Kroes Lashes Out Over Microsoft 'Standard'

EC Competition Commissioner questions validity of OOXML in speech to open source group.


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If Microsoft executives thought that getting Office 2007's default file formats through the international standards setting process meant the worst was over in the contentious fight to get it certified, perhaps they were a bit too optimistic.

Speaking at a breakfast for European open source organization OpenForum Europe Tuesday, European Commission (EC) Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes, put it on the line. Standards, she said, are good, especially when they are based on "non-proprietary" open standards. However, beware any company that tries to leverage its own proprietary technology into a standard.

"When a market develops in such a way that a particular proprietary technology becomes a de facto standard, then the owner of that technology may have such power over the market that it can lock-in its customers and exclude its competitors [and] then a competition authority or a regulator may need to intervene," she said.

Indeed, she praised several European governmental bodies that have adopted such non-proprietary, open standards, including the city of Munich, the German Foreign Ministry, the Dutch government, and the French Gendarmerie.

Although she never mentioned Microsoft by name, Kroes made it clear she was referring to the company's recent victory in the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) to have Office 2007's default file formats declared a worldwide standard.

"The Commission has never before had to issue two periodic penalty payments in a competition case… and there are other cases of alleged unlawful conduct pending," Kroes said, according to a transcript of her speech. Since Microsoft is the only company that has ever been fined twice by the EC, her meaning was clear.

Kroes virtually telegraphed that Microsoft can expect to be investigated thoroughly over the default file formats, also known as Office Open XML or OOXML. OOXML was ratified as an ISO standard in early April, despite some complaints over "irregularities" by some national standards bodies.

Since that time, however, four nations – South Africa, India, Brazil, and Venezuela – have appealed to the ISO to overturn OOXML's ratification. In addition, the EC has been investigating whether OOXML is sufficiently interoperable with competing products, and has been quietly looking into Microsoft's behaviors during the standards setting process as well.

In the meantime, OOXML's status as a standard remains in limbo as long as the appeals are unsettled, and that appears to be fine with Kroes.

"No citizen or company should be forced or encouraged to choose a closed technology over an open one, through a government having made that choice first," she said. "I know a smart business decision when I see one -- choosing open standards is a very smart business decision," Kroes added.

Her rhetoric is not a good sign for Microsoft's new vice president of European Union (EU) affairs, former General Electric executive John Vassallo, who will start his new job next month.

This article was first published on InternetNews.com.

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