William Echikson from Dow Jones:
In an escalation of their battle to wield antitrust law to rein in Microsoft Corp. (MSFT), a group of rival software makers Wednesday filed a new complaint with European regulators aimed at stopping it from bundling products with its Windows software.
In a statement, the European Committee for Interoperable Systems, whose members include International Business Machines (IBM), Nokia Corp. (NOK) and Oracle Corp. (ORCL), said it had “filed a complaint with the European Commission against a range of Microsoft business practices that threaten to deny enterprises and individual consumers real choice among competing software products.”
It said it wanted to stop Microsoft from bundling new products that would “reinforce Microsoft’s existing monopolies and extend its market dominance into a range of existing and pre-announced future product areas.” It cited Microsoft “dominant Office productivity applications.”
“Today’s complaint brings to the European Commission’s attention anticompetitive Microsoft practices in a growing number of areas,” said Simon Awde, Chairman of ECIS. “These include bundling and interface non-disclosure practices similar to those that the Commission declared illegal in its 2004 decision.
Although a new complaint from rivals was expected, the move guarantees months if not years of new legal wrangling for Microsoft. European regulators are obliged to investigate the new complaint.
Spokesman Tom Brookes said the company had “come to expect” complaints from competitors when it introduces new products.
The ECIS association “is a front for IBM and a few other competitors who constantly seek to use the regulatory process to their business advantage,” Brookes said in a statement. “When faced with innovation, they choose litigation,” he said.
Microsoft “will respond quickly and comprehensively to any requests for information from the Commission on this complaint, but no such requests have been received so far,” Brookes added.
The new complaint focuses on the difficulties of making rival software work well with the Microsoft Windows operating system. Rivals say they need more information from Microsoft to enable that to happen.
In Wednesday’s complaint, the ECIS pointed to Microsoft Office software an example of a Microsoft product that doesn’t permit rivals to interoperate properly with the Windows operating system.
The addition of client software interoperability complaints is new and potentially much more burdensome for Microsoft. On the other hand, nothing moves fast in the corridors of the EU bureaucracy so this story will be with us for quite a while.
Update: It’s not just Office but Vista too as Simon Taylor reports at InfoWorld:
A coalition called the European Committee for Interoperable Systems (E.C.I.S.), which includes vendors such as IBM, Nokia, Oracle, RealNetworks, and Red Hat, announced that it had made a formal complaint to the Commission over a “range of products present and future.” The reference to future products is understood to be Microsoft’s Vista desktop operating system, due for release later this year.
One example of the issues raised in the complaint is Microsoft’s refusal to disclose interoperability information for its Office suite, a lawyer representing ECIS said. By refusing to provide data such as the file formats for .doc, .xls, and .ppt documents, the company prevents other applications suites such as OpenOffice and StarOffice from achieving full compatibility, according to attorney Thomas Vinje, acting for ECIS. “This has crucial implications for Linux on desktops,” Vinje said.