Flashback: day 1 :: day 2 :: day 3 :: day 4 :: day 5
“If you flee the rules, you will be caught. And it will cost you dearly.”
–Neelie Kroes (about Microsoft), February 27th, 2008
OOXML Announcement Near
The final decision on OOXML will not be made any time soon. However, there will soon be an announcement that concludes a week of ECMA/Microsoft chit-chat with international guests [1, 2, 3, 4, 5]. Here is how Microsoft, master of the ceremony, puts it:
“There’s a lot of collaboration going on between the various national bodies attending the meeting at the moment, so we can expect to hear an announcement on the outcome of the meeting from its convener by the weekend,” said Sarah Bond, platform strategy manager for Microsoft.
Ushered by the typical lobbying arms, Microsoft seems rather confident. It is likely to deceive like it did the last time, so Bob Sutor has already warned readers, some of whom are journalists, about this.
Here Come the Paid Lobbyists
As we stated and showed on numerous occasions, if you believe that BRM delegates were left to wander in peace, then think again. Microsoft employee took over Geneva, so to speak, and lobbied [cre 2622 even by stalking delegates].
Typical spinners like CompTIA [1, 2], whom Microsoft funds, have been there all along and here comes another lobbying arm, ACT. The name is deceiving because the “Association for Competitive Technology” is actually being paid by Microsoft to ensure there is no competition. What's in a name, eh? Here is a notorious lobbyist, Jonathan Zuck, wearing the hat of “Competitive Technology” while concealing “Microsoft Wallet”:
Reactions to the BRM have been mixed. Jonathan Zuck of the Association for Competitive Technology, which counts Microsoft as a member and issued a statement in support of the standard, said that OOXML is just as deserving as ODF of standardisation, as “only OOXML offers full fidelity for storage of existing documents” from prior versions of word-processing software.
Sutor Already Out Swinging
Probably prepared for a predictable outcome from this farce, Bob Sutor already questions the credibility of the process in a relatively long blog post. Among the many points that he raises:
# How many total comments were there and how many were fully discussed with consensus reached at the meeting?
# What percentage of the total comments were fully discussed with consensus reached this week? Was it closest to 10%, 20%, 30%, 40%, 50%,60%, 70%, 80%, 90%, or 100%?
# Conversely, what percentage of the total comments were voted on without a full discussion and consensus reached? Was it closest to 10%, 20%, 30%, 40%, 50%,60%, 70%, 80%, 90%, or 100%?
# Individual or closely related comments from countries were considered in country alphabetical order, cycling through as many times as necessary. How many full cycles were there?
The scope of the process aside, in a separate article he slams the secrecy of the process.
Whatever the outcome of the vote, that secrecy is one of the things that should change in the way IT standards are developed, Sutor said.
“Minutes should be published. This secrecy … has to end,” he said.
It is fortunate enough that this whole fiasco is already under investigation by the European Union. Let us wait and see whether justice can be restored. █
Better days will come…
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BusinessWeek has a very catchy summary (abbreviated above) that sheds light on the reasons for Microsoft to misbehave and even resort to fraudulent activity.
On top of fines and new inquiries, Microsoft is in danger of EU governments effectively banning its software to create documents
The new European investigations come as Microsoft finds itself in danger of seeing EU governments effectively ban its software to create documents. The European Commission and its member states have been mulling a mandate that all government documents be created in the Open Document Format (ODF), an open source competitor to the proprietary format used in Microsoft Word.
On top of the company's existing fears and failures to evolve, the one greatest cash cow comes under attack. Remember that this attack comes from openness, from standards, from fair competition, rather than from a single company or a single product. Real competition which is based on open protocols can be daunting to Microsoft, as the following Halloween Memo reminds us:
Microsoft’s answer to what the memo meant when it said that Microsoft could extend standard protocols so as to deny Linux “entry into the market”:
Q: The first document talked about extending standard protocols as a way to “deny OSS projects entry into the market.” What does this mean?
A: To better serve customers, Microsoft needs to innovate above standard protocols. By innovating above the base protocol, we are able to deliver advanced functionality to users. An example of this is adding transactional support for DTC over HTTP. This would be a value-add and would in no way break the standard or undermine the concept of standards, of which Microsoft is a significant supporter. Yet it would allow us to solve a class of problems in value chain integration for our Web-based customers that are not solved by any public standard today. Microsoft recognizes that customers are not served by implementations that are different without adding value; we therefore support standards as the foundation on which further innovation can be based.
It figures. █
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…and other bits of news about the utter failure of software patents
The Free Software Foundation Europe has issued a statement asking Microsoft to retract its self-serving trap and provide something which is actually compatible with the GNU GPL.
Microsoft is the last company that actively promotes the use of software patents to restrict interoperability. This kind of behaviour has no place in an Internet society where all components should connect seamlessly regardless of their origin,” says Georg Greve, president of the Free Software Foundation Europe.
It was recently shown and explained in more detail just why Microsoft's 'gift' is akin to that which is found in letters and parcels from Unabomber. Microsoft wants companies to devour patent bombs that later make them liable, sensitive, and rather defenseless. Mono comes to mind again and, speaking of which, a proposal was made in Ubuntu’s new site that Mono should be removed by default (from Ubuntu GNU/Linux).
