Any time you hear bureaucrats—especially European bureaucrats—whining about a company refusing to give its competitors a “fair deal,” you can pretty much bet you’re about to be smacked in the face with a wet towel of regulatory nonsense. But alas, the New York Times is reporting that, once again, European regulators are getting their undies in a bunch over Microsoft’s alleged antitrust violations.
The feud between Microsoft and the EU has been active for some time now, and like most feuds, how it started doesn’t matter much. All that’s important is that Microsoft is successful—very successful—and EU regulators find that distasteful. Success? What gall!
They’re not big on singular corporate success of any kind, of course, but especially not from an American company. Subsequently, their solution has been to force Microsoft to make design changes in its products (as if somehow we need EU bureaucrats designing software for us) and, more recently, to order it to open its code to its competitors in a misguided quest for “interoperability.”
Orders like this are billed as fostering competition and innovation. But how, I wonder, does signaling to companies that 1) they could at any time be forced to give out proprietary information to competitors and 2) letting start ups get by without developing new systems/infrastructures/products of their own really spur innovation? Free rides on the competition create disincentives for companies to create new, better products and systems of their own. (Adam Thierer and Wayne Crews have a helpful summary of the perils of various types of “open access” regulations here.)
I don’t know that Microsoft will get out of this mess without acceding to the regulators—sometimes corporations have to force a grin and do a song and dance routine to appease the bureaucrats—but the continued demands placed upon Microsoft by EU bureaucrats have become rather exasperating. (Nor, I should add, have they managed to leave Apple alone either.)