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Exclusive In a bold assertion of independence, Israel has thrown the full weight of its antitrust legislation at Microsoft.

The Israeli Ministry of Commerce has suspended all governmental contracts with Microsoft, and indicated that the ban will last throughout 2004. The de facto suspension means no upgrades for the duration, at a time when Microsoft is looking to roll out its Office 2003 upgrade; and the Ministry is said to be examining OpenOffice as an alternative.

It's a consequence of a much-anticipated legal verdict: Israeli Antitrust Authority director general Dror Strum has finally acknowledged that Microsoft is a monopoly.

Register readers play no small part in this remarkable story. Apple users in and beyond Israel have long called for an alternative to the Microsoft monopoly that supports Hebrew. Although Apple has provided operating system-level support for Arabic, Hebrew, Urdu and other right to left languages since the release of Mac OS X 10.2 last year, Apple's largest software vendor has declined to provide support in its applications. Frustrated by lack of movement from either Microsoft or Apple to redress the balance, Apple users in Israel have threatened to sue Israel's antitrust department for failing to enforce its own laws.

As a result of the outcry, The Register was the first to report on the brewing antitrust actions.

Several groups have lobbied for Microsoft to be subjected to Israel's strict antitrust legislation. But the issue was forced by the Online Freedom Foundation lobby group, whose head Oded Lavi has fought the legal battle that brings to light a hitherto unpublished agreement between Microsoft and Israel's former Antitrust Authority director David Tadmor, signed in 1999.

The agreement specified that any restrictions imposed as a consequence of the US Department of Justice's antitrust action against Microsoft would be applied in Israel. They weren't enforced, until now. A statement issued by the State Prosecutor added that Tadmor had signed the 1999 agreement in haste, failing to consider all the options. After weathering complaints that he had procrastinated Strum was left with no option but to enforce Israel's antitrust provisions.

The decision will almost certainly focus Microsoft's attentions on supporting Urdu, Hebrew and Arabic on non-Windows platforms. ®

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