In March 2004 the European Commission, the highest administrative body of the European Union (EU), ended a five-year-long investigation of antitrust charges brought against Microsoft by finding that the company was an abusive monopolist. The inquiry was initiated by a complaint filed in 1998 by Sun Microsystems, which charged that Sunís server software could not work adequately with Windows because Microsoft withheld information about Windows source code.
The European Commission fined Microsoft 497 million euros (about $613 million at exchange rates in March 2004), a record fine at the time. The commission required Microsoft to produce two versions of the Windows operating system for the European market, including one without the Windows Media Player, the application that plays audio and video. It also required the company to share Windows code with competitors who make network server computer products. European Union Competition Commissioner Mario Monti said bundling the Windows Media Player with the operating system gave Microsoft an unfair advantage over competitors, such as RealNetworks, a Seattle-based company that joined the complaint against Microsoft.
In finding that the practice of bundling was anticompetitive, the EC ruling went beyond the terms of the settlement with the U.S. Justice Department, which allowed Microsoft to continue bundling the Internet Explorer browser with Windows. Monti resisted a settlement, saying that he wanted to establish a legal precedent. Although Microsoft paid the fine into an escrow account, it sought a stay of the rulingís antibundling provisions from the EUís Court of First Instance while it considered an appeal of the decision. In December 2004, however, the president of the Court of First Instance denied Microsoftís request for a stay, and Microsoft was forced to begin offering in the European market a version of Windows without its media player.