EU Opens New Microsoft Investigation
European Union regulators investigating whether Microsoft is using monopoly powers to squeeze out competing Internet browsers and software rivals.
European Union regulators said Monday they were again investigating software giant
Microsoft Corp. this time on suspicion of abusing its market position by squeezing
out competing Internet browsers and software rivals dependent on Microsoft programs.
The European Commission opened two formal probes, the first move against the
company since a court four months ago backed the EU in a long-running legal
battle over Microsoft's actions in using its ubiquitous Windows operating system
to elbow into new software markets.
Microsoft said it would cooperate fully with the Commission's investigation
and provide any and all information necessary.
"We are committed to ensuring that Microsoft is in full compliance with
European law and our obligations as established by the European Court of First
Instance in its September 2007 ruling," it said in a statement.
EU spokesman Jonathan Todd said he could not put a time frame on how long it
would take regulators to decide whether they would file formal charges against
the company, saying this usually depended on "how complicated the issues
are and the level of cooperation that we receive from the company under investigation."
Although regulators did not specifically name Microsoft's latest operating
system, Vista, they will look at some of its features such as desktop search.
The EU is also wading into a row between Microsoft and open source developers
backed by International Business Machines Corp. by looking into Microsoft's
open format for archived documents -- Office Open XML.
The first new probe -- triggered
by a complaint from Norway's Opera Software ASA -- will look at whether
Microsoft illegally gives away its Internet Explorer browser for free with Windows.
Opera had called on the EU to strip Internet Explorer out of Windows or carry
The investigation will check also if "new proprietary technologies"
held other browsers back by not following open Internet standards. Regulators
said they had also received allegations that Microsoft had illegally packaged
desktop search and Windows Live to its operating system.
The second investigation will examine whether Microsoft withheld information
from companies that wanted to make products compatible with its software --
including Office word processing, spreadsheet and office management tools, some
server products and Microsoft's push into the Internet under the name of the
Since Microsoft supplies the software to the vast majority of home and office
computers, rivals complain that refusal to give them interoperability information
shuts the door on a huge potential market.
The EU said it was acting
on a complaint from the European Committee for Interoperable Systems --
a group representing IBM, Nokia Corp., Sun Microsystems Inc., RealNetworks Inc.
and Oracle Corp. -- that has asked regulators prevent Vista using Microsoft's
existing monopoly power to move into the new Internet market.
"It is regrettable that despite the judgment of September 2007, Microsoft
continues to use its desktop monopolies to restrict competition. That's what
the ECIS and Opera complaints are about," ECIS spokesman and legal counsel
Thomas Vinje said.
The EU said it will also look at whether Office Open XML -- used by governments
and large corporations to store older documents -- "is sufficiently interoperable
with competitors' products."
Microsoft said it developed the format to offer richer software than the nonproprietary
OpenDocument Format created by open source developers and used by IBM.
But the open source community claims that Microsoft is trying to supplant a
possible rival in ODF and stem the potential threat of open source software
eating into its market share.
The EU is building on its March 2004 decision that found Microsoft had violated
EU antitrust rules by trying to damage rivals for server and media player software.
It told Microsoft to offer a version of Windows without the Media Player software,
to share communications code with rivals and pay a record $613 million fine.
Microsoft delayed obeying the order, launching an appeal to the European Court
of Justice that it lost
on Sept. 17, 2007.
Although Microsoft then dropped further appeals and promised to abide by September
court ruling, the EU's antitrust chief Neelie Kroes warned that a precedent
had been set for future behavior in other areas.