Microsoft’s latest slap on the wrist for anti-competitive behavior

Democracy Now! made a typical error when describing the latest Microsoft antitrust violation fine. Here’s how DN! put it on today’s show:

In business news, Microsoft has lost an anti-trust appeal before Europe’s second highest court and has been ordered to pay a record $690 million fine for abusing its dominance in computer operator systems. The court upheld a 2004 antitrust ruling from the European Commission.

Amy Goodman (audio, high-quality audio, video, and transcript)

But DN! doesn’t put that figure in perspective. Without understanding how much money that is to Microsoft, this figure is left to be interpreted in the context of the reader’s pocketbook. Such an interpretation will not accurately convey what a slap on the wrist this really is.

In late 2005 Gervase Markham, a free software hacker who works for Mozilla, placed the 2004 Microsoft €497 million fine in a larger context—In 2003, they made £14 million a day from Windows client operating system licences alone.. This doesn’t include any other Microsoft activity (such as hardware, documentation, or their other proprietary software such as Microsoft Office) all of which benefit from their illegal and anti-competitive activities.

According to the currency converter £14 million a day is roughly $28 million a day (as of 2007-09-17), so Microsoft’s latest fine of $690 million is worth about 24 days of Microsoft Windows OS licenses at their 2003 level. Microsoft has delayed this for so long they’ve made enough money to cover this fine many times over. Suddenly the new fine doesn’t sound that large unless you are naive enough to believe that a month’s worth of money from only one of Microsoft’s many lucrative activities will effect substantive change in Microsoft’s behavior.

And the kicker is that Microsoft is only a symptom of the real problem with software proprietors. All software proprietors are monopolists who would behave similarly if given the chance.