Euro monopoly cops to probe Microsoft for slipping Teams into Office

Three years after Slack flagged up 'illegal' bundling of chat app

European Union antitrust regulators are expected to next week launch their first formal probe into Microsoft’s integration of collaboration app Teams with its dominant Office 365 productivity software suite.

It is 15 years since Microsoft’s last official engagement with the EU’s competition cops after which the Redmond-based software behemoth was fined €899 million for failing to obey an order that it would play nice with rivals and charge them a reasonable rate for information required for interoperability.

The latest case, which the Financial Times says will go under the spotlight imminently, pertains to Microsoft injecting Teams into its online Office suite in 2017. Rival Slack lodged a complaint with the EU in 2020, griping that the Windows giant was “force installing [Teams] for millions, blocking its removal, and hiding the true cost to enterprise customers.”

"We're confident that we win on the merits of our product," Jonathan Prince, vice president of communications and policy at Slack said at the time, "but," he alleged, "we can't ignore illegal behavior that deprives customers of access to the tools and solutions they want."

Microsoft was this year understood to have made several advances to competition watchdogs within the EU to assuage any concerns and stave off a full-blown investigation. These included offering to unbundle Teams and the Office suite, and charging different prices for Office with or without Teams.

The deep dive into Microsoft’s practices is said to be getting underway next week, and it is thought the American giant could face formal charges after the summer.

The EU told us previously it had received several complaints regarding Microsoft's policies and licensing behavior, including one by Slack related to Teams, which it was assessing “based on our standard procedures.”

A spokesperson for the European Commission, the executive branch of the European Union, said today: “We have no comment.”

Microsoft told us: “We continue to engage cooperatively with the commission in its investigation and are open to pragmatic solutions that address its concerns and serve customers well.”

Stéphanie Yon-Courtin, a member of the European Parliament, last week put pressure on Europe to launch a probe into Microsoft’s Teams issue: “Three years after the [Slack] complaint was lodged, Microsoft’s dominant position in the market has grown, while the complainant is still waiting for meaningful progress in this case.”

She pointed to Teams gathering roughly 300 million monthly active users, whereas Slack has an estimated 50 or so million. There is a fear Microsoft bagged all those users in a not-so-fair way, primarily by including Teams in Office.

The Slack complaint and others like it are forming something of a pattern in Europe: German cloud provider Nextcloud lodged one in 2021 against Microsoft for bundling OneDrive with Windows; and other businesses in the region have challenged Microsoft’s tough licensing policies for running its software in third-party, non-Azure clouds.

Microsoft settled a joint case brought against it by OVHcloud, Aruba S.p.a, and DCC in March, and so far hasn’t been able to convince the AWS-backed Cloud Infrastructure Service Providers in Europe (CISPE) trade group to reach an agreement over their unhappiness with Redmond's licensing requirements and costs.

Larger rivals, including AWS and Google, have thrown accusations of anticompetitive behavior at Microsoft.

Google Cloud veep Amit Zavery told us Europe must step in to address what he sees as a licensing “tax” imposed by Microsoft on its rivals.

Regulators in the US are also being made aware of industry tensions. Last month Google formally accused Microsoft of trapping customers in its cloud via a complaint to the Federal Trade Commission. The Coalition for Fair Software Licensing is also trying to hold Microsoft’s feet to the fire. ®

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