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Microsoft in move to pacify critics of Office

22 мая 2008

Microsoft on Wednesday night attempted to appease critics who claim the software company is abusing its dominant market position by detailing plans to improve the way its flagship Office product works with non-Microsoft applications.

This is one of two core issues at the heart of the latest, and most serious probe by European antitrust regulators into alleged competition law breaches by the US company.

That investigation, launched in January, is looking in part at whether Microsoft unfairly kept file formats and technologies secret so that software developed by other companies cannot work easily with its products, including Office.

One particular issue is whether Microsoft’s new file format, Office Open XML used in Office, is sufficiently “interoperable” with competitors’ products.

Late Wednesday, the software group attempted to defuse some of those concerns by announcing that a second update of its Office 2007 software, due to be released in the first half of 2009, will support rival “open” standards, including ODF which was developed by Sun Microsystems.

The updated software, Microsoft claimed, should allow customers to open, edit and save documents using ODF – as well as save documents into the XPS and PDF fixed formats – without having to install other code.

It will also allow customers to select ODF as the default file format for Office 2007. At present, Office Open XML is the default format.

In addition, the company will say that it plans to join the technical standards committee working on the next version of ODF, and participate in the international standards working group which is being formed to work on ODF maintenance.

Microsoft had previously pledged to support ODF, but this explains some of the mechanics and timing. Brad Smith, general counsel, claimed that it showed: “We are listening to what regulators have to say about this.”

But how much ice the news cuts with antitrust authorities and software users is likely to depend heavily on careful scrutiny of the technical “small print”. The software group has a history of making announcements which critics claim are less impressive than initially supposed once the details are examined.

Wednesday night, the European Commission remained guarded, saying it would “welcome any step that Microsoft took towards genuine interoperability, more consumer choice and less vendor lock-in”.

“In its ongoing antitrust investigation...the Commission will investigate whether the announced support of ODF in Office leads to better interoperability and allows consumers to process and exchange their documents with the software product of their choice,” it added.

Problems raised by the interoperability issues have been well illustrated in a complaint by Becta, the British schools IT agency, which now forms part of the European Commission investigation. Becta has claimed that barriers to interoperability have limited choice and pushed up costs for educational users of software.

Источник: Financial Times

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