* Probe concerns use of pre-installed Microsoft OS
* Agency says Microsoft is involved as a third party
* Follows separate probe into Microsoft launched last week
* Microsoft says hopes to resolve some issues soon
(Recasts, adds details, further Microsoft comments,
By Maria Kiselyova
MOSCOW, June 10 Russia's anti-trust regulator
on Wednesday launched a probe into laptop makers whose machines
contain pre-installed Microsoft Corp (MSFT.O) software -- the
second Russian probe to hit the U.S. company in under a week.
The watchdog said it was investigating Acer Inc (2353.TW),
Asustek (2357.TW), Toshiba Corp (6502.T), Hewlett-Packard
(HPQ.N), Samsung Electronics (005930.KS) and Dell Inc DELL.O
over "coordinated actions" when selling laptops with the
pre-installed Windows operating system, and was treating
Microsoft as a third party in the probe.
Dell declined to comment. Acer, Asustek, Toshiba, HP, and
Samsung could not immediately be reached for comment.
Microsoft is already the subject of a probe by the Russian
regulator over whether it broke competition law by holding back
supplies of its Windows XP operating system to the Russian
A statement on the regulator's website about the laptop
maker probe said: "The signs of violation of the anti-monopoly
legislation are seen in coordinated actions by laptop makers
which have been pre-installing an operating system of the one
The Russian agency said that, in most cases, customers were
unable to buy a laptop from the above-mentioned producers
without the pre-installed Windows OS, or were not able to
refuse to use the operating system they were given with the
Microsoft does not disclose the size of its Russian sales
but says they had approached those in European markets in
Microsoft spokeswoman Marina Levina said the company had
not received any notification from the Federal Anti-monopoly
Service (FAS), the regulator, which will review the case on
Top Russian officials, including Prime Minister Vladimir
Putin, have repeatedly criticised the anti-monopoly service for
being a ceremonial agency which lacks real power.
Last year, its head, Igor Artemiyev, promised to turn the
agency into a powerful tool to enforce market principles, and
since then has slapped a number of fines on powerful Russian
oil firms for price fixing in the domestic market.
The Russian probes into Microsoft come on top of ongoing
charges by European regulators that it stymied rivals by tying
the firm's Web browser to its dominant Windows system.
The European Commission said Microsoft shielded its
Internet Explorer browser from head-to-head competition with
rival products by bundling its Internet Explorer with Windows
harming innovation and reducing customer choice.
Microsoft and the EU have been engaged in a running spat
over competition for years, and the U.S. company has been fined
several times for allegedly abusing its 95 percent dominance of
personal computer systems through its Windows software.
The bulk of Microsoft's revenue comes from corporate
customers, who make payments on long-term licensing contracts
allowing them to upgrade to the newest versions of its
In reality, however, most customers do not upgrade
immediately, forcing Microsoft to support older versions of the
Microsoft is keen to move customers onto newer versions,
both to save on costs and to get them to adopt newer standards
and systems that lock them into Microsoft's technologies.
The company has largely stopped selling Windows XP to
retailers and major computer makers, forcing customers into
using its successor, Windows Vista.
At last week's launch of the probe into sales of the XP
operating system, the Russian regulator said it thought
Microsoft violated anti-monopoly legislation by cutting
delivery of Windows XP to Russia both separately and
pre-installed on personal computers.
Chief executive of Microsoft Rus LLC, Nikolai
Pryanishnikov, told Reuters on Wednesday the company hoped to
resolve some of the issues raised in the probe by providing
"Further, if there is dialogue and some solutions are
required, we will cooperate and meet all demands, and continue
to work in Russia for the good of consumers."
Microsoft said in a separate comment the Windows XP OS was
still available to Russian customers and many PC manufacturers
and the company and its partners would continue to offer
technical support for Windows XP until 2014.
(Reporting by Maria Kiselyova; Additional reporting by Reed
Stevenson in Amsterdam and Claire Baldwin in San Francisco;
Editing by Simon Jessop, Gary Hill)