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Fri, May 24, 2002 - Page 18 News List

Government targets Microsoft's dominance

COMPETITION An information and communication task force has been set up to encourage local software companies to develop alternatives to Microsoft's systems

STAFF WRITER , WITH CNA

The government will help the domestic software industry develop operating systems to challenge the dominance of Microsoft Corp in the sector, Vice Minister of Economic Affairs Shih Yen-hsiang (施顏祥) said yesterday.

To achieve this, the government has set up an information and communication development task force under the Executive Yuan, Shih said while fielding questions from lawmakers yesterday at the Legislative Yuan.

"Both the Industrial Development Bureau and the Industrial Technology Department [under the Ministry of Economic Affairs] have plans to encourage local software firms to develop new operating systems and other word-processing software," Shih said.

During the question-and-answer session yesterday, several lawmakers, including Chou Hsi-wei (周錫瑋) of the PFP and Chiu Tsui-chen (邱垂貞) of the DPP, criticized government agencies for letting Microsoft develop a monopoly in the software used in the public sector.

They said some government agencies, such as the Ministry of Justice and the Fair Trade Commission, are publishing documents on their Web sites using Microsoft software, which has forced the public to use the same software to read them.

The lawmakers said that in the US and Japan, official Web sites use cross-platform text files to make it easier for the public to download information.

The Software Liberty Association of Taiwan, a group promoting free software, yesterday added to the debate over Microsoft's dominance in software, calling on the government to help create an information-exchange environment by supporting the development of "free software communities."

"The government should offer hardware support, such as broadband communication facilities and public servers ... while educational authorities should include free software-instruction programs in information-technology education," the association said.

Many people use only a small proportion of the functions available on their office software, it said. Many are also ignorant of the availability of software not made by the mainstream software manufacturers, it continued.

In response, the economics ministry will support the development of an open-source model -- much like the Linux operating system -- and promote the use of locally developed software, Shih said.

The Cabinet-level Research, Development and Evaluation Commission, Taipei Computer Association and the Taiwan Linux User Group co-sponsored a seminar introducing free software on May 13-14.

Lawmaker Chou also demanded that the Cabinet-level Fair Trade Commission complete an investigation within six months on whether the Taiwan unit of Microsoft has abused its market dominance to manipulate prices.

According to Chou, in Taiwan, Microsoft software systems such as Windows XP and Office are more expensive than similar systems from other manufacturers.

Moreover, the prices of Microsoft systems are much higher in Taiwan than they are in China, Japan and the US, he said.

Microsoft's dominance of Taiwan's software market became the focus of public attention after a large-scale anti-piracy crackdown in mid-March revealed the extremely high market penetration rate of the international software giant.

Teachers and students have taken exception to the government's crackdown and severe penalties on those using unlicensed software programs. They say certain software manufacturers are gouging users by charging unreasonable prices.

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