By Kaj Haulrich.
April 23 – 2005
It may be located at the perimeter of the European Union, but nevertheless the fairy-tale Kingdom of Denmark has become Bill Gates’ beachhead and stronghold in his ongoing trouble with the EU Commission. Last year The Italian commissioner responsible for competition, Signore Mario Monti, slapped Microsoft for it’s monopolistic conduct and fined the software behemoth a stunning 497m euros ($613m; Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â£331m) for abusing its dominant market position and also insisted Microsoft must reveal secrets of its Windows software [to competing developers]. Furthermore, Microsoft was ordered to release a version of Windows without it’s Media Player. Harsh conditions, don’t you think ? – Well, read on :
Microsoft appealed, but the European Court of First Instance, presided by the Danish judge, Mr. Bo Vesterdorf, rejected the appeal. However, a final sentence isn’t expected until 2010, at best.
Meanwhile Microsoft has deposited the money in it’s own bank account and released a “reduced” Windows that nobody, of course, wants to license [due primarily to the fact that it costs the same as the normal version]. But it hasn’t revealed any useful code to make Windows more cooperative with other types of competing software [and what it has released is under license terms that are unacceptable to it's biggest competitor]. And it probably never will.
So now, Microsoft has plenty of time to further strengthen its monopoly in Europe, and it doesn’t waste it. A few examples :
The EU Commission wants to enforce the patentability of software, US-style. This severely reduces European companies, which typically are small or medium-sized, in their ability to compete with large, multinational corporations, like Microsoft. Naturally, a lot of those companies as well as nation-states like Poland, Germany, Portugal, the Netherlands and – lastly – Denmark objected and demanded a complete re-write of the Software Directive to be sent back to the European Parliament for re-consideration.
Denmark objected ? – Well, not really. Although the Danish Parliament obliged it’s Secretary of Trade, Mr. Bendt Bendtsen, to reject the Directive in the
Council of Ministers, he only did so reluctantly, to put it mildly. (A transcript of his pathetic performance is here, and you can hear Mr. Bendtsen humiliate himself and his country here).
Normally, a minister who ignores his parliament would be fired immediately. Not so this time. The Directive on Software Patents stands and so does Mr. Bendtsen. The noble art of corruption is by no means strange to the EU, but so far Denmark has been – well, relatively – free of it. Let’s delve a little deeper to see if there’s something rotten in the state of Denmark :
In order to clean up the public IT-structure – a gargantuan mess of incompatible systems – the Danish government instigated a reform on standards.
The committee in charge recommended a widespread use of open standards to replace closed, proprietary ones. Some agencies, like the Department of Environment actually began to do so. But in January this year that Department suddenly declared that it had chosen to carry on with Microsoft’s Office Suite. In other words : if the citizens want to communicate flawlessly with the government they’ll have to license a copy of that suite from Microsoft. Pay or shut up. Other public administrations like the cities of Munich and Bergen can use open standards, but Denmark can’t….
Maybe that’s no coincidence. Just prior to the decision on software patents, Mr. Bill Gates paid a “friendly” visit to the Danish Prime Minister, Mr. Anders Fogh Rasmussen. According to the Danish financial newspaper “Borsen” Mr. Gates made it very clear to Mr. Rasmussen, that if Denmark rejected the Directive Microsoft would have to move its Navision branch to the US. That revelation started a public debate where the word “blackmail” wasn’t the least mentioned. Mr. Rasmussen – of course – denied. But you already know how it turned out, don’t you ?
Since then, the Government had other ideas. Although Denmark is haunted by innumerable commissions, committees, councils and “expert” boards, the Prime
Minister nevertheless came up with yet another one : a “super-commission” on the entire scientific, developmental and educational structure of Denmark.
Guess who will represent the IT-sector ? – You guessed it, right ? – Yes, Microsoft. The company that never – ever – invented anything but FUD.
As expected protests were ignored and the Government carries on : last week it donated 40.000 “free” but time-limited copies of Microsoft’s accounting suite C5 to start-ups within the private sector. Well, Denmark has many companies with competing products, but they charge for them. So now, the Government prefers the tax-payers to sustain Microsoft. Just like any other pusher’s product, Microsoft’s first “fix” is free…
If we elaborate a little further on this, it isn’t hard to imagine new, bright ideas : Under cover of fighting terrorism and paedophiles, the Danish Secretary of Justice, Mrs. Lene Espersen, recently authorized the police to “crack” the citizen’s privately owned computers without informing them. As all and everyone knows it isn’t especially hard to insert spyware, key loggers, viruses and Trojans into a Windows PC. If every 14-year old script-kiddie can do it, so can the police. In fact, it is very hard indeed to protect a Windows PC from such intrusion. On the other hand it’s next to impossible to do such nasties to a Linux PC or a Mac, even in its most basic configuration. So, if Danes begin to adopt other operating systems than Windows the government – and Microsoft – would be embarrassed. Not being able to spy on the citizens and control every aspect of their lives is about the worst scenario imaginable to any Danish politician.
The solution is straightforward : Just a small amendment to criminal law, and the use of non-Windows PCs will be a felony. – Oops, maybe I shouldn’t have mentioned that….the Government might read this…better shut up now before I – typing this on a Linux PC – am considered an Enemy of the State.
[Afterword: Kaj Haulrich is a resident of Denmark and kindly agreed to write this article for us after hearing about how many of us had mistaken Denmark's involvement in the EU software patent directive. HTMLfixIT wishes to thank Kaj for his contribution.]