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Microsoft Under Third EU Investigation for OOXML 194

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the back-in-trouble-again dept.
The Wall Street Journal and Information Week reported this morning that EU regulators have announced a third investigation into Microsoft's conduct on the desktop. This latest action demonstrates that while the EU has settled the case against Microsoft that ran for almost a decade, it remains as suspicious as ever regarding the software vendor's conduct, notwithstanding Microsoft's less combative stance in recent years. The news can be found in a story reported by Charles Forelle bylined in Brussells this morning. According to the Journal, the investigation will focus on whether Microsoft 'violated antitrust laws during a struggle last year to ratify its Office software file format as an international standard.' The article also says that the regulators are 'stepping up scrutiny of the issue.'
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Microsoft Under Third EU Investigation for OOXML

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  • by LingNoi (1066278) on Friday February 08, 2008 @06:53PM (#22355330)
    So you're saying the company that bought votes in the international standards organisation shouldn't be under investigation?
  • by Kinnaird (851535) on Friday February 08, 2008 @06:56PM (#22355376)
    Microsoft is like a roadhog that won't let anyone pass...jamming up the highway so no one gets infront of them! Control seems to be a great way earn.
  • LESS COMBATIVE? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by toby (759) * on Friday February 08, 2008 @07:01PM (#22355422) Homepage Journal
    Has somebody not been paying attention?

    Or do they mean, "less combative, more abhorrent"?
  • If anything, it seems (at least to me) that Microsoft is more brazen today about flouting its monopoly position than it was ten or fifteen years ago...
  • by erick99 (743982) <homerun@gmail.com> on Friday February 08, 2008 @07:04PM (#22355468)
    A lot of this is a nuisance for them and well within what they probably consider the cost of doing business. If you get sued for millions over a practice that brings in many more millions then I guess you pay the millions, cosmetically change your practice and carry on. They are a moving target in that sense and they can wait out or tire out just about anybody or any organization. They are quite the 800lb gorilla.

    -erick

    http://www.yourfavoritegadgets.com/ [yourfavoritegadgets.com]

  • by LingNoi (1066278) on Friday February 08, 2008 @07:16PM (#22355582)

    They are using standard buisiness practices to ensure market share.

    After all the crap they pulled over trying to get OOXML standardised don't sit here and tell me they're using "standard practices". They used practically every dirty trick in the book!
  • by Infonaut (96956) <infonaut@gmail.com> on Friday February 08, 2008 @07:18PM (#22355600) Homepage Journal

    Has Microsoft abused its monopoly position? Absolutely, categorically, yes.

    Is the EU upset because an American company so thoroughly dominates the European market? Yes.

    Is there anything remotely like real competition for Microsoft in the desktop coming from any European companies? No.

    Regulating Microsoft is fine, but at what point does it simply become regulation for the sake of regulation? If the goal is to develop a competitive landscape, what else is the EU doing, other than punishing Microsoft, to create that competitive landscape? Seems the EU knows how to use the stick to punish American software companies, but hasn't figured out how to use the carrot to get European companies to go up against Microsoft.

    And yes, I know about SAP. I know about SuSE. I'm talking about serious competition for the desktop market.

  • by TheRealMindChild (743925) on Friday February 08, 2008 @07:22PM (#22355640) Homepage Journal
    Well, you actually have a real option of alternatives to a GM car... when is the last time you went to *insert local computer friendly store here* and you saw a real alternative on sale for Windows/Office?
  • by PitaBred (632671) <slashdot@pitabre ... g ['s.o' in gap]> on Friday February 08, 2008 @07:24PM (#22355658) Homepage
    GM wields influence over... what, 20-30% of the cars sold in the US? (Hey, I was right... 26.9% in 2004 [carofthecentury.com].) 24% is in no way a monopoly, and as such, they're perfectly fine not interoperating with other car companies, as long as they operate on the agreed-upon standards of our roads and highways, street legal laws, emissions, etc.

    Microsoft on the other hand has 90% of desktops and a large number of servers under it's sway. If they make a unilateral move, they feel NO pain because of it, even if it hurts the consumers. If GM said "Screw this, we're going to force everyone to use kerosene as their fuel!", people would buy other cars. When Microsoft says the same thing, people have to do it, or not be able to share documents, etc. THAT, my friend, is the difference.
  • by cheater512 (783349) <nick@nickstallman.net> on Friday February 08, 2008 @07:28PM (#22355704) Homepage
    Any sensible government would do what the EU is doing.

