EU Ponders Antitrust Probe of Microsoft Office

If you're enjoying the European Union's (EU's) current antitrust proceedings against Microsoft, grab some popcorn and pull up an easy chair, because it looks like they're coming back for a sequel. EU competition commissioner Neelie Kroes said this week that the EU is now considering whether it should probe Microsoft's Office software to determine whether it violates EU antitrust law.

The EU preliminary investigation began when a group representing IBM, Oracle, Sun Microsystems, and six other companies complained to the EU that Microsoft was unfairly hiding various technical aspects of Office, which prevents them from creating solutions that interoperate with Office. This is a concern because Microsoft Office commands 95 percent of the office productivity market and is therefore the de facto standard for word processing, spreadsheets, and other common business tasks.

"We have evidence that Microsoft has refused to disclose formatting and other information," a lawyer representing the group, called Thomas Vinje, a lawyer representing the group, called the European Committee for Interoperability Systems (ECIS), said. "Word processing, spreadsheets and presentation programs can't achieve full interoperability with Microsoft Office.' Sun, one of the companies represented by ECIS, is responsible for the OpenOffice.org and StarOffice productivity suites, which compete with Microsoft Office and utilize the same data formats.

The EU says it's looking into the claims. "We have a duty and responsibility, if there is a complainer, to take it seriously,' Kroes said while in Tokyo for an EU-Japan antitrust conference. "If the complaint makes sense, we will \[pursue an investigation of Microsoft\]."

Microsoft denies that it is withholding information and has launched a complaint of its own with the EU. Microsoft is seeking access to letters passed between IBM, Oracle, Sun, and the EU to help bolster its argument.

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