EC Official Talks Open Standards, Raps Microsoft

A speech given yesterday by Neelie Kroes, the European commissioner for competition, skewered Microsoft without mentioning the company by name. In the speech, Kroes makes reference to Microsoft's outlaw status in failing to meet the European Commission's competition guidelines.

"The Commission has never before had to issue two periodic penalty payments in a competition case," she said, in a reference that only applies to Microsoft.

The two penalties originally were assessed at 280.5 million Euros and 899 million Euros, which would be a total of about $1.8 billion today. The penalties were associated with Microsoft's interface documentation royalty charges to competitors on work-group server technology, which were deemed excessive, causing the EC to fine Microsoft. Microsoft has appealed the latter penalty, which comes on top of the EC's fines.

Kroes' speech strongly advocated the use of open standards-based software. She said that purchasers of technology should implement a policy passed by the EC last year.

"For all future IT developments and procurement procedures, the Commission shall promote the use of products that support open, well-documented standards," she said in the speech. "Interoperability is a critical issue for the Commission, and usage of well-established open standards is a key factor to achieve and endorse it."

She recommended the adoption of that approach "with vigor." Moreover, the Commission has the responsibility to help governments avoid technology lock-ins.

"The Commission must do its part. It must not rely on one vendor, it must not accept closed standards, and it must refuse to become locked into a particular technology -- jeopardizing maintenance of full control over the information in its possession," she said.

The speech comes after Microsoft received a setback on its Office Open XML document format standard, which is used in Office 2007 applications. OOXML was approved in April as an international standard known as ISO/IEC 29500. However, four participating member countries have since appealed that decision, which essentially suspends ISO/IEC 29500 until those concerns are resolved.

Kroes' position echoes that of groups like the British Educational Communications and Technology Agency, an advisor to the U.K. government on technology issues, which has weighed in on supporting interoperability and given the thumbs down to using Office 2007. Other groups, such as the Canadian Library Association, have adopted a similar view on avoiding OOXML.

Ironically, Microsoft itself plans to support a rival document format standard, OpenDocument Format, which is used in productivity suites sponsored by Sun Microsystems and IBM. ODF support will be added when Office 2007 Service Pack 2 is released. Microsoft plans to "extend" support for OOXML in Office 14, which is the code name for the next major Office upgrade.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is online news editor, Enterprise Group, at 1105 Media Inc.