    The question is why is the US government letting Microsoft do anything they want?
  • by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Friday February 08, 2008 @07:32PM (#22355740) Homepage Journal

    The problem with the standard is that it is not complete as written. It leaves big gaping holes which point to closed doors; closed-source Microsoft products. And the purpose of submitting it as a standard is to have it used in places in which actual open standards should be mandatory, such as when interfacing with government. To require a closed standard (however open it pretends to be) to work with a government is to grant a monopoly. Why should the people of any nation ever pay for such a thing?

    Microsoft is not a "non-EU" company. They are multinational. They operate in the EU. If they choose to stop operating in the EU, then the EU will have no power over them and they can do whatever they want - somewhere else.

    Microsoft has no god-given right to profits or even to do business in the EU. They are permitted to do so because it is believed that it is beneficial to trade. When they are no longer a beneficial influence on the market, why should they be permitted to participate? Because of some standard of justice? If the market cannot sustain their influence, then their influence should be eliminated or at the least mitigated to permit the market to continue to function, or the market should be superseded by the monopoly in question. Un(?)fortunately, Microsoft cannot provide the needs of the entire UK software market (although they would like you to believe that they can) and so this is not a solution.

  • by golodh (893453) on Friday February 08, 2008 @07:35PM (#22355760)

    Seriously. Microsoft is getting picked on.

    No, it is not. It is simply faced with a single-minded regulator which takes its job seriously and isn't fazed by the fact that Microsoft is a brazen repeat-offender.

    We don't yell at GM for not making its On-star open to everyone.
    GM does not have an 80% market share in the car market. Microsoft does have such a market share in the desktop OS market. That's a big difference.

    What Microsoft is currently doing with OOXML is a thoroughly unethical (paying companies PR contributions to vote in favour of OOXML, offering small countries rebates to vote in favour of OOCML, and suddenly stuffing ISO standards committees with pro-microsoft members who never before had an interest in ISO procedures in their lives) attempt to continue its lock-in, which regrettably seems to have a chance or working. (see e.g. http://www.consortiuminfo.org/standardsblog/article.php?story=20080208082501776 [consortiuminfo.org] and http://www.theregister.co.uk/2008/02/08/ooxml_eu_probe_iso/ [theregister.co.uk] )

    I see absolutely nothing to salute Microsoft about regarding its determination to disregard fair-competition and anti-trust regulations and I support the EU in this matter. Why don't we see any US regulators step up to the plate?

  • by Kjella (173770) on Friday February 08, 2008 @07:38PM (#22355778) Homepage

    Yeah, we should allow abusive monopolies to corrupt absolutely everything. That's true capitalism, fucking over the consumer at every opportunity.
    To say that a monopoly is capitalism is like saying that a one-party state is democracy. You can vote (with or without your wallet) or not vote but nothing will change.
  • by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Friday February 08, 2008 @07:40PM (#22355808) Homepage Journal

    And yes, I know about SAP. I know about SuSE. I'm talking about serious competition for the desktop market.

    Point the first: Microsoft does not provide adequate product lines for the desktop market. They are discontinuing Windows XP (the third service pack is already what, a year late?) and Vista is a gigantic step backwards in many respects, especially performance -- even with the new service pack, as reported here yesterday.

    Point the second: Microsoft's continuing abuse of their monopoly position has a chilling effect on innovation. When a new technology comes out, Microsoft either purchases and ruins it, or poorly emulates it and thus marginalizes it. Microsoft has in the past even gone so far as to wrap their functions in other functions with delay loops, and not document the originals, reserving them for their own use, so that competitors' software runs artificially poorly on their operating system! Seriously, Microsoft has done more damage to computing than all the accidentally sloppy programming ever executed.

    And speaking of executed, BillyG has parlayed his theft and betrayal into a position atop the Gates Foundation pyramid. He's in control of big boatloads of money cruising around the globe. He gives with one hand and takes with the other ("Dark cloud over good works of gates foundation", title of a lovely article IIRC) and just whose pocket is he in, anyway? Certainly the USDOJ had him dead to rights when they patted him on the back and sent him off to play with all that money. No matter how you look at the situation - from a technical standpoint, or a human one - the whole damned thing is just a collection of tragedies.

    The point of the previous paragraph is to point out that if you think that Microsoft is holding the world of computing together, you are fucking hallucinating, because in reality if anything gets accomplished in computing it is in spite of Microsoft, not because of it.

