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EC Launches New Microsoft Antitrust Probes

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The European Commission has more than made good on its threat to open a new investigation of Microsoft. It’s opened two new investigations and neither is about Vista.

One comes in response to Opera Software’s complaint last month that Microsoft is abusing its dominant position by tying its Internet Explorer browser to the Windows operating system and hindering interoperability by not following accepted web standards. Opera wants IE unbundled or Windows to preinstall competitive browsers on the desktop.

And since the EC has gotten other tying complaints it’s also going to investigate desktop search and Windows Live for tying among other Microsoft products.

Investigation Number 2 comes because the European Committee for Interoperable Systems (ECIS), the trade group representing the interests of Microsoft enemies like IBM, Sun, Oracle, Adobe, Red Hat and Real, complained in February 2006 that Microsoft illegally refused to disclose whatever it would take to interoperate with Office, the .NET Framework and a number of unidentified server products, also among others.

The EC says that as part of the ECIS charge it’ll investigate whether Microsoft’s new file format Office Open XML (OOXML), as implemented in Office, is “sufficiently interoperable” with competitive products.

ECIS, given its membership, supports the OpenDocument Format (ODF) that outmaneuvered OOXML to ISO standardization.

The EC cites the Court of First Instance’s September 17, 2007 decision throwing out Microsoft’s appeal of the EC’s 2004 antitrust decision that insisted that dominant companies must disclose their interoperability secrets. The court also supported the EC’s commercially unpopular order that the Windows Media Player be unbundled.

The EC claims that “the initiation of proceeding does not imply that the Commission has proof of an infringement. It only signifies that the Commission will further investigate the case as a matter of priority.”

One wonders what odds, if any, the bookies are giving on how this will turn out.

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