The European Commission has just published the following document in a very timely fashion.
Egyedi, a researcher of technical standards, at the Technical University in Delft, the Netherlands, doubts whether ISO should have a taken into consideration a second standard for electronic documents at all. ISO approved the Open Document Format ODF in 2006, says Egyedi: “What are we to do with a second standard, which is overlapping the first? This conflicts with rules of the World Trade Organisation.”
The standards specialist refers to the WTO Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade, which states that duplication or overlap should be avoided.
I could not help but recalling a discussion that I had a couple of months ago. The evidence that had been gathered by a friend (preferably unnamed
until permission is granted) showed the very same thing, which we shall present here. It was never published anywhere. (Update: the evidence had been gathered by Russell Ossendryver of Fanaticattack, who sent me the following a few weeks ago and has just allowed me to reveal his identity)
There should be an immediate freeze on a vote put forth by the JTC 1
Microsoft’s proposal that its Office Open XML specification become an International Standard is ineligible for further preparation as a standard on grounds that it would create an unnecessary obstacle to international trade.
“…OOXML as an ISO has become illegitimate and any vote on it should be placed on hold until all anti-trust litigations are resolved.”Microsoft wants this process to be "left to the experts" and that the discussion should be only technical in nature. But the whole point of the ISO status is economic in nature: ISO is first and foremost about lowering obstacles to trade. Microsoft’s OOXML would RAISE obstacles to trade by giving ISO status to only one vendor: Microsoft.
In light of the compliant filed by the ECIS, BECTA filing a anti-trust complaint with the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) in the UK, the calling of Microsoft to release information on the legacy formats into the public domain by NLnet,
a Dutch foundation for an open information society because as it is, it hampers third-party development, OOXML as an ISO has become illegitimate and any vote on it should be placed on hold until all anti-trust litigations are resolved.
In the complaint by ECIS (European Committee for Interoperable Systems), Microsoft is alleged to have illegally refused to disclose interoperability information across a broad range of products, including information related to its Office suite, a number of its server products, and also in relation to the so called .NET Framework. The Commission’s examination will therefore focus on all these areas, including the question whether Microsoft’s new file format Office Open XML, as implemented in Office, is sufficiently interoperable with competitors’ products.”
WTO and ISO and the technical barriers of trade
The World Trade Organization (WTO) is the international organization dealing with the global rules of trade between nations. Its main function is to ensure that trade flows as smoothly, predictably and freely as possible.
ISO — together with IEC (International Electrotechnical Commission) and ITU (International Telecommunication Union) — has built a strategic partnership with WTO. The political agreements reached within the framework of WTO require underpinning by technical agreements. ISO, IEC and ITU, as the three principal organizations in international standardization, have the complementary scopes, the framework, the expertise and the experience to provide this technical support for the growth of the global market.
THE AGREEMENT ON TECHNICAL BARRIERS TO TRADE (TBT)
The Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT)
[PDF] — sometimes referred to as the Standards Code — is one of the legal texts of the WTO Agreement which obliges WTO Members to ensure that technical regulations, voluntary standards and conformity assessment procedures do not create unnecessary obstacles
THE CONTRIBUTION OF INTERNATIONAL STANDARDS AND CONFORMITY ASSESSMENT
The TBT Agreement recognizes the important contribution that international standards and conformity assessment systems can make to improving efficiency of production and facilitating international trade. Where international standards exist or their completion is imminent, therefore, the Code of Good Practice says that standardizing bodies should use them, or the relevant parts of them, as a basis for standards they develop.
STANDARDIZING BODIES HAVING ACCEPTED THE WTO TBT CODE OF GOOD PRACTICE
The WTO TBT Standards Code Directory 2007 lists all standardizing bodies that have notified acceptance of the WTO TBT Code of Good Practice for the Preparation, Adoption and Application of Standards. The Directory, which is published annually, also contains the addresses of these standardizing bodies and information related to the availability of their work programmes.
