Microsoft's rivals claim it is not complying with EU ruling

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The Independent Online

Rivals of Microsoft have demanded a new European Union investigation into alleged anti-competitive practices by the software giant.

A group representing IBM and Sun Microsystems, among others, claimed yesterday that Microsoft is still not complying with an EU ruling that it should share useful programme information and decouple its operating system and other software programmes.

It is still impossible to develop software that operates smoothly in conjunction with the company's Windows and Office packages, the European Committee for Interoperability Systems (Ecis) claimed.

The new onslaught comes as Microsoft gears up to launch major improvements to its Windows operating system and its Office word processing software. And it came on the day that Microsoft's Windows was revealed to have toppled Sun Microsystems' Unix as the number one operating system for corporate servers.

"Ecis deeply regrets that strong antitrust law enforcement appears to be the only way to stop the sustained anti-competitive behaviour of Microsoft," Simon Awde, chairman of the group, said. Rival word processing, spread sheet and presentation programmes cannot inter-operate effectively with Office programs, Ecis claimed.

Microsoft described Ecis as "a front for IBM" and dismissed its claims as the sour grapes of rivals. "When faced with innovation, they choose litigation," it said.

The company has been involved in an often-bitter dispute with the EU since being fined a record €497m (£340) in 2004 for abusing its dominant position. It was accused of reducing consumer choice by making it hard for rivals to produce compatible software. Microsoft offered this month to share source codes, programming instructions to computers, in order to comply with the 2004 ruling and avoid fines of €2m a day. But it remains unclear whether this will be enough to satisfy regulators or be of practical help to rivals.

Microsoft said it would comply with any EU request for information based on the new Ecis complaint.

The company yesterday shipped a second draft version of its delayed Windows Vista software to companies trialling the new operating system. It aims to have the product on sale before Christmas. A new suite of Office products, with an Excel spreadsheet that can be used by several users at once, is scheduled for launch in the summer.

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