Irony squared: Microsoft tries antitrust tactic against Google

Pot, meet kettle. Kettle, meet pot.

If you never thought you'd see the day when Microsoft would declare itself the loser in any technology sector, be prepared: that day may have just arrived, one day before April Fool's Day.

The Redmond, WA-based software company has filed a formal antitrust complaint today in Brussels against none other than Google, the search and advertising company that seems to have stymied Microsoft in nearly every new market.

This would be the first time Microsoft has filed an antitrust complaint against another company, but we all know how intimately familiar Microsoft is with being on the receiving end of such complaints. Microsoft's past antitrust legal history and business practices makes this situation practically reek with irony.

Because now it's Microsoft that is feeling the pain of being behind, and they're doing everything they can to bring Google down.

Specifically, Microsoft has filed "a formal complaint with the European Commission as part of the Commission's ongoing investigation into whether Google has violated European competition law," according to Brad Smith, Sr. Vice President and General Counsel for Microsoft. It was because of the EC's current investigation that Microsoft opted to file the complaint there, though it's clear that the US software company wouldn't mind a similar investigation starting up on its home shores.

Microsoft alleges that Google is using anticompetitive business practices to push Google's technology (like Search) over all other companies' tech on platforms that Google owns and operates (like Android). This is a direct clone of the US government's antitrust complaints against Microsoft in 1998, just swap out some nouns: "The US government alleges that Microsoft is using anticompetitive business practices to push Microsoft's technology (like Internet Explorer) over all other companies' tech on platforms that Microsoft owns and operates (like Windows)."

Eerie, isn't it?

Smith gets a bit specific in his examples, citing three instances where Google overstepped its bounds. Here, for instance, is the second of Smith's triad:

"[I]n 2010 and again more recently, Google blocked Microsoft's new Windows Phones from operating properly with YouTube. Google has enabled its own Android phones to access YouTube so that users can search for video categories, find favorites, see ratings, and so forth in the rich user interfaces offered by those phones. It's done the same thing for the iPhones offered by Apple, which doesn't offer a competing search service," Smith wrote in last night's TechNet blog entry.

Smith alleges that Apple gets perfectly good access to YouTube, while Microsoft is left out in the cold, just because Apple doesn't have search tools--and Microsoft does.

(Given recent allegations that Microsoft's Bing search service directly copies results from Google's search, one could argue that Microsoft doesn't have search either, but hey, why be picky?)

If the allegations against Google are true, this would indeed represent serious anti-competitive business practices by Google. Google's not made any formal statement yet, but the New York Times reports that "...when told of the Microsoft claims, Adam Kovacevich, a Google spokesman, denied that the company had done anything wrong and said its practices did not deny Microsoft access to Google technology and content."

Another article from Computerworld cites an unnamed source at Google who indicates there wasn't much surprise about this complaint.

"Google said, 'We're not surprised that Microsoft has done this, since one of their subsidiaries was one of the original complainants. For our part, we continue to discuss the case with the European Commission and we're happy to explain to anyone how our business works.'," the article stated.

The open source community, which stokes a deep distrust (at best) for Microsoft because of its past and current business and litigious practices, will no doubt crow with delight at the irony of it all, as it watches Microsoft try to bring down one of its biggest competitors using tactics Microsoft scoffed in the late Nineties.

Microsoft competitors should also note another quote from the Times story:

"'The company that was the 800-pound gorilla is now resorting to antitrust, where it is always the case that the also-rans sue the winners,' said Michael A. Cusumano, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Sloan School of Management who has studied Microsoft."

By filing this antitrust complaint, Cusumano argues, Microsoft is admitting that it cannot compete in the same markets with Google: search and mobile.

Now the question becomes, is the inability to compete Google's fault? Or Microsoft's?

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