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Microsoft Rivals Complain to EU

A group of Microsoft Corp.'s (MSFT) rivals filed a complaint with the European Commission on Wednesday, alleging its business practices threatened to deny real choice among competing software products.

The European Committee for Interoperable Systems — which includes International Business Machines Corp. (IBM), Oracle Corp. (ORCL), RealNetworks Inc., Nokia Corp. (NOK) and Sun Microsystems Inc.(SUNW) — said it was asking EU regulators to end practices that reinforced Microsoft's existing monopolies and extended its market dominance into current and future product markets.

"We are at a crossroads," the group 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?"

Microsoft said the companies were responding to innovation with litigation.

"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," it said.

The complaint mentions Microsoft's Office software suite, which packages word processing, spreadsheet and office management tools.

Microsoft described ECIS as a front for IBM and other rivals who constantly tried to use regulatory complaints to their business advantage.

The group also includes smaller software companies such as Norway's Opera which makes a Web browser, and two Linux operating system businesses — Red Hat Inc. and the upstart Linspire, which was forced to change its name from Lindows after Microsoft sued for trademark infringement.

ECIS' complaint targets areas not covered by the EU's 2004 antitrust ruling, which found Microsoft had abused its position as a market leader by bundling media software into its near-ubiquitous Windows desktop software and squeezing rival media players out of the market.

The group's chairman Simon Awde said strong antitrust law enforcement seemed to the only way to stop "the sustained anticompetitive behavior of Microsoft."

"The limits on Microsoft practices established in European antitrust law, most notably by the Commission's 2004 decision, now need to be rapidly and broadly enforced," he said in a statement.

In March 2004, the EU ordered Microsoft to offer a version of Windows without the Media Player software, to share communications code with rivals and pay a record 497 million euros ($613 million) fine.

Microsoft's legal challenge against the ruling will be heard by the Court of First Instance, the EU's second-highest court, in late April.

ECIS is one of two industry groups planning to give evidence to support the Commission in the case. Several high-profile rivals — such as Novell and RealNetworks — dropped out of the legal battle after striking deals with Microsoft.