Microsoft's Interoperability Pledges Invite Scrutiny by European Commission

Kachina Shaw

The most important audience for today's press conference by Microsoft executives, the European Commission, is reserving judgment on whether the company's four-part plan for improved interoperability for its software products will bring it into full compliance with European Union antitrust laws. During the 10 years, give or take, that Microsoft's practices have been under investigation, under fire, and under fines from the European Commission for falling outside the body's antitrust law, the company has made similar statements to those made today about its commitment to interoperability.


Today's promises, though, go further, with the addition of license-free publication of protocols and APIs for products (not all products, just "high-volume" products); expanded support for data format standards in particular, and industry standards, in general; and a pledge not to sue for patent infringement (since no patent license will now be required) open source developers and companies that create non-commercial distributions based on Microsoft protocols.


The imminent meetings by the ISO around the Office Open XML standard, as well as the never-ending negotiations with the open source community, clearly led to a portion of this interoperability plan. However, it is curious that the biggest impetus for the moves as a whole -- compliance and an end to European Commission interference with its product marketing and sales -- seems not to have been worked toward well enough to receive a more positive reponse. "The proof of this pudding will be in the eating," said the EC's European Committee for Interoperable Systems. Perhaps Microsoft has pushed the EC too far for too long.

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