OFFICE OPEN XML is not interoperatible
JTC 1 has the authority and responsibility to clarify whether interoperability is intended to be facilitated by each JTC 1 standard and ISP, to what or whom the interoperability applies, how conformity is related to the provision of interoperability, and how to verify that interoperability is provided between relevant IT systems.
There is enormous overlapping jurisdiction between national standardization body responsibilities and those of antitrust regulators. There is a pretty fair argument that JTC 1 should put DIS-29500 on ice until the antitrust proceeding is concluded, in order to avoid the possibility of inconsistent decisions. The NBs are actually required by the TBT to consider the potential anticompetitive effects of draft standards. Further, mostly based on the implementable and interoperatible factors of OOXML, it is clearly evident that only one company benefits, Microsoft. No ISO standard should benefit just one company. The JTC 1 has the responsibility to intervene. █
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Subsidising the ‘cure’ to
It has been about a month since we last showed Microsoft’s use of ‘donations’ to fight GNU/Linux adoption wherever it crops up. Here is a new example:
Ases Eee PC with XP – special discount for schools?
So, hold on a second! A special tender for educational institutions? And this is only for the XP version of the Eee PC, not the Linux version? I wonder who managed to line up this deal? Honestly, it wouldn’t surprise me if Microsoft would be the one sponsoring this. Probably giving away the copies of XP more or less for free. If anyone has any information on the details of this, please let me know…
Actually, assuming that Microsoft ‘pays’ for this special deal makes perfect sense, considering their recent DreamSpark initiative (see my comment about that here). As far as I can see, this is yet another attempt to ensure that students, as young as possible, are being let towards Microsoft products and are prevented to experience any alternatives. And since those closed-source products always hide ‘how it works’ from students, the only thing the students are left to learn is ‘how to use it’. Training students with proprietary software just trains them to be IT users. Click here, click there. It only trains them in a particular vendor’s products.
In many recent stories you will find that Microsoft does not only give Windows for free, but it also covers the cost of the hardware. Intel does the same thing by the way, but it has a bone to pick with AMD, not only GNU/Linux [1, 2, 3]. For one’s reading pleasure, other similar (and recent) examples include:
- Bill Gates’ Retirement Merely a Political Lock-in Crusade
- Microsoft ‘Buys’ Dubai Away from GNU/Linux, Calls it “Charity”; Paris Also?
- OOXML Sins and “Charity” Against GNU/Linux
- It’s Not Dumping Because They Call it “Charity”
- Boosting Windows Vista Sales Using AIDS
There are many more examples, so be sure to follow cross-references (both backward and forward in time). All of these operations were not quite so prevalent a year ago, so it demonstrates Microsoft’s urgency in handling this ‘problem’. Openly enough, Microsoft has even stated that it’s a case of fighting the adoption of GNU/Linux (it didn’t use these exact same words though). █
“Asked if he could start over and develop an operating system from scratch, what would he do? [Gates:] Nothing.”
From “Bill Gates: Cheap PCs won’t help the poor”, March 2008
“Geez, get a decent computer where you can actually read the text and you’re not sitting there cranking the thing while you’re trying to type.”
Bill Gates about OLPC, Microsoft Government Leaders Forum
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The man in a sweater isn’t as innocent as his media will have you believe
There are so many reports from so many countries and it’s virtually impossible to keep up. We have just received some updates from Finland. More information from and about Finland you will find below (for the sake of context). It’s sorted reverse-chronologically, so you can follow the links and go back in time. There are loads of stories.
- Suvi Lindén and Finland’s Role at the OOXML BRM
- Nokia and Finland: A Mystery Behind OOXML and Silverlight
- Bill Gates Invades the Land of Linus, Uses Dumping Techniques
- Losing Your Job for Opposing a Monopoly Abuser? (Lassi Nirhamo)
- Finland and New Zealand’s Fight Against Vendor Lockin; IBM Set to Release Lotus 8 with ODF Support on Friday
“Who could ever forget the recent sentimental blackmail and scare tactics?”Groklaw receives many reports at the moment and bloggers contribute ‘inside information’ as well. Particularly interesting was the story about Bill Gates. Reportedly, he is once again phoning high-level figures (even a president) in order to change or influence the final outcome. This is far from the first time and by no means an isolated incident (it’s all documented). Who could ever forget the recent sentimental blackmail and scare tactics?
