question, is the European Commission overstepping the bounds here a bit? Should an entity charged with ensuring fair business practices be allowed to dictate what is essentially a product marketing decision?

15 thoughts

  1. Seems to me it’s all about where you draw a line. Microsoft obviously don’t want to sell this version so they could call it ‘Windows XP – European Comission restricted and we don’t like it so there edition’ which is plainly not in-line with the order they have been given. If they have been ruled to be not playing fair I don’t see why they should be given free reign over the offending product.

  2. I’m not sure the European Commission is that out of line. Microsoft, as Doug pointed out, would try to make the alternative version somehow less appealing through their marketing engine, and that’s just making the Commission’s decision one without teeth. It may seem like overstepping some boundary, but giving a guilty party full control over how they execute a judgment by the court, and let them make it as much to their advantage as possible, only crosses a different, and much more dangerous boundary that I don’t think we ever would want to see crossed.

  3. I think the line was crossed long ago by the EU. I do think MS should have changed the name though.. to something like Windows ME 3.1 or something

  4. Yes, but …
    Microsoft was forced to not include software that could preclude users from choosing alternatives. As such, they were told to remove stuff from Windows, and so they (eventually) did.
    Microsoft was never told to encourage users to choose alternatives, nor should (or could) they have been. Removing Windows Media Player gives users a choice (let’s assume that that is in fact the case). But should Microsoft be forced to encourage buyers to choose alternatives?
    Product naming is all about marketing. Products are named to drive sales. And some product are named to drive sales of their bigger siblings (for example, the lite or express versions of products), that’s marketing.
    Giving users back their choice is one thing. Forcing Microsoft to not encourage users to choose what Microsoft would want them to choose is another. If the EU is concerned about monopolies and user choice, then give users a choice, and let companies fight for (and market to) that choice. But to force choice and then not allow marketing to fight for that choice, well that’s where I see the EU sliding further down that slippery slope.

  5. It is totally both in the EU’s rights and their obligation to regulate what is sold in their market and how it is marketed for the good of their citizens. This is especially true of something as fundamentaly important and difficult for consumers to understand as an operating system.
    Similarly we force cigarette makers to label their products as unsafe and we don’t allow products which are 80% fat be sold with labels that say "low fat"
    I don’t know the details of this case and think there must have been a better solution than excluding the media player from the os, but "Reduced Media Edition" is a silly and misleading name. Media is the content, not the player. Since XP doesn’t come with any media other than some wallpaper and icons, which are probably still contained in this version "Reduced Media Edition" is misleading. I would want to see the other 10 proposals before passing judgement.

  6. Ben,
    If MS was serious about marketing both options what would they typically have done? They would have labeled the one without the media player "Windows XP European Edition" and sold the one with media player as "Windows XP European Edition with Media Player".
    Or more likely in typical confuse-the-user-bl!@#t-speak, "Windows XP Enhanced Media Edition". They would never use a word like "reduced".
    They would go positive and even more super positive. So they were really playing games in my opinion.

  7. I guess the question is how you allow choice when a monopoly is in place. The EU hasn’t stopped the monopoly but it’s taken a step to limit the monopoly being expanded.
    There are base questions that remain unsolved before you get to marketing and product naming. It looks like the media market will dominate everything if you believe Apple, Microsoft, RIAA, Hollywood etc. so there are huge pressures to ‘win’ that market. The players all seem to be doing their level best to make sure users don’t have a choice with all sorts of DRM, lawsuits and copyright issues to name a few.
    So far the digital age seems to have delivered the opposite of it’s promise, reducing quality (MP3 vs CD vs Vinyl), leeched away at user rights with interestingly worded licenses, stealthily manipulated features (iTunes latest shrink of shared streams), and shrunk away from accepting responsibility for anything.
    Solve some of these issues and then see what the marketing implications are.

  8. Cortlandt, I am not so sure. If it were up to me I’d have called one Windows XP and the other Windows XP Minus Media Player, and sold them for the same price. That way users have a choice, and it is very clear too. Of course, that would undoubtedly not have been allowed.
    Doug, I agree with you, there is a bigger issue here. But I was deliberately trying to avoid the ‘is MS a monopoly’ discussion. Maybe that is impossible.

  9. Not so much the monopoly argument, more the absolute determination of big players to dominate the market rather than actually let the user decide what they want and all the associated issues.
    These base issues are very important, I was hoping Apple would lead the way on some of them but it seems they are falling in line with the rest of the big players now the iPod has gone to their head. At least Macromedia seems to be keeping an open mind 😉
    I applaud the EU for trying to tackle it, not sure if its the right way but its a start. I am wholy underwhelmed by the US experience though.

  10. The EU is trying to open the playing field for media players in Europe, whether you agree or not. Most of the articles I’ve read say that nobody will sell this modified version of XP anyway, so its all a moot point. But even if PC vendors did sell it, which OS to get would be an option, and the consumer would probably just go with the default (the WM version) because they are usually ignorant and trusting of their vendor. So I don’t see this as having any affect on MS at all.

  11. Yacoubean, I agree completely. In reality this will accomplish nothing (just like most of the ‘remedies’ that us far on either side of the Atlantic). But I was not commenting on the effectiveness as much as I was the range and reach of the ECs hand.

  12. Well how about a good counterexample then. Can you think of a major company that tries to sell it’s software like that?
    As an example to support my point. How did MM sell the two versions of Flash Mx 04? As Flash Mx 04 and Flash Mx 04 Pro. It wasn’t Flash Mx 04 and Flash Mx 04 minus data components, was it?
    I agree that your suggestions would be accurate, but were they some of the 10? These stories don’t say. Reduced Media is clearly misleading. And European Edition or EU Edition would be even more accurate. Further it would be easier to maintain as the EU may make other changes in the future to what is allowed. If the EU rejected MS calling it the EU edition then I would agree that that would be unreasonable.
    I’d be very keen to see any links to those counterexamples. Nobody even says lite anymore it’s always value edition or some other positive side marketing spin.

  13. Does it make sense for the EU to be taking such a hard line stance on this? No. Does it make sense for Microsoft to want to positively market a less than "feature full" Windows XP eXPerience? No. Does Microsoft have any right to embed their own technologies, to the preclusion of other competing software? NO. There are a lot of faults in all of this, but I applaud the EU in trying to stand up to the behemoth and make them accountable. It’s not going to end, it’s not even likely to change. But every little bit helps.
    And I don’t fault MS for their tactics. If I had that sort of clout, market share, dominance, whatever, I’d try to make my solution the all-in-one wonder that everyone wants to own. The US courts were satisfied with the "Set Program Access and Defaults" that Microsoft added to allow non-IE browsers and non-WM media players to compete, so they are conceding.
    I think the EU is just forcing larger concessions, and forcing the issue. I say more power to them…

  14. This is just crazy. Windows XP N? What on Earth is that? If there needed to be any more evidence of the inefficiency and foolishness of government in production and marketing decisions, I cannot think of it.
    And another thing: What is so horrendously evil about Microsoft including its media player for free in its operating systems? No one is compelled to use it. I have WMP, RealOne, WinAMP, iTunes and foobar2000 all installed on my Windows XP system, and I use all of them for different things. Did the presence of WMP somehow prohibit me from discovering and installing all those other options? The biggest digital music store is iTunes, not MSN Music, yet XP users somehow know how to get past WMP and get iTunes. I know people–by no means tech savvy users–who have multiple media players installed, and guess what? They did it all by themselves.
    This EU nonsense smacks of nothing more than jealous, illiberal Europeans seizing the opportunity to stick it to one of the most successful American companies in history.

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