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No Office party for Microsoft

Microsoft Office software box

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Kai Ryssdal: It may seem as if Microsoft has already taken over the world. But today, the software maker took a hit from a computing group in Geneva, Switzerland. Its members declined to designate a key Microsoft product as an international standard.

And Stephen Beard reports from the Marketplace European Desk in London, the decision could cost the company millions.


Stephen Beard: Microsoft has suffered an embarrassing rebuff. The company has tried for two years to win the prized "ISO" label for its Office file format.

ISO stands for International Organization for Standardization. When applied to software, the label certifies that this is an open system that will always be available.

And that, says Maija Palmer of The Financial Times, is especially important for some of Microsoft's biggest customers: governments.

Maija Palmer: They don't want to be dependent solely on one company, like Microsoft, to be able to access their, you know, citizens' records in the future. So they would like to use software that would be open, accessible, usable in the future.

She says that for Microsoft, a big chunk of business could be in jeopardy.

Palmer: Microsoft is obviously worried that if it doesn't get the ISO certification then it will lose government orders.

Office could in time lose its dominant market share. But the company failed to win the ISO label because of continuing concerns about openness, says technology writer Barry Fox.

Barry Fox: In theory, Microsoft is making the format for Word much more open. The question is, how open is open? That is what critics are raising.

Companies applying to the ISO usually file no more than a thousand pages of technical details. Microsoft filed more than 6,000 which some critics described as "incomprehensible."

Microsoft has until next February to convince the doubters.

In London, this is Stephen Beard for Marketplace.

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About the author

Stephen Beard is the European bureau chief and provides daily coverage of Europe’s business and economic developments for the entire Marketplace portfolio.

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