Poland, as we wrote less than a week ago, ought to have reported irregularities to the EU Commission and it eventually did. You’ll find some information in Groklaw.
And more news from troubled Poland, with news that the EU Commission is investigating the process in that country. Things have reportedly gone from bad to worse there, with threats of lawsuits in the air if folks talk publicly about what is happening.
Get a load of this, will you? Participants at the BRM were told that only technical issues can be addressed. Bill Gates, however, reportedly contacted the president of Mexico to try to influence Mexico to accept OOXML. Unless, of course, they were talking about representing dates in Excel or other technical issues. Hardy har. Like, totally. I’m sure.
This article as a whole is a recommended read. It sheds light on the high level of manipulation, which brings to mind again the following important quote from an ISO Convenor who fled. Here is his explanation, which is worth repeating endlessly:
“This year WG1 have had another major development that has made it almost impossible to continue with our work within ISO. The influx of P members whose only interest is the fast-tracking of ECMA 376 as ISO 29500 has led to the failure of a number of key ballots. Though P members are required to vote, 50% of our current members, and some 66% of our new members, blatantly ignore this rule despite weekly email reminders and reminders on our website. As ISO require at least 50% of P members to vote before they start to count the votes we have had to reballot standards that should have been passed and completed their publication stages at Kyoto. This delay will mean that these standards will appear on the list of WG1 standards that have not been produced within the time limits set by ISO, despite our best efforts.
The disparity of rules for PAS, Fast-Track and ISO committee generated standards is fast making ISO a laughing stock in IT circles. The days of open standards development are fast disappearing. Instead we are getting “standardization by corporation”, something I have been fighting against for the 20 years I have served on ISO committees. I am glad to be retiring before the situation becomes impossible. I wish my colleagues every success for their future efforts, which I sincerely hope will not prove to be as wasted as I fear they could be.”
–Martin Bryan, ISO ‘Escapee’
Formerly Convenor, ISO/IEC JTC1/SC34 WG1
This may turn out to be an extremely busy day. It’s the last working/business day before everything is finalised. Regardless of the outcome, evidence needs to be gathered. If you find something of interest, please share it here. The European Commission studies the abuses. Other continents or countries might join this investigation later.
As someone said in a forum just a few moments ago, Microsoft is likely to regret going as far as it has. Many countries are left exceptionally pissed off, and rightly so. One company has single-handedly betrayed not only trust in standards bodies, but also in local administrations who were tempted by money and pressure. Microsoft made a mockery of the whole system. █
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“Sinking me Slowly” (USPTO)
In today’s patent news you find that a company assaulting Microsoft has suffered a big setback and might therefore sack 25% of its workforce in Europe.
Avistar said it ‘remains hopeful of reaching a favorable resolution with Microsoft on licensing Avistar’s intellectual property in the near future.’
Avistar is a developer of video-enabled communications networks for businesses and corporations. The stock closed the regular session at 88 cents.
What to learn from this? Defensive patents are nonesense. Companies in trouble will cling onto anything in their struggle to remain relevant. It’s their obligation to shareholders, as even Simon Shipps told us last week.
You may be hearing about “reform this” and “reform that” every now and then, but in the context of software patents, the planned reform is of no use.
It is clear that the players, and their attitudes, that dominated the feudal period will no longer carry the day. The newly established and emerging IP business models (and the players exercising such models) are not going away. That is, neither US Supreme Court decisions such as eBay and KSR, nor any of the so-called anti-patent troll legislative proposals floating through Congress, will force intermediaries out of the market.
