WRITTEN QUESTION E-4896/07
by Erik Meijer (GUE/NGL)
to the Commission
Subject: Malfunctioning of computers and peripheral equipment where Windows XP is replaced by Windows Vista, and pre-installation of Vista in new computers
1. Is the Commission aware that Microsoft has replaced its 'Windows XP' system by the 'Windows Vista' system, initially for business users and since 30 January 2007 also for the consumer market, and that 'Windows Vista' has since been pre-installed on many new computers?
2. Is the Commission aware of complaints by the Netherlands Consumentenbond (Consumer Association), which commented in August that the new operating system has not yet been adequately developed and is not yet a satisfactory replacement for XP, as it has too many flaws which can only be sorted out by seasoned computer users, and not by ordinary users, and is it aware that the Consumentenbond has set up a centre for registering users' complaints and that within the space of a month 5 200 complaints were received, including complaints about compatibility with peripheral equipment and usability of old software and hardware in combination with Visa?
3. Is the Commission aware that these complaints indicate that, with Vista, computer programmes, printers and video cards often fail to work and network connections are lost, that for this reason the Consumentenbond is advising consumers to only purchase Vista if they are sure that their hardware and software will continue to work with it, and that it also takes the view for this reason that, pending a fully‑fledged version of Vista, Microsoft should give dissatisfied customers the opportunity to go back, without additional charge, to the old, tried and tested Windows XP system?
4. Is the Commission aware that Microsoft only allows - via its OEM partners which supply Windows on their PCs - business clients with the more expensive 'Ultimate' version of Vista to go back to Windows XP, but that for ordinary consumers it has confined itself to date to developing a 'Service Pack 1' which is to make Vista more secure and faster in future and which is currently being tried out on selected testers before being available to everyone to purchase in 2008?
5. What steps is the Commission taking to require producers to supply computers in which, at the option of the customer, an operating system may be installed without bundling with Windows, or at least to ensure that purchasing without a built‑in system is made easier, which, according to the recent advice by the Globalisation Institute, would increase consumer choice?
www.nu.nl/news/1251877/50/: Geen _gratis_XP_voor_ontevreden_Vistaklanten
www.globalisation.eu: Policy Briefing Globalisation Institute: Unbundling Microsoft Windows
Answer given by Mrs Kroes
on behalf of the Commission
The Commission is well aware of the launch of Microsoft's Vista operating system and has devoted considerable attention to ensure that Microsoft complies with its obligations under European competition law when launching Windows Vista.
The Honourable Member's questions 2 to 4 do not relate to any concerns with regard to anti-competitive behaviour but to alleged flaws in Microsoft's products or its marketing strategy. The Commission is aware of the various problems consumers appear to have experienced in relation to Windows Vista. Existing EC legislation provides consumers who buy a faulty product (i.e. a computer) with a number of rights. However, the Commission is not entitled to intervene in private disputes. It is up to the Member States to ensure that national laws are brought into conformity with European legislation and that these laws are complied with.
In reply to the Honourable Member's concern over the fact that it is hard to obtain a computer without the Microsoft operating system installed on it, this is an issue the Commission is aware of and is currently monitoring.
The Commission is aware of the difficulties encountered by consumers who want to obtain a PC without a pre-installed operating system. To the Commission's knowledge, the license agreements between Microsoft and the PC producers encourage by way of rebates the pre-installation of an operating system on PCs. However, the operating system does not necessarily have to be one produced by Microsoft. The Commission is not aware of a financial or contractual obligation which would prevent the PC producers from selling their computers without a pre-installed Microsoft operating system. The Commission is aware of one major PC producer which offers a product with Linux pre-installed, as well as of a number of smaller vendors which do likewise and/or offer PCs without an operating system pre-installed.
It appears, rather, that the structure of the market and demand from consumers is the driving force behind the decisions by PC vendors to offer preinstalled operating systems on their PCs. Since the behaviour of PC producers is explained by commercial reasons and is not the result of any behaviour in breach of the EC competition rules it does not fall within the remit of EC competition law.