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Microsoft ‘monopoly’ comes under fire

Chinese academics and software developers gathered in Beijing yesterday to voice their opposition to Microsoft’s latest standard document format Office Open XML (OOXML).

Major software developers, academics and industry associations spoke out against Microsoft’s ‘monopoly’ on the format of digital documents. Document format refers to how a digital file is coded. Microsoft’s document formats - such as .doc, .xls and .ppt - have been widely used all over the world since the company first began its dominance in the 1990s.

Its document format has helped it to unprecedented success, setting a formidable barrier for other software companies, who must make Microsoft-compatible products and cannot access the core code of the format. „Microsoft’s move to make its OOXML format the international standard is an extension of its goal to maintain its monopoly in the world’s software market,” said Ni Guangnan, an academic from the Chinese Academy of Engineering.

„We are calling on the government to veto the OOXML format at the International Organization for Standardization (ISO).” The OOXML format is a file specification released by Microsoft in December last year for its Microsoft Office 2007 suite. It is currently in a fast track standardization process with the ISO and will be subject to voting next month. Unlike the current ISO digital document standard ODF (Open Document Format) and China’s national standard UDF (Unified Office Document Format), Microsoft’s OOXML format can only be run on a Windows platform.

It is also criticized for containing many proprietary technologies that can only be fully supported by Microsoft’s Office products. Over the past few months, Microsoft has been campaigning to get the new format approved as an ISO standard. It claims there are thousands of software companies in China that can support the format.

Ni wrote a public letter to Chinese media on July 17 opposing the new format. Microsoft did not respond to Ni’s letter until July 31, when Tim Chen, senior vice-president of Microsoft and chairman and CEO of its China operation, said the accusation was “unfair”. “We are promoting the new format in response to our users’ needs,” he said. (