  • by Yvanhoe (564877) on Friday February 08, 2008 @07:45PM (#22355850) Journal
    Most people here want the world to become a better place. And we talk about Microsoft instead of GM because this is a computer geek forum, not a car geek forum. It may be standard business practice that MS is using, it is bad anyway. It makes a perfect sense for them to do that in order to maximize their profit, it makes a perfect sense for users to oppose it.
  • by gotzero (1177159) on Friday February 08, 2008 @08:00PM (#22355968)
    The E.U. needs to figure out how much money it takes to make a fine that the company cannot easily choose to pay after a 5 second profit/loss analysis to get them in line. The investigations and fine outcomes seem laughable half the time.
  • by TheLinuxSRC (683475) * <slashdot@pagCOWewash.com minus herbivore> on Friday February 08, 2008 @08:45PM (#22356326) Homepage
    Excellent post. I would also like to point out that Microsoft could at any time implement ODF in MSOffice. I think this is important to note because MS has constantly berated governments that have adopted (or have plans to adopt) ODF. MS claims that opting for ODF excludes MS from the bidding for contracts while this is absolutely not true; MS could use the ISO standard (ODF) rather than milking what is left of a dying lock-in strategy (file formats that are impossible for someone other than MS to implement 100% correctly be they *.doc or OOXML).
  • by jbr439 (214107) on Friday February 08, 2008 @09:25PM (#22356628)
    What ever happened to the notion of second sourcing? Shouldn't any self-respecting government require that there be more than one complete implementation of whatever standard it decides upon? As such, even if OOXML becomes an ISO standard, as is likely, it would seem to me that the next battle should for the requirement of 2nd sourcing. Given the fact that MSFT seems to have made the OOXML standard unimplementable, it would seem unlikely that there will be a 2nd source for a OOXML office suite (not to mention the fact that no company will waste its time trying to compete with MSFT in this manner). This is in contrast to ODF, which has several competing implementations.

    Should OpenOffice.org not have a definite advantage here?
  • by Njovich (553857) on Friday February 08, 2008 @09:40PM (#22356736)
    Well, I'm not going to enumerate European Microsoft competitors for you. You may have heard of these little things called Linux, KDE, etc.

    What I do like to ask you is to stop projecting your own nationalistic feelings onto others. This is not action against the US, this is action against abusive monopolists. How do you feel that taking very little action is working out for the US in the telecom sector?

    In the EU we have a Commissioner for Competition [wikipedia.org]. She takes action against abusive behaviour by large companies. This affects companies like telcos and banks in the EU, but also companies like Microsoft. I think that the actions taken by this organization are generally effective and taken in the eye of consumer interest. I find it hard to believe that there would be much nationalism working against the US.

    What you should also take into account is that the EU is not a nation, and nationalistic feelings about it are pretty rare. Typically people in the EU feel more strongly about competition with their neighbouring member states than about US companies.
  • by Citizen of Earth (569446) on Friday February 08, 2008 @10:15PM (#22356952)
    Monopoly is the opposite of capitalism. It is so predictable that whenever some complains about capitalism, they are actually complaining about the lack of capitalism.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 08, 2008 @11:21PM (#22357338)
    OpenOffice does not use the ISO standard, it uses a proprietary fork from the OASIS ODF specification.
    There is not a single ISO-compliant application of ODF out there. SUN know what there are doing.
    And Microsoft buying votes? Come on, grow up: have you seen the ranks of IBM zombies packing the national delegations for the ISO SC34, trying to block MSFT?
    Of course Microsoft want OOXML standardized when governments are obsessing that somehow the badge of a "standard" makes for a better product and should be a criterion for purchasing policy. It's a bullshit argument. There are plenty of standards out there that are a crock of shit.
    Being a standard merely means knowing what you are dealing with so that you can decide how and whether to use and interoperate with it.
    MSFT competed for many years with a locked-down proprietary standard, and everyone cried foul, even if their Office suite is a far superior offering. Now that everyone is crying for public agencies to only use standards-based products, everyone wants to be a standard. A nobrainer.
  • Freedom? (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 08, 2008 @11:40PM (#22357422)
    Does anyone around here believe that freedom and free markets are a good thing? This is 2008 -- you are not required to use Windows or Office. If you want to use Linux, you can. If you want to use Open Office, you can.

