Until now, the action on ODF vs. the Microsoft XML Reference Schema has focused on Massachusetts. In the last two days, however, the supporters of ODF have launched an offensive in Europe - making it now a two-front war.
For years now, the EU antitrust authorities have been (just as the U.S. Department of Justice had been) bringing actions against Microsoft, alleging various types of anticompetitive behavior. Of late, things have been becoming active again in Europe on this front, and this week things took a novel turn when the European Committee for Interoperable Systems (ECIS) complained to the European Commission that Microsoft was guilty of violating antitrust law because it had refused to support the OpenDocument Format, among other infractions. As reported yesterday by Graeme Wearden at ZDNet.Uk.com:
“We are at a crossroads,” said ECIS in a statement. “Will one dominant player be permitted to control those conditions, or will the rules that guarantee competition on the merits prevail, to the benefit of all?”
ECIS called on the EC to take action against Microsoft. It cited the software giant’s refusal to use the OpenDocument standard or release details of its .doc, .xls and .ppt file formats, which prevents the makers of other productivity suites from being fully interoperable with Microsoft Office.
“ECIS deeply regrets that strong antitrust law enforcement appears to be the only way to stop the sustained anti-competitive behaviour of Microsoft,” said Simon Awde, chairman of the group.
A spokesperson for the European Commission told journalists that the EC was examining the complaint.
Microsoft, in turn, minced few words in downplaying the complaint by ECIS (which includes IBM, Oracle and Nokia among its members), saying:
“ECIS is a front for IBM and a few other competitors who constantly seek to use the regulatory process to their business advantage. When faced with innovation, they choose litigation. We will respond quickly and comprehensively to any requests for information from the Commission on this complaint, but no such requests have been received so far,” Microsoft added.
Today, the Free Software Foundation Europe added its voice to the fray, as reported in another story at ZDNet.UK.com (this time by Ingrid Marston), titled FSF berates apathy over Microsoft antitrust case Marston reports that “Georg Greve, president of the Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE), criticised the IT industry on Wednesday for not doing enough to support the European Commission in its antitrust case against Microsoft. She also quotes an EC spokeswoman as saying that the EC had only just received ECIS’ complaint, but would “look at it carefully”. “We only received it yesterday so there is no other response at this stage,” she added.
To my knowledge, this is the first time that formal antitrust allegations have been made against Microsoft in connection with ODF. But what does that mean for the software vendor, as a practical matter, given that antitrust investigation suits and actions drag on for years?
According to a report posted today at the AMR Research Website, titled “Competitors Dog Microsoft With More Antitrust Complaints:”
Competitors are jabbing at Microsoft’s sides, and they will likely impede its progress in introducing its next-generation operating system, Vista. Some of the motivation is valid and necessary to ensure an open competitive market in which companies can make their own choices. On the other hand, the official complaint filed with EU regulators seems largely designed to cause unnecessary delay, which will hurt Microsoft as well as its customers.
The group is the European Community for Interoperable Systems (ECIS), comprised largely of conspicuous competitors IBM, Oracle, Sun Microsystems, Red Hat, Opera, and RealNetworks. All have a vested interest in causing disruption and delay for Microsoft, which is poised to bring Vista and Office 2007 to the market at the close of this year.
Combined with earlier complaints and rulings, the latest suit has the potential to throw a huge wrench into the works for Microsoft in 2006 and beyond. Microsoft is about to have one of the busiest product release years ever, with both Vista and Office 2007 expected by the end of this year. Delays would have a significant impact on revenue and earnings targets.
And there’s another voice (not exactly) whispering in the ears of European legislators. Former Massachusetts CIO Peter Quinn has been there for several weeks. How has he been spending his time? The following is taken from a press release issued yesterday by OpenForum Europe:
During a visit to Brussels this week, the former chief information officer of Massachusetts, Peter Quinn, warned audiences of MEPs, Commission officials and member state representatives about the dangers of losing Europe’s cultural heritage.
Mr Quinn was visiting Brussels as a guest of OpenForum Europe, a campaign group pressing the case for open standards, open source software and open document formats. He explained the background to the recent adoption of open standards and open source in Massachusetts, which caused such a storm in the USA and resulted in his resignation. He warned that historical documents, which are now produced online, could disappear unless open document formats were universally available for use.
In meetings with legislators, Mr Quinn described his journey of four years through the Massachusetts State Legislature, the most heavily-unionised state in the USA, pursuing the path towards openness in software terms…
Welcoming Mr Quinn’s comments, Graham Taylor of OFE said: Ã¢ï¿½Å“Europe needs to learn the lessons from Massachusetts. Lock-in to proprietary solutions from a single vendor is probably the single largest barrier to achievement of i2010 and a more competitive ICT environment across Europe. Standards have to be genuinely open. European governments have to be prepared to lead in the same way as Massachusetts. Regrettably the words don’t yet match the actions.”
So it would seem that things may become interesting in Europe, where Microsoft had hoped that the submission of its XML Reference Schema to Ecma would smooth the way for wide government licensing of its next version of Office. Based on the events of the last few days, it would seem that its opponents are mounting a significant offensive, aimed at undercutting Ã¢ï¿½“ or destroying Ã¢ï¿½“ the very advantage that Microsoft had sought to gain.
I have repeatedly noted (as have others) how great the stakes are in the war between the ODF and Microsoft. Till now, it’s been a one-front war in Massachusetts. Now, it seems, the allies have landed on the Normandy beaches once again, and a second Ã¢ï¿½“ and perhaps more significant Ã¢ï¿½“ front has been opened in a struggle that promises to become greater rather than the opposite.
The next several weeks should be interesting in deed to watch, as each side launches its attacks, and gauges the others strategy.
[To browse all prior blog entries on this story, click here]