IBM, Adobe, Oracle join EU antitrust case against Microsoft

ECIS trade group, which has complained about Office, an 'interested party' in dispute over IE

Some of Microsoft Corp.'s fiercest rivals, including IBM, Sun and Adobe, have joined the European Union's antitrust investigation of the company's Internet Explorer (IE) browser.

The European Committee for Interoperable Systems (ECIS), whose members include Adobe, Corel, IBM, Oracle, RealNetworks and Sun, announced today that the European Commission had granted the trade group "interested third-party" status in the ongoing action against Microsoft.

The ECIS follows similar moves made by browser developers Mozilla Corp. and Google Inc., which had previously obtained access to the case.

"This is an important case to ensure that browsers can compete on the merits and that consumers have a true choice in the software they use to access the Web," Thomas Vinje, an attorney and spokesman for the ECIS, said in a statement Wednesday. "Smaller, more innovative browser developers need a level playing field."

In January, the commission submitted a preliminary list of charges, or statement of objections, that accused Microsoft of shielding IE from competition by bundling it with Windows. The investigation stemmed from a late-2007 complaint by Opera Software ASA. The Oslo-based software maker is also a member of the ECIS.

The ECIS is no stranger to EU antitrust regulators or to Microsoft: In January 2008, the group filed its own complaint, claiming that the company was abusing its market dominance in the office suite business and making it difficult for competitors to make their software work smoothly with Microsoft Office.

At the time, the commission confirmed that it was looking into the matter. "We want to make sure Microsoft is not abusing its position in the market by refusing interoperability information [that] is necessary for competitors to produce products [that] work properly with Microsoft Office," said EU spokesman Jonathan Todd.

Although the commission has not issued a statement of objections about Office, it has said several times that the matter is still under investigation. In May 2008, the commission added that it would also examine Microsoft's announced support of the Open Document Format (ODF). "The commission will investigate whether the support of ODF ... allows consumers to process and exchange their documents with the software product of their choice," the antitrust agency said then.

Yesterday, Microsoft said that it would issue Office 2007 Service Pack 2 (SP2), which includes ODF support, on April 28.

Microsoft has until next Tuesday to respond to the commission's charges about IE.

Last month, the company confirmed that users will be able to block IE8 from running in the upcoming Windows 7, but it has declined to say whether that feature was added because of the commission's probe.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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