European Commission to Microsoft ... not buying it

The European Commission, in the midst of two formal antitrust investigations against Microsoft, is not buying Microsoft's announcement

today that the company has gone hog-wild open. It notes that Microsoft has already promised such things -- four times over. And it says that today's promises (if the company follows through with them) doesn't relieve Microsoft from the consequences of its alleged past failure of complying with earlier antitrust rules.

The EC's statement says:

"This announcement does not relate to the question of whether or not Microsoft has been complying with EU antitrust rules in this area in the past. The Commission would welcome any move towards genuine interoperability. Nonetheless, the Commission notes that today's announcement follows at least four similar statements by Microsoft in the past on the importance of interoperability. In January 2008, the Commission initiated two formal antitrust investigations against Microsoft - one relating to interoperability, one relating to tying of separate software products (see MEMO/08/19). In the course of its ongoing interoperability investigation, the Commission will therefore verify whether Microsoft is complying with EU antitrust rules, whether the principles announced today would end any infringement were they implemented in practice, and whether or not the principles announced today are in fact implemented in practice. Today's announcement by Microsoft does not address the tying allegations."

Furthermore, the Commission notes that it has been investigating not just Windows and Office, but other products as well and OOXML.

"One of these investigations focuses on the alleged illegal refusal by Microsoft to disclose sufficient interoperability information across a broad range of products, including information related to its Office suite, a number of its server products, and also in relation to the so called .NET Framework and on the question whether Microsoft's new file format Office Open XML, as implemented in Office, is sufficiently interoperable with competitors' products."

The EC's other investigation concerns allegations (made by Opera Software -- like Netscape before it) of undercutting fair competition by linking in other software products, specifically Internet Explorer, to Windows

The EC has made it clear that it is not going to abandon the chase because of a Microsoft-initiated move. That is probably a good thing. Microsoft has given no indication that, of its own accord, it wants to compete fairly. The EC's strong arm is a nice fat motivator. However, if Microsoft actually does open these APIs up as promised, this could have the intended affect of bringing Microsoft, kicking and screaming, into today's open software development movement. Ultimately, that would be good for the enterprise that has a large investment in Microsoft products.

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