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New EU Antitrust Charges Against Microsoft

The European Committee for Interoperable Systems (ECIS) has filed a new complaint with the European Commission, complaining Microsoft competes unfairly and has been dragging its heels over a 2004 antitrust ruling against the company. Adding new fuel to the fire, ECIS now points to the Microsoft Office suite of productivity software as an area where Microsoft did not permit competitors to interoperate properly with Windows.

The European Committee for Interoperable Systems (ECIS) is a voluntary industry group formed in 1989; its members currently includes members IBM, Nokia, Oracle, Sun Microsystems, and RealNetworks, and the organization was active in the EU antitrust case against the Redmond software giant. Now they want the European Commission to take strong action to fully enforce the 2004 decision and force Microsoft to share its software protocols. “ECIS deeply regrets that strong antitrust law enforcement appears to be the only way to stop the sustained anti-competitive behavior of Microsoft,” Simon Awde, ECIS chairman, said in a statement.

“We have evidence that Microsoft has refused to disclose formatting and other information,” said Thomas Vinje, an antitrust lawyer for the firm Morrison & Foerster, representing ECIS. “Word processing, spreadsheets and presentation programs can’t achieve full interoperability with Microsoft Office.”

Aside from the Windows operating system, Microsoft Office is the Redmond software maker’s top revenue generator, and controls approximately 95 percent of the market for productivity software (word processing, spreadsheets, slide-show presentations, and email software). Microsoft Office’s primary competitors are Sun’s StarOffice and the free OpenOffice.

For its part, Microsoft hasn’t blinked, saying ECIS is simply a front for IBM and other rivals who would prefer to litigate through regulatory processes rather than innovate.

[Updated 23-Feb-2006 with additional quote from Vinje]