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Rivals hit Microsoft with new EU complaint

ECIS accuses the software giant of acting unfairly, but Microsoft says the group is acting as a front for old foe IBM.

A group of the world's largest technology companies complained to the European Commission on Wednesday that Microsoft was guilty of anticompetitive practices.

The European Committee for Interoperable Systems (ECIS), which includes IBM, Nokia, Oracle and RealNetworks, claimed that Microsoft was hampering competition in the software market.

"We are at a crossroads," ECIS said 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 European Commission 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 it said 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 anticompetitive behavior of Microsoft," said Simon Awde, chairman of the group.

A representative for the European Commission told journalists that the organization is examining the complaint.

But Microsoft downplayed the significance of ECIS' move.

"We have come to expect that as we introduce new products that benefit consumers, particularly with the kind of breakthrough technologies in Office 12 and Windows Vista, a few competitors will complain," a Microsoft representative told ZDNet UK.

Microsoft also accused ECIS of bias and hiding behind legal processes.

"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," Microsoft said. "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."

Last week, Microsoft and the European Commission traded blows over the 2004 antitrust ruling, with the software giant accusing the Commission of disregarding evidence and failing to follow due process. This enraged the Free Software Foundation, which said Microsoft's attack was outrageous.

Graeme Wearden of ZDNet UK reported from London.