Europeans never really embraced the low-carb thing, but they're getting a slimmed-down version of Microsoft Windows in a few weeks. Microsoft is releasing Windows...

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Europeans never really embraced the low-carb thing, but they’re getting a slimmed-down version of Microsoft Windows in a few weeks.

Microsoft is releasing Windows XP Reduced Media Edition to satisfy European antitrust regulators, who in March ordered it to sell a version of its flagship software without a media player bundled into the system.

Microsoft tried to stave off the sanctions while it appeals the case, but a European judge last month rejected a delay. Yesterday, the company said it would start complying with the order even as it continues the appeal.

It still hopes to settle the underlying case, spokeswoman Stacy Drake said. “We are still interested. However, right now the main focus is on implementing these remedies and complying with them,” she said.

Personal-computer makers received the software last week and could begin selling PCs with it in a few weeks. But leading manufacturers yesterday declined to say whether they’ll sell “reduced media” systems.

A boxed version of the software, sold standalone without a computer, will be available in late February.

The stripped-down software will cost the same as standard editions of Windows, which include a media player. It will come in home and professional versions.

Microsoft faces the sanction because the European Commission, the administrative arm of the European Union, believes the company may use its PC software monopoly to snuff competitors in the emerging market for digital media. It’s the first time antitrust regulators have dictated which features may be included with Windows.

U.S. regulators attempted something similar with Internet Explorer when they tried to get Microsoft to pull the browser from Windows. Microsoft eventually settled under terms allowing it to keep bundling ancillary products with Windows.

Under the settlement, Microsoft added controls that let Windows users hide, but not remove, its browser and media player.

One beneficiary of the European remedy may be RealNetworks. Its media player, RealPlayer, has lost market share to built-in Windows Media Player, and the company participated in the European proceedings.

The Seattle company is also suing Microsoft in the U.S. for antitrust damages.

“We believe this is an important step towards ending Microsoft’s unlawful conduct and restoring fair competition to digital media,” spokesman Greg Chiemingo said.

Microsoft may still prevail in Europe, but it had little chance of winning the delay, said Ernest Gellhorn, an antitrust expert at George Mason School of Law in Arlington, Va.

“There’s no sense in beating your head against the wall and trying to challenge everything rather than save your fire for the one thing where you have a reasonable chance,” he said.

With or without a delay, few stripped-down systems are likely to be sold, some analysts said.

“We don’t think there will be much interest,” said Gartner analyst David Smith. “Why would somebody pay the same thing and get less and risk not having what they need?”

Most computer companies already bundle competing media players, including RealPlayer and Apple Computer’s iTunes.

Hewlett-Packard, the largest seller of PCs in Europe according to Gartner data, refused comment yesterday. Dell also declined to say whether it will sell the reduced edition in Europe.

“We’re evaluating the impact of the decision and aren’t going to comment on actions we may or may not take at this time,” Dell spokesman Venancio Figueroa said.

Microsoft has already complied with other remedies in the European case. It paid a record fine of about $612 million and agreed to license its server communications protocols to other companies, although so far there have been no takers.

Buyers who want the reduced media version of Windows will have to get it in Europe. Microsoft is specifying in the product license that it’s only to be sold there, Drake said.

It remains to be seen whether Microsoft will sell a reduced media version of Longhorn, the next version of Windows that’s expected to go on sale in 2006. The European order applies to Longhorn as well as XP, but Microsoft lawyers have another year to work something out.

Brier Dudley: 206-515-5687 or