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EU: E.U. Snubs Microsoft on Office Systems


by JAMES KANTERThe New York Times
June 11th, 2008

BRUSSELS — Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes of the European Union delivered an unusually blunt snub to Microsoft on Tuesday by recommending that businesses and governments use software based on open standards.

Ms. Kroes has fought bitterly with Microsoft over the past four years, accusing the U.S. software giant of defying her orders and fining the company nearly $2.68 billion for violating European competition rules. But the speech was her strongest recommendation yet to jettison Microsoft products, which are based on proprietary standards, and to use rival operating systems to run computers.

“I know a smart business decision when I see one — choosing open standards is a very smart business decision indeed,” Ms. Kroes told a conference in Brussels. “No citizen or company should be forced or encouraged to choose a closed technology over an open one.”

Ms. Kroes did not name Microsoft in advance copies of her speech, but she made her meaning clear by referring to the only company in the history of EU antitrust enforcement that has been fined for refusing to comply with commission orders — a record held by Microsoft.

“The commission has never before had to issue two periodic penalty payments in a competition case,” she said.

The EU has previously ruled against Microsoft for abusing its dominance in the markets for software to play music on computers and to communicate with powerful server computers on a network. In recent months, Ms. Kroes has opened new investigations against Microsoft following complaints that the company was competing unfairly in the market for Web browsers, using its Internet Explorer software.

Ms. Kroes also is investigating whether Microsoft is making it too hard for rivals to work with its Office suite of office applications.

In her speech, Ms. Kroes said there were serious security concerns for governments and businesses associated with using a single, dominant software supplier.

She praised the German city of Munich for using software based on open standards, along with the German Foreign Ministry and the Gendarmerie Nationale, France’s national police force.

Ms. Kroes, who is Dutch, encouraged the Dutch government and Parliament to continue moving toward use of open standards. EU agencies “must not rely on one vendor” and “must refuse to become locked into a particular technology — jeopardizing maintenance of full control over the information in its possession,” she said.

A policy by the European Commission adopted last year to promote the use of software products that support open standards “needs to be implemented with vigor,” she said.





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