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EC probes ISO's approval of Microsoft

Commercial pressure?
Tue Jun 10 2008, 17:12

THE EUROPEAN COMMISSION started an anti-trust investigation of the procedures that turned Microsoft's OOXML document standard into a kite mark approved by governments all round the world.

The investigation follows appeals from standards bodies in Brazil, India, South America and Venezuela against the approval of Microsoft's standard as the one that would subsequently form the template for almost any electronic document created anywhere in the world.

Jonathan Todd, spokesman for the competition arm of the European Commission, told the INQUIRER: "We have made enquiries with the national standards organisations in the EU and EFTA about possible irregularities in the OOXML standardisation process. The investigation is ongoing and we have not drawn any conclusions," he said.

He refused to describe the nature of the investigation, but in a speech today about open standards, Neelie Kroes, European Commissioner for competition policy, gave a hint: "If voting in the standard-setting context is influenced less by the technical merits of the technology but rather by side agreements, inducements, package deals, reciprocal agreements, or commercial pressure, then these risk falling foul of the competition rules," she said.

Todd said the investigation was being conducted as part one of the Commission opened in January, which was to consider whether the OOXML document standard Microsoft had implemented in its Office 2007 desktop software was "sufficiently interoperable" with competing products, or whether by not communicating well with competing standards it locked out competition and so protected its dominant market position.

Since the EC opened the investigation, an international vote under the auspices of a joint committee of the International Standards Organisation (ISO) and the International Electrotechnical Committee, gave OOXML fast-track approval.

Microsoft subsequently came within days of reaching the end of the cooling-down period and receiving its coveted certification. But the appeals put a spanner in the works. The approval had been tainted with controversy because there is already an internationally approved document standard, the open document format (odf). The EC investigation is also significant for its questioning of ISO and IEC procedures. µ


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