With as much as three-quarters of the value of publicly traded companies in America coming from intangible assets, and global IP licensing revenue now being measured in the hundreds of billions of dollars, there is simply too much economic justification for such entities to exist. In fact, new players implementing the IP business models described herein are continually surfacing. And creative new IP business models will surely come into existence. Why? Quite simply, the business of IP (ie, the IP marketplace) itself is fertile ground for innovation!
Meanwhile, a company as notorious as Rambus (very infamous for its relentless abuses [1, 2, 3, 4, 5]), managed to somehow escape scrutiny, proving that the legal system is too weak to handle even patent harrassment, ambush, and frivolous prosecution.
Memory company Rambus won a patent case against rival memory makers on Wednesday when a court ruled that the company did not engage in anticompetitive behavior or violate antitrust laws related to on-chip memory technology.
This is sad news indeed. Luckily for those on the other side of the Atlantic (over in Europe), the system remains a little more sane. Here is a good new article. [via Digital Majority]
Patent law became an issue that is debated not only within small circles, but among a broad public. Not only, that software patents could stir one of the biggest participation waves in policy decisions on the European level – it is probably the first time that plans for patent reforms are debated during American presidential primary campaigns. We asked James Babineau, an American patent lawyer with Fish & Richardson, that opened an office in Munich a few months ago, on the future of the patent systems on both continents.
To sum it all up, Microsoft did not suffer from trolling in this case, there is little hope for the USPTO even if reformed, patent abuse or ambush goes unpunished, and it’s important to keep non-US patent systems under proper control. It’s hard to fix something once it breaks for the same reason that retracting pricey patents is… well, too pricey due to compensation requirements. █
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We received some flattering feedback a couple of hours ago, but a concern was raised regarding the number of items that are published. To quote part of this message:
Your site is brilliant, the only criticism is that their is too much stuff that it can get a little overwhelming. Take this for instance on 'Patrick Durusau' and how he got his road to Damascus conversion. I totally missed it the first time round.
Given what we know about Microsoft machinations, it is obvious what has been done here. Stack the committee and co-opt the chairman of the V1 committee. It is also quote obvious that we are dealing with a sleazy organization with no ethical standards. It’s not as if they paused to consider if corrupting standards bodies was wrong.
Maybe it’s time to inquire and reach out to readers for feedback regarding pace. Is the site moving on too quickly? Should more items be merged or updated to reflect on related developments? █
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Who left this mess on the carpet?
The Coy Microsoft
It remains rather astounding that many in the open source world still have some trust in Microsoft, despite repeated betrayals and a rapid flow of evidence which must serve as a warning. To sum it all up, Microsoft wishes to charge Free software developers per copy and also ensure that they are tied to the Microsoft stack, in which case end users must pay Microsoft anyway. That’s the gist of the plan. It imposes a higher price on Microsoft’s most threatening competition.
Vis-a-vis cost issues, if you thought OOXML was all open and free, think again. Groklaw has just found another gotcha in the OSP:
Eek. I understand that to be saying that there are gaps in OSP coverage. You’ll get documents you can’t legally open unless you are using Microsoft’s software, because the extensions found in Office but not in OOXML proper, so to speak, are not covered. Let me explain what I think they are saying this means.
We knew we’d get documents we couldn’t open effectively from a technical standpoint, without at least losing something in the translation. But if extensions to the OOXML format, as exemplified in Microsoft Office 2007, are not covered by the OSP, and evidently they are not, when you get a document with, say, spreadsheet macros, or DRM, what legally protects you if open the document? All Microsoft has to do, then, is extend the format, as it already has, and you then can only interoperate with them if you use Microsoft software too. So. OSP gaps. Nice work if you can get it.
As usual, it’s all very implicit, hidden, vague and partly so because of the need to gain ISO’s approval. OOXML is a software patent trap. Wait until it gets uglier, probably after the ambush phase.
