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Harsh Words for Microsoft Technology

The European Union’s competition commissioner, Neelie Kroes, delivered an unusually blunt rebuke to Microsoft on Tuesday by recommending that businesses and governments use software based on open standards.

Ms. Kroes has fought bitterly with Microsoft over the last four years, accusing the company of defying her orders and fining it nearly 1.7 billion euros, or $2.7 billion, on the grounds of violating European competition rules. But her comments were the strongest recommendation yet by Ms. Kroes to jettison Microsoft products, which are based on proprietary standards, and to use rival operating systems to run computers.

“I know a smart business decision when I see one — choosing open standards is a very smart business decision indeed,” Ms. Kroes told a conference in Brussels. “No citizen or company should be forced or encouraged to choose a closed technology over an open one.”

She did not name Microsoft in advance copies of her speech, but she made her meaning clear by referring to the only company in European antitrust enforcement history that has been fined for refusing to comply with orders — a record held by Microsoft.

“The commission has never before had to issue two periodic penalty payments in a competition case,” she said.

Europe has previously ruled against Microsoft, saying it had abused its dominance in software to play music on computers and to communicate with powerful server computers on a network.

In recent months, Ms. Kroes has opened new investigations against Microsoft after complaints that it was competing unfairly in the market for Web browsers by using the Explorer software. Ms. Kroes is also investigating whether Microsoft is making it too hard for rivals to work with its Office suite applications.

In her speech, she said there were serious security concerns for governments and businesses associated with using a single software supplier. She praised the City of Munich for using software based on open standards, along with the German Foreign Ministry and the Gendarmerie Nationale, a department of the French police force.

Ms. Kroes, who is Dutch, encouraged the Dutch government and Parliament to continue moving toward use of open standards. European agencies “must not rely on one vendor” and “must refuse to become locked into a particular technology — jeopardizing maintenance of full control over the information in its possession,” she said.

A policy by the European Commission adopted last year to promote the use of software products that support open standards “needs to be implemented with vigor,” she said.