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EU investigates Microsoft's OOXML campaign

Did Redmond try to pack standards groups?

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Microsoft's failed attempt to get its Office Open XML (OOXML) file format adopted by the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) could land the software giant in hot water with the European Commission (EC).

Last month, the anti-trust arm of the commission began formal probes against Microsoft in two cases where it has been alleged that the multinational firm had abused its dominant market position.

Under the first case, the EC said it was investigating a complaint filed by the European Committee for Interoperable Systems (ECIS) alleging Redmond had refused to disclose interoperability information on a range of Microsoft products. The software currently under the EC's spotlight includes several server products, Office and the firm’s .NET Framework.

As part of the investigation into the first case, the commission said that it would scrutinise Microsoft's contentious file format Office Open XML (OOXML) on the grounds that the specification doesn't work with those of competitors.

The Wall Street Journal, citing people familiar with the matter, reports today that European regulators have expanded their probe to include Microsoft's role in the standards-setting tug of war.

As part of its battle against proponents of ODF – which was approved as the ISO standard last year – Redmond swelled the ranks of standards bodies with Microsoft allies in the hope of ratifying its Office file format as the default standard for international use.

Microsoft had tried to fast-track OOXML via Ecma International, the group which originally rubber-stamped the format. However, a vote of the draft (DIS 29500) failed to gain sufficient approval last September.

According to the Wall Street Journal, EU officials are now considering if Microsoft's actions - which came under fire from critics who accused the firm of underhand tactics and even vote-rigging - were illegal.

An EC spokeswoman told The Register that as the two cases were ongoing it couldn't comment on any specifics of the investigations outside of this statement it released last month.

The second EU investigation was sparked by a complaint from rival web browser Opera, which alleged that the tying of Internet Explorer to its Windows operating system was anti-competitive.®

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