The Angry Microsoft
Remember May 2007? Here is a new reminder. [via Digital Majority]
Microsoft Mum on Alleged Patents Violated
So basically, it comes down to what Microsoft is willing to publicly admit their reasoning of the alleged patent violations is ‘because we said so!’ They will not provide any other evidence (actual patents) because ‘(it) is not something that any other company in our industry does today’.
Yes, it figures. This was seen before. Emperor Microsoft is naked, but it wants you to wear blinders. While we’re at it, Microsoft is in far greater trouble than most people realise. That’s why it got so aggressive. It’s a sign of desperation and inability to coexist under the current market rules where Free software beats Microsoft on TCO terms under most or all circumstances.
The Demanding Microsoft
Here comes the beef of this post and also our main gripe. Watch how Microsoft tries to phase in its software patent 'religion'.
“We live on both sides of the patent fence every day. We have more patent lawsuits than any company in our industry,” he [Microsoft's Brad Smith] said. “And yet we still believe in the benefits and value of a well-functioning patent system.”
Here is a newer article which is more blunt and direct: Royalties are the admission price Microsoft tells freetards [sent in by a reader]
Let’s be perfectly clear. Everything is up for negotiation and nothing is off the table when it comes to Microsoft’s dealings with open source. Except for one thing: patents.
Microsoft’s legal chief Brad Smith this week made it abundantly clear that while Microsoft is increasingly prepared to deal with open source companies and projects, the company won’t surrender ownership of patents in Windows – contrary to the wishes of many.
This bad article, which also uses the derogatory word “freetards”, actually comes from Asay’s friend on the face of it. Watch this new blog item.
I [Matt] had lunch with Gavin Clarke (The Register) and Dave Rosenberg (MuleSource) today at the Open Source Business Conference (OSBC). We ate in the hotel restaurant, rather than getting free food at the conference, because I needed a break. I was willing to pay for solitude. I needed to go “offline” for a bit.
This whole chain of articles just carries on and on. Even DisinformationWeek serves us some of Microsoft’s bits of FUD.
The Miserable Microsoft
A reader wrote to us this afternoon, regarding the articles above. He says:
“This is the only strategy they have against Linux: Software Patents.”This is the only strategy they have against Linux: Software Patents. Bet they will use the same strategy against ODF and any competing product. Microsoft Brad Smith insists on attacking Free Software (=GNU/Linux and community-driven projects) while monetizing on Open Source (as far as it runs on Windows) by trying to tax Open Source ‘entities’ with royalties for the use of Microsoft software patents.
Who let this guy in the conference? Microsoft should be automatically and explicitly banned from every FLOSS related event. The licences they managed to insert in the OSI should now be revoked as “open source”. If it is patent-encumbered it’s not open.
The answer is actually right here on this Web site. Matt Asay (of the OSI) invited Brad Smith and it’s safe to insist that it was a bad idea all along. I sent Matt the following quick message:
Re: Inviting Brad
Microsoft received a lot of positive coverage from their visit to OSBC.
I warned about this a month ago, but you told me it was a good idea.
I am pretty disappointed to find out it was you who invited them/him. It was a bad idea from the get-go, IMHO.
To be fair, he was quick to respond (almost promptly) and his views should hopefully add the necessary balance.
I’ve seen coverage, but I’m not sure much of it has been “positive.” And I see nothing wrong with Microsoft making the attempt, real or otherwise, to bridge out. When it’s not real, we slap it down. You’re a smart guy. doubt you’re going to be easily swayed. The takeaway that I’ve seen again and again in the press has been, “Microsoft really needs to figure out how to make its patents play nicely with open source.”
Isn’t that your position, too? And if they can’t (which, indeed, they can’t), then they need to scrap them and join up.
The point seems valid, but it doesn’t truly make up for the damage done. Business people will open up their morning paper and read about Microsoft asking open source companies to pay for software patents.