Yesterday we mentioned a large industrial coalition that fights against software patents and you can now find their homepage. It’s right here. To give you an idea of the sort of abuse being combatted here, consider this new story about eBay.
eBay and MercExchange had been involved in litigation over MercExchange’s patents and eBay’s online auctions and fixed price related ecommerce operations.
In 2003 a jury found eBay’s “Buy It Now” feature infringed MercExchange’s patents for an online marketplace. A jury sided with MerExchange and awarded the company $30 million for infringement, which was later reduced to $25 million on appeal.
If you believe this is bad, then watch this press release:
Software patent infringement lawsuits are increasingly targeted against non-software companies in the general business sector. For example, a company named Global Patent Holdings, LLC is currently seeking settlements between $7 and $15 million from companies such as the Green Bay Packers, OfficeMax, Caterpillar, Kraft Foods, ADT Security Services, AutoNation, Tire Kingdom, and Boca Raton Resort and Club. In each case, the dispute is over the design of the company’s website.
When you cannot patent everything under the sun, why not patent every possible thing under the World Wide Web as well as every manipulation, transfer and structure of data? This truly seems to be the direction which is taken here and under current laws it proves to be effective only for patent trolls, not inventors. The system has lost touch with its original goals. █
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One reader has requested that we organise our writings about Microsoft’s financial difficulties. We can publish these as an article which summarises and serves as an index. We shall do that shortly, probably over the weekend.
In the mean time, we wish to share with the readers some new perspectives from other journalists whose conclusion is that Microsoft absolutely must evolve in order to survive or at least maintain its omnipresent form.
The first article comes from Glyn Moody, who writes in Linux Journal about Microsoft’s financial pains. He also covers the abuses, for which the company deserved to be fined in the European Union. His headline is nice and catchy and the discussion is worth a glance also.
That would be bad enough, but on top of that, Microsoft will, for the first time, be taking on a huge amount of debt to help pay for Yahoo if the acquisition goes through. So as well as a hugely-stressed and possibly warring management structure, Microsoft will also have to cope with interest payments on its debt, which will need to be funded out of earnings. In addition, those earnings have to rise pretty steeply to justify the whole Yahoo adventure, or shareholders will start to express their dissatisfaction.
Against this background, the last thing Microsoft needs is fines. Remember that we are not in fact talking about “just” €899 million here: as the EU commissioner Neelie Kroes noted during the press conference announcing the latest fine, the cumulative amount that Microsoft must pay the EU is €1.6767 billion. The fact of the matter is that if the Yahoo deal goes through, Microsoft will be strapped for cash, and paying out over one and half billion euros for “nothing” will hurt.
Whatever happens with OOXML and the Danish complaint, the key gain for openness has already been achieved. Unable to regard fines from the EU with indifference or even contempt, Microsoft will have to start really playing by the rules. Finally.
Bill Snyder has another good article which takes a slightly different approach but presents the same perspective. The article talks about the fines in the EU and it focuses on Steve Ballmer’s need to make changes — and fast!
Can Ballmer steer Microsoft out of the roadblocks?
The highly competitive Ballmer, you might say, is the man who cried “nice.” And like the boy who cried wolf, no one believed him. The software giant’s attempt to make nice with much of the developer community by opening up its APIs for key products was greeted with a jaundiced eye by regulators at the powerful European Commission.
However sincere Microsoft’s stated change of heart may be, it is becoming clearer and clearer that Microsoft — which knows it has to change — is still struggling to find a fresher path.
What’s a poor CEO to do?
Now that Bill Gates has effectively left the building, Ballmer is free to transform Microsoft, a job made all the tougher by the enormous reservoir of mistrust the company has engendered over the years.
For those who do not know, Bill Gates stepped down when the honeymoon (or the Golden Days) was pretty much over. The recession in the United States (even more globally prevalent) makes it harder to know what factors are/were involved, but we may soon get some facts — as opposed to just projections — particularly when definite answers about Yahoo/Microsoft are received. This looks like an ugly, messy and wasteful merger, if it ever becomes a reality at all.
Microsoft, by the way, has just dropped 15% in terms of search engine market share (relative to self). This was published in Barron’s a couple of days ago. The chief of that division left the company just a couple of weeks ago, ‘joining’ several others who escaped the very same role in a division that operates at a loss measured at billions of dollars. █
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“Well, I doubt, I tend… I don’t know who reported on that, but I saw something where they say, you know, this probably isn’t due to Novell massaging its numbers around Linux, which is what Dana Blakenhorn at ZDNet had claimed, I mean, I can tell you absolutely for a verifiable fact for that Novell does do that, but then again everybody does that. So… I’ve.. I’ve got the sales guys at Novell telling me that, that they do this, but it just doesn’t matter, I… I suspect that this is a tech… like a technicality that Novell has run afoul of and not a big deal, but maybe I’ll.. maybe we’ll be wrong, maybe I’ll be wrong, we should see.”
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