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UPDATED: U.K. Education Group Escalates Microsoft Complaints

A consultancy to the U.K. government has forwarded complaints about Microsoft's licensing and interoperability practices to the European Commission (EC), according to an announcement issued by the Becta consulting group yesterday.

Becta, or the British Educational Communications and Technology Agency, helps the U.K. government with technology decision-making for thousands of U.K. schools and colleges. Its charges to the EC echo complaints about Microsoft's educational licensing agreements, as well as the interoperability of Microsoft's XML file formats, that the group first filed with the U.K.'s Office of Fair Trading back in October.

A press officer for the EC commented that the EC isn't treating Becta's complaint as a formal antitrust complaint, according to an IDG News Service story. However, the EC has been engaged since January in investigating interoperability issues surrounding Microsoft's Office Open XML (OOXML) document formats, which are used in the Microsoft Office 2007 software suite.

OOXML was ratified as an international standard by the ISO/IEC organizations in April. Currently, two international standards for document formats exist: OOXML (ISO/IEC 29500) and Open Document Format (ISO/IEC 26300). ODF is backed by Microsoft's competing vendors, including Sun Microsystems and IBM, both of which offer free office productivity suite solutions, similar in functionality to Microsoft Office.

Becta issued a statement when OOXML was approved that teachers and parents "would best be served by a single standard which accommodated the existing Open Document Format specification." However, ISO's FAQ on the matter seems to disagree with that position, stating that "After a period of co-existence, it is basically the market that decides which [standard] survives."

Currently, Becta is recommending to the U.K. educational community that it not deploy Microsoft Office 2007. Also, it recommends that users should save files in the older .doc, .xls and .ppt formats until OOXML is compatible with ODF.

Becta typically doesn't file competition complaints, according to Dr. Steven Lucey, Becta's executive director of strategic technologies.

"Intervention via the competition authorities is not our preferred approach," Lucey said in a prepared statement. "Ideally we prefer to address interoperability issues by working in close partnership with the wider industry."

A Microsoft spokesperson stated by e-mail that "Microsoft is deeply committed to education and interoperability." The statement countered some of Becta's claims.

"We have funded the development of tools to promote interoperability between Office 2007 and products based on the ODF file format. We will continue to work with Becta and the Commission in a cooperative manner to resolve these issues."

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for 1105 Media's Converge360 group.

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