European Commission regulators on Monday said they have initiated two formal antitrust investigations against Microsoft. The new investigations continue an ongoing saga for Redmond in Europe.
This round of investigations falls under two separate categories of alleged infringements of European Commission Treaty rules. The first case deals with interoperability. The second relates to tying separate software products together. Specifically, Internet Explorer and Microsoft Office have come under scrutiny.
"This initiation of proceedings does not imply that the commission has proof of an infringement," the European Commission said in a statement. "It only signifies that the commission will further investigate the case as a matter of priority."
The Open Office XML Impact
According to the EC antitrust probes, Microsoft has illegally refused to disclose interoperability information across a broad range of products, including its Office suite, a number of servers and the .Net Framework.
The complaint stems from a February 2006 filing by the European Committee for Interoperable Systems, a group led by IBM and other Microsoft competitors. The EC said its antitrust examination will also focus on whether Microsoft's new file format Open Office XML is sufficiently interoperable with competitors' products.
Andrew Updegrove, an attorney with the Boston law firm Gesmer Updegrove, is waiting to see how the EC announcement impacts Microsoft's behavior in the final round of its efforts to have Open Office XML approved as an ISO/IEC standard. On Feb. 25, delegations from 40 countries will meet in closed-door sessions for five days in Geneva at a ballot-resolution meeting to review proposed resolutions of the 3,522 comments registered against Open Office XML.
"Microsoft may well be much more willing to compromise almost everything in an effort to get final approval for Open Office XML, in order to bolster its position that it has opened up Open Office XML," said Updegrove, who is also legal counsel and director of legal standards strategy for the Linux Foundation. "That will be a bit of a red herring, however, because Open Office XML is first and foremost a literal description of Office. By approving it as a standard, ISO/IEC would in large part simply codify Microsoft's product design and call it a standard. Because Microsoft did not implement ODF [OpenDocument format], all other office suites will remain at a disadvantage."
Opera Complains About Browser Competition
In the second EC antitrust investigation, Opera Software has complained that Microsoft illegally ties Internet Explorer to its Windows OS. The EC also cited antitrust allegations that Microsoft fetters other software products to its OS, including desktop search and Windows Live.
According to OneStat.com, 84.7 percent of people who surfed the Web in June 2007 used Microsoft's Internet Explorer. That compares with 12.7 percent for Mozilla's Firefox, 1.8 percent for Apple's Safari and a mere 0.6 percent for Opera.
Microsoft has a long history with the EU. In 2004, the EU charged Microsoft with illegally shutting out Sun Microsystems by withholding computer code Sun needed to make its computers work with Windows-based machines. The six-year probe also resulted in a charge against Microsoft for abusing its Windows monopoly by building media player software with its operating system. The EU fined Microsoft a record $612 million. Microsoft appealed the fines and the EU's stance, but finally raised a white flag and complied with the EU's rulings.