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Specious ECIS

By this time next week we will know the Court of First Instance's decision in Microsoft's appeal of the European Commission's March 2004 ruling. Yesterday's IHT story "All sides await verdict in Microsoft-EU case" adds some background colour and quotes from both Microsoft's Erich Andersen and ECIS' Thomas Vinje.

ECIS is an interesting "organisation". The abbreviation stands for "European Committee for Interoperable Systems". Don't be fooled into thinking the membership is European, for whilst they were able to change their domain name to .eu their membership remains resolutely dominated by American companies. No, European in this context means based in Brussels close to DG Competition, and it's DG Competition that ECIS is about far more than anything to do with interoperability.

In fact ECIS and Vinje have a strange way of behaving for an organisation concerned "to promote a favourable environment for interoperable ICT solutions." For example ECIS and Vinje have been been actively trying to stop the ISO adoption of Ecma 376 OpenXML despite broad endorsement from many of its members' customers, and despite ISO standardisation having being directly requested by the European Commission to enhance interoperability. Whilst not all of ECIS' membership seem to have agreed I guess the more important one or two did.

Of course in organisations like ECIS "he who pays the piper calls the tune", but ECIS sees no tension between this behaviour and purporting to promote interoperability. No less revealing is ECIS' apparent total disinterest in the interoperability barriers its own members create. For instance, ECIS is silent on PSI's allegations that "IBM has committed extensive anticompetitive practices, including the following:

  • Tying its mainframe operating systems to its mainframe computers by conditioning sales of its operating systems on the purchase or continued use of only those IBM-compatible mainframe computers that are manufactured by IBM;
  • Refusing to supply its operating systems to end-user customers who choose to purchase PSI’s IBM-compatible mainframe computer systems;
  • Restricting PSI’s access to interface information and specifications needed to remain compatible with IBM’s operating systems;
  • Unreasonably discontinuing its long-standing practice of licensing any applicable intellectual property rights on reasonable and non-discriminatory terms;
  • Disseminating Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt concerning the reliability, compatibility and viability of PSI’s products; and
  • Interfering with PSI’s ability to complete fundamental transactions with its business partners."
Ignoring issues like this makes ECIS' professed love for interoperability seem nothing more than a smoke screen blowing out of a lawyers office in Brussels to shield IBM and Sun from legitimate claims that they are only interested in interoperability when it concerns their competitor’s products.

"Specious ECIS" needs to put its own house in order, regardless of the outcome of next week's decision, if it's not to be seen in retrospect as simply a Brussels sham for IBM and Sun's attack and smear campaign.


Sam Hiser said:

This is correct. No one wants interoperability... ...except the customers. This is part & parcel of IT Industry's War on the Customer.
# September 11, 2007 4:35 PM

hAl said:

The verdict is in and Micrsoft lost the case big time.

The full fine is upheld as are the descisions on the media player free windows version and handing over the specification to certain server protocols.

# September 17, 2007 9:06 AM

Stephen McGibbon said:

As I say hAl, ECIS needs to decide whether it is serious about interoperability or just an anti-Microsoft vehicle.

ECIS isn't blind to the mainframe question, this document even cites IBM as jurisprudence to the 2004 Microsoft decision:-

• 1984 IBM:  IBM was accused of holding a dominant position for the supply of key products for its most powerful range of computers, the IBM System/370, and abusing that position by engaging in refusal to supply tactics. The Commission requested IBM to continue supplying so-called “plug-compatible manufacturers” in sufficient time with the technical information needed to permit products competing with IBM’s own, to be used with System/370 hardware and software.  IBM therefore agreed to an Undertaking, which set out specific rules by which the company shared information with companies that made competing software and hardware, which interoperated with IBM products. Where IBM introduced modifications to an interface, IBM agreed to disclose the changes to any competing undertaking and to announce them with a sufficient lead-time to permit such undertakings to make the necessary adjustments in the competing products.    

The interoperability information was used by a variety of rivals to make plug-compatible CPUs and other hardware operating systems and other software.  According to the Commission’s report on IBM’s compliance, the IBM undertaking had no negative effect on innovation incentives as both IBM and the industry continued to compete vigorously.  The reports also confirm that the Commission was generally satisfied with IBM’s compliance with the undertaking. The IBM undertaking is consistent with the remedies that the Commission proposed in the Microsoft case – in fact it covered broader disclosures than contemplated in the Microsoft case.  Contrary to Microsoft, IBM did not charge for protocol information, and charged only one-time-charge fees for the supply of additional information over and above the interface information needed for interoperability.

But ECIS doesn't mention the PSI counter-suit, nor IBM's monopoly on Mainframes and mainframe operating systems.

# September 17, 2007 7:29 PM said:

I was just looking at IBM's latest annual SEC 10-K report . "Open Standards" are listed in the "Key Business

# March 28, 2008 3:27 AM