    What is the deal with the "run to government to fix everything" reflex? Did government force create Open Office, or did the free market? Did government force create Linux or did the free market? Did government force convince Sun to open source Solaris or did the free market?

    I understand the idea of monopolies, but most comments here seem to use that as an excuse for "favors" handed out by governments. There are competing products and only network-effects are capable of explaining MS's current position.

  • by DarkVader (121278) on Saturday February 09, 2008 @12:24AM (#22357662)
    Monopoly isn't the opposite of capitalism, it's the ultimate goal of participants in capitalism.

    And it's where capitalism will go if left unregulated.
  • by MightyMartian (840721) on Saturday February 09, 2008 @02:23AM (#22358120) Journal

    How does OOXML in any way even have an effect on the ability of an organization to adopt ODF?


    Because MS-Office will remain the path of least resistance. If management (or top-level bureaucracy) can tell their masters "We're going to an open format just like your legislation says", while retaining the same product line already in place, then Microsoft has done what it needs to do.

    The point of the OOXML scam is to get an ISO certification so as to lend a hand to their business partners, resellers and so forth so that when Smalltown, USA decides to go with an open file format, these guys can walk in and make submissions to local government officials saying "Hey, no prob, Office 2009 uses OOXML, certified by no less than the ISO as an open document format."
  • by shaitand (626655) on Saturday February 09, 2008 @02:38AM (#22358154) Journal
    True enough. It would be much more reasonable for the EU to impose fines that are greater than the profit derived from the illicit actions (whether or not that would bankrupt Microsoft shouldn't be a consideration in Anti-Trust issues and it is a shame people consider it so).

    If Microsoft attempts to strong arm the EU, the EU could then exert its right to seize assets. Microsoft's greatest assets are its IP and if the EU legally seizes Microsoft copyrights the same WWII agreements you refer to would cause the change of ownership to be recognized globally, not just in the EU.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 09, 2008 @02:41AM (#22358162)
    No, I don't think they've been asleep at all. Rather, the sleeper would have been you.

    Please note, that even in the colonies (America) their dept of justice has just extended the period of "oversight" for another 18 months. In case you're asleep, wake up! That means that even in America Microsoft is still doing that failing to comply with the consent decree dance. In plainer language, they're still being an abusive monopoly.
  • by thsths (31372) on Saturday February 09, 2008 @06:45AM (#22358888)
    > MS is trying to get OOXML accepted by a standards body. That is hardly an act requiring retaliation by the EU.

    MS is trying to get OOXML accepted using MS tactics, and that is the problem. Buying votes is not legal, and buying votes to get an unfair advantage does not make it any more acceptable.
  • by SEMW (967629) on Saturday February 09, 2008 @12:22PM (#22360500)

    Does anyone around here believe that freedom and free markets are a good thing? ...
    I understand the idea of monopolies...
    You clearly don't, because the entire point is that a coercive monopoly is detrimental to the functioning of a free market.
  • by meringuoid (568297) on Saturday February 09, 2008 @12:37PM (#22360616)
    The EU could try to pull this stunt, but watch what happens when/if the US retaliates. Say, the US blocks the merger of KLM/Air France, $1m landing fees and huge tarrifs on Airbus aircraft for illegal (in the US) launch aid, invalidate IP protections on Bayer, pull more US forces from Europe .. the list goes on.

    Then the EU and US get stuck into another trade war, and someone in Beijing has a really good laugh. It's happened before. Remember Bush's short-lived steel tariff?

    I doubt this particular issue would ever get to that point. Microsoft know they can't simply withdraw their products to strongarm Brussels. First, it wouldn't hurt Europe, because we can issue an emergency edict declaring Microsoft's entire corpus to be in the public domain, and then put up ftp.brussels.eu/windowsxp on a nice fat pipe. Sure, there are regulations and treaties and things, but as we've seen in many countries in recent years, you just have to say 'national security'. And second, it would kill Microsoft, whose shareholders in America would sue immediately they heard of the announcement that Microsoft was going to give up entirely on the largest market on the planet because of a quarrel over standards documentation.

    Microsoft have to play by the rules if they want to play in Europe. So they have to put about propaganda, bribe representatives, the same kind of thing they do in America when they can't get their way. They're probably finding it harder here because regulation of the market is the primary function of the Brussels government - the rest is the domain of the member states. The Eurocrats are really keen on this sort of thing. Makes them feel important.

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