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Pending EU legislation may force Apple to open up its platform to rivals like Adobe.
Change in antitrust laws could have serious implications for many other companies as well

The European Union's European Commission, under the guidance of commissioner Neelie Kroes, has had no qualms with slamming U.S firms with massive antitrust fines.  Now it's preparing a massive new initiative which just may have a major effect on some U.S. firms.

The new measure, called the Digital Agenda, raises many points, but one of the most significant is to redefine what companies can be subject to scrutiny over abuse of their market position.  The Agenda looks to change the necessary language from "dominant" to "significant".  Its text, found here, includes the passage:

Since not all pervasive technologies are based on standards the benefits of interoperability risk being lost in such areas. The Commission will examine the feasibility of measures that could lead significant market players to license interoperability information while at the same time promoting innovation and competition.

This proclamation may affect a number of key players in the tech industry by forcing them to open their gates or face massive fines.  

Perhaps the biggest example is Apple, Inc.  Apple is being probed by U.S. government antitrust investigators over its decision to ban Flash from its iPad and iPhone.  The problem is that Apple can easily argue that it does not have a "dominant" position to abuse when it comes to the iPhone.  And even the iPad, the new clear leader in the tablet industry could stake make similar claims -- after all the term "dominance" is loosely defined.

However, there's little doubt that it plays a "significant" role in the tablet and smartphone industries.

Under the new measure, if the language is approved, the EU may gain the power to force Apple to allow Flash onboard.  It may also be able to finally force Apple to allow third-party devices -- like Android smartphones, the Palm Pre, or rival MP3 players – to sync with iTunes.  The EU has long complained about Apple's efforts to block such syncing.

If the measure forces the hands of companies like Apple, they may feel compelled to eventually embrace similar measures in the U.S.  The U.S. is slowly trending towards a policy of stricter antitrust enforcement, following in the EU's line.

Ultimately the issue boils down to whether the market's largest players have a responsibility to "leave the door open" when it comes to interoperability.  This may come at a small expense to firms to publish documentation, which they could likely cover with licensing fees.  However, what they ultimately truly stand to lose is a tool against their competitors.  

By tightly controlling their platforms and various products' ties, companies like Apple can build their brand in the eyes of the consume -- a key part of the so-called "halo effect" which has driven purchasers of one Apple product to pick up more Apple gadgets.  It's remarkably similar to the inside track that Microsoft Word and Microsoft Internet Explorer were given with Windows -- which landed Microsoft in hot water with U.S. antitrust investigators around the turn of the millennia.  Ultimately, such maneuvers don't even need a monopoly -- as Apple's extensive use of them has proven.  They merely require a significant market share to start; hence the EU's claim.

So is interoperability something that should be mandatory?  Or should companies be allowed to close their platforms tightly?  Advocates of a more laissez faire government would certainly argue the latter, but the EU and Kroes seem convinced of the former, a platform that may have a big impact on some of the tech industry's top firms in the U.S. and abroad.

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By Penti on 7/3/2010 1:45:32 PM , Rating: 0
OEM's aren't force to have browser ballots, they are now free to bundle whatever browser they want. They weren't before. Apple is an OEM so it has those same rights. Apple doesn't limit OEMs from bundling software. Apple is the OEM and they bundle a bunch of software just fine, including Microsoft's broken Office 2008 for Mac edition.

Microsoft hasn't shared any code, most of the techs behind OS X is open source'd though. Including the kernel. Some aspects aren't though. Stuff is documented fairly well and there's no Apple formats to speak off like when they didn't have the doc-formats speced and open. Techs like OpenCL is supported in everything wishing to implement it yet Apple was a pusher for the format, OpenCL is today available for Windows and Linux. DirectCompute aren't. QT is kinda closed though. Not just source but access wise it is more limiting then MF/DirectShow and DXVA. If Apple sold OS X to computer OEMs they would face the same criticism and verdict if they implemented measures so that they couldn't bundle another browser with the OS. OEMs can't be forced to do any of that shit though. That would be like forcing HTC to license Sense to other makers. And forcing them to offer vanilla UIs. Apple all in all doesn't try to make it impossible to be releasing cross-platform support. Offering Posix-support, X11 support (if one installs it), and support for cross-platform APIs like OpenGL, OpenCL, OpenAL, makes it fairly easy to port between platform. Much of the Cocoa APIs have been ported to Linux and Windows too. Easiest is to use another API though. Like other cross-platform tools. Microsoft has bettered themselves releasing specs for how to communicate with Exchange, opening up the doc and docx file formats and a few stuff like that. But Apple doesn't have any dominating products like that. Stuff like video editing suits normally allows for interoperability of some sort since years ago. Stuff like sharepoint still means you need Windows/Office/Outlook/etc though. As does software heavily dependent on the Windows architecture. But there's really nothing that locks you into the Mac platform. Transferring stuff from iTunes isn't really a big problem, Nokia has solved it this way The files are usually DRM-free and compatible with the devices.

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