2010 will see a new European Commission (and a new head of antitrust in the EU). The outgoing commissioner - Neelie Kroes - has been busy in the last couple of months bringing a number of long-running technology sector investigations to a close, the most high-profile of which involved the European Commission accepting legally binding commitments from Microsoft to end the investigation into alleged illegal tying of Microsoft's internet Explorer web browser to its Windows computer operating system - an abuse of a dominant position under EU rules. Microsoft will now give consumers using Windows the choice of which internet browser they use on their computer.
After an in-depth investigation, the European Commission has also closed its investigation into the acquisition of US hardware and software vendor Sun Microsystems by Oracle Corporation, a US database and application software company. Although the European Commission had concerns about the potential anti-competitive effects of this merger in the market for databases, it finally cleared the transaction after Oracle announced a series of contractual undertakings with customers, developers and users relating to Sun's MySQL database product.
However, the end of the reign of Ms Kroes is unlikely to mean the end of technology sector investigations. 2010 looks increasingly like it will be a difficult year for Google which seems to be on the radar of many antitrust authorities in the EU. Last year, Google's offices were raided by officials of the Italian competition authority, investigating whether it had abused its dominant position in the online search engine market and the online advertising market and there are rumours that the French competition authority may be about to start a similar review. The German competition authority is also taking a close look at Google's business practices, this time with regard to prices charged for using news articles in Google's Web news service and search results. These investigations are all taking place whilst Google faces the threat of a combined offering from Microsoft and Yahoo. The two companies intend to enter into a 10-year deal to combine forces in the search engine market - a deal that is currently being considered by the European Commission. A decision on whether to clear the deal or open an in-depth investigation is expected by 19 February.