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A question of anti-trust

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A new front opened in the six-year war between Microsoft and the European commission last week. The endgame is uncertain, as regards both timing and outcome, but the enormous scale of the stakes are clearer: Brussels is challenging the entire basis of the group's business strategy and model. It is determined to change them.

With the US department of justice (almost) out of the picture following its 2002 settlement and most of Microsoft's once-litigious rivals either out of business or bought off, the commission sees itself as a lonely David fighting Goliath, aiming its sling at the group's quasi-monopoly. It wants to force it to face genuinely free competition.

Last Wednesday, Microsoft raised the ante yet again. The world's biggest software maker not only defied Brussels on the central issue of making servers running its Windows operating system interoperable with rival versions but challenged the authority and integrity of an independent trustee - charged with monitoring its compliance with an anti-trust ruling - it is, albeit reluctantly, co-sponsoring.

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