The Real Microsoft
A reader sent us some more interesting information about OSBC just a couple of hours ago when all these conversations took place. Here it is:
Matt Asay found this piece of report about OSBC. The important thing is that -under anonymity- Microsoft employees openly discuss their hatred sentiment towards Open Source/Free Software: In their mindset “free” has nothing to do with “freedom”, for them it just means “no-money”, so despite the politeness and deception game being played by Brad Smith and other top-executive strategist -Bill Hilf, etc- (Ballmer has some slips of the tongue, though… it reminds me about a song by “Mano Negra” titled “the monkey speaks his mind”, ouch!) their true colors are these:”Kill GNU/Linux and Free Libre Open Source”.
[OSBC] Open Source is Stealing, Copying Proprietary Software!
Story posted on: March 25, 2008
After Microsoft’s top lawyer, Brad Smith, keynote I hang out with some Microsofties to get a sense of their thoughts on open source, software patents, etc… To my surprise they were very much vocal about their anti-open source feelings. In exchange, they did ask for their names not to appear, just in case “upper management” would want to reprimand them for speaking out what Microsoft really thinks “inside”.
“Open source is stealing. What open source does is copying proprietary software and giving it away for free. Open source is not about innovation or innovating, it’s about copying. It infringes on everybody’s patents. Not just Microsoft’s. But we’re just the most vocal about it. We just can not see this happening and not do anything to protect our business [...] What open source and communism have in common,
is that there are both failed systems”.
I just don’t see the chasm between Microsoft and the open source community disappear anytime soon, not even in the middle of this century like Smith alluded to. On one side, you have Microsoft who think people should pay for software. On the other, well… software is free. In the end, it’s all about money and business model.
And I think Microsoft makes so much money selling Windows, Office and its server software that it’s too late for them to change their business model at least for these “legacy” activities. So I predict the fight will go on as long as Microsoft’s legacy businesses are successful and that they did not find other sources of revenues to compensate the loss for “freeing” the legacy activities
Everyone, including the OSI, must be aware of the remarks that come from Microsoft. They don’t wish well to the Free software world. If they are seen as forthcoming, the question to ask is, what are they looking to gain? They operate on behalf of shareholders, to whom Linux and Free software are probably the most considerable threat, by Microsoft’s own admission. █
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The World Enjoys Freedom
As noted earlier, OpenOffice.Org 2.4 is released today. Sun was quick to announce its availability this morning, only a day after Document Freedom Day.
The OpenOffice.org Community announces the release of OpenOffice.org 2.4, a new and enhanced version of the leading open-source office suite. The free software package provides a viable alternative to Microsoft’s Office 2007 product – and an easier upgrade path for users of legacy MicrosoftOffice products.
Many countries joined the celebrations of Document Freedom Day. For a quick overview you can read this concise post.
The inaugural DFD is purported to span some 60 countries around the world, including Argentina, France, Germany, India, United States, and Australia.
Google too joined the party.
Today, the world is celebrating the first-ever Document Freedom Day.
Red Hat? Yes, of course. No exceptions.
In 60 countries around the world, 200 teams have organized activities for today, the first Document Freedom Day. It’s a day of grassroots effort (based on the model of Software Freedom Day) to promote and build awareness for the relevance of free document formats and open standards.
It is nice to see companies like Google and Red Hat welcoming this event quite so openly.
Different Agenda at Novell
What about Novell? Well, it’s complicated. Novell was paid a lot of money by Microsoft in order to help derail ODF. One person from Novell who was fond of ODF (bless him!) is Bruce Lowry, but he left the company last month. Who have we left to speak for Novell? How about this Vice President, who opines that OOXML is "superb"? Here is what he said on Document Freedom Day (timing may have been a coincidence):
I have been reading the OOXML storm in a teacup for more than a year now. Am looking forward to the approval of OOXML as an ISO standard…
And then he carries on blogging about Mono and .NET. That’s where he appears to be pushing GTK (GTK#, that is). Maybe they should add his blog to ‘Planet MSDN’ for aggregation purposes. █
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