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EC may extend MS antitrust probe

The EC is to extend its antitrust investigation into Microsoft's behaviour during "a struggle last year to ratify its Office software file format as an international standard," the Wall Street Journal reports.The EC is already formally investigating two alleged infringements of EC antitrust rules by Microsoft, one concerning interoperability, the other concerning Microsoft's bundling of the Internet Explorer web browser with its operating systems.
Written by Tom Espiner, Contributor

The EC is to extend its antitrust investigation into Microsoft's behaviour during "a struggle last year to ratify its Office software file format as an international standard," the Wall Street Journal reports.

The EC is already formally investigating two alleged infringements of EC antitrust rules by Microsoft, one concerning interoperability, the other concerning Microsoft's bundling of the Internet Explorer web browser with its operating systems.

Now it seems the EC may add a third strand to its antitrust investigations, concerning Office Open XML (OOXML). An EC spokesperson on Friday declined to comment on reports of any extension to its Microsoft antitrust investigations.

"We have two investigations ongoing," said the spokesperson. "We won't give any [more] comment."

There were allegations last August that Microsoft attempted to push its OOXML standard through various national bodies to achieve fast track International Organization for Standardization (ISO) certification, by rigging the voting procedures.

Achieving ISO certification, which so far Microsoft has failed to do, would result in governments accepting OOXML as a recognised document format, encouraging its use to the exclusion of others, according to the Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE). Critics including FSFE argued this could lock governments into perpetual licensing relationships with Microsoft, as documents need to be kept in perpetuity.

Microsoft admitted to ZDNet.co.uk in August last year that it had sought to influence partners to join the ISO national voting bodies.

"Open XML is becoming one of the most widely utilised document format standards. A broad variety of customers, technology providers, and governments around the globe have a stake in its standardisation and ongoing evolution, and should have a seat at the table when these decisions are being made," Tom Robertson, general manager for interoperability and standards at Microsoft told ZDNet.co.uk at the time. "Government agencies and national standards bodies have exercised their right to participate in this process, as have a number of companies, including those opposed to and those in favour of Open XML. Therefore, Microsoft has openly encouraged its partners to participate where they have an interest."

However, FSFE accused Microsoft of "stuffing the ballot boxes" in the votes designed to establish Office Open XML as a recognised industry standard.

Speaking to ZDNet.co.uk last August, FSFE president Georg Greve said unprecedented numbers of Microsoft partner companies from several countries joined standards organisations, and voted to approve the OOXML document format as an ISO standard.

Votes on ISO certification by national bodies in Switzerland, Sweden, Germany, Portugal, the Netherlands, and the US were all influenced by Microsoft, according to Greve.

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