Never trust the Microsoft Trust
It was not so long ago that Larry Ellison described the competition against Microsoft in an alarmist fashion. He back then described the scenario as one which involves “Bill Gates against the world.” You can find a video where he speaks about Microsoft right here.
“It truly becomes concerning when you see a formation of what used to be known as the “Trust”, just before anti-trust laws were introduced.”Increasingly, as we clearly see in the case of OOXML, it’s not just Microsoft which pushes for greater adoption of its poor formats, but also Microsoft partners, which form what Microsoft refers to as its growing ecosystem. It truly becomes concerning when you see a formation of what used to be known as the “Trust”, just before anti-trust laws were introduced. Find out more about it in the following documentary video (requires gnash/Flash).
When the broad market’s needs collide with a status quo comprising Microsoft-dependent industries, with grossly overwhelming presence in panels involving Microsoft’s future, that becomes an issue. It truly become a case of “Microsoft (+parters) versus everybody else”. The consumer is of course likely to suffer the most as a consequence.
Have a quick look at this new writeup which touches on a similar question: It’s summarised as “Free Market vs the OOXML”.
Supporting open standards does not equate to supporting standards for which ISO said are standards. It means supporting technologies which were designed to be fully interoperable, compatible and transparently documented so as to be fitting for use by a large number of people without forming a situation of lock-in to a particular company. An open standard is a technology whose inner workings are completely transparent and whose use does not constitute dependance on any particular product or company, and which is commonly used in the market.
It could be argued that other companies quite likely to benefit from Microsoft Office dominance are simply those which share wealth, notably Microsoft partners. A week ago we saw a summary that explained why India's "Yes" voters are all indeed just in Microsoft's pocket. Rather than looking at the merits (or lack thereof) of the document they voted on, the decision seems to have been based solely on personal financial considerations. And that’s not beneficial to anybody, except the clique that Microsoft has grown to selectively circulate wealth. Think of this as a seclusive group of egocentric elites.
Was it any different Malaysia, which had been heavily abused by Microsoft? Apparently not. Just have a look at the latest report:
The final vote for TC4 was: 4 Approvals, 8 Disapprovals and 5 Abstentions.
What is interesting is that the Approvals, like in the case of India are associations which have strong ties with Microsoft, of whom provides support, funding and are sponsors to their events.
Considering the fact that a conflict of interests obviously exists, why are these Microsoft-affiliated participants allow to even vote? What about the disproportionate number of Microsoft partners? This demonstrates just how flawed the process is, and how susceptible it is to gaming and abuse. █
Pay-to-play puppet state
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Briberies too have variants
A reader contacted us last night having been “studying police action on the case of Norway.” For those who missed the story about Norway, here is a new article that speaks about it very briefly.
In the run-up to this vote, there have been accounts of Microsoft employees or partners having undue influence on the results of national standards bodies, including Norway. Groklaw has a translation of a Computerworld Norge article, as well as accounts of close votes in Germany and Croatia.
Even before the end of voting on Saturday, participants and technology enthusiasts complained that Microsoft and other Open XML backers have exposed flaws in the ISO process. Ecma chose an accelerated fast-track process, which many view as inappropriate for a weighty technical specification that has what some consider unresolved legal questions.
Earlier stages of the multiyear standards bid reportedly raised questions with European Union antitrust regulators. The Wall Street Journal in February reported that the EU has looked into whether Microsoft misused its desktop software dominance in influencing the first attempt to certify Open XML at ISO in September, a measure which did not pass and precipitated Saturday’s follow-on vote.
We will touch on that latter point in the next post, but meanwhile let us consider what allows Microsoft to ignore votes just as it did in Norway. It was a hugely scandalous story.
Further, tells us the reader, “some commenter referred to this post on Slashdot. It mentions Durusau (c/f [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6]) and Miguel (c/f [1, 2, 3, 4]).
“Quite concerning. Its quite simple social-financial engineering any unscrupulous big business can play upon us if there is enough at stake.”
We’ve looked at this comment and so should you. Its title is: “How this kind of thing works – Soft Bribery”
I’m gonna repost this comment from another ooxml “sudden flipflop” story – I posted it too late to get any attention then but I still wanted it visible. AC for obvious reasons! Also please bear in mind that all numbers are just for example’s sake, but the general point is all too accurate. Also bear in mind I have no “inside” information on Durusau at all, I am just trying to tell you some backstory on how these deals can go down, including one I have specific knowledge of.
I want to tell you Slashdot people something about how this kind of thing works. I don’t really know the name for it, but I call it “soft bribery”. You might also call it “economic alignment” or whatever. Here’s what happens.
A large, rich stakeholder wants a particular outcome – in this case, MS wants OOXML to be ratified. They have some adversaries – respected leaders of the OSS movement or ODF foundation, in this case. Note that there are always certain people with disproportionate voices – these people are really hurting them. How can they turn them around?
They can’t outright bribe them. That’s illegal and probably wouldn’t work anyway – people would feel insulted. So what they need to do is ensure that the “thought leader”‘s economic interest is aligned with their own.
We see this happen all the time – a previous strong advocate against something, in this case pro ODF and against OOXML, will suddenly get more concilatory. See Durusau’s change of tone for an example. Now I don’t know him, but I’m pretty sure here’s what happened.
He would be in constant contact with the OOXML team in MS just as a matter of course. One day, though, they’ll tell him to expect a call from a VP or higher – big guns. He’s excited to be able to reach higher up in the company. Finally, they’re taking him seriously. He might be talking to a billionaire!
He’ll get the call. “Wow, we’re really impressed with your work on this. My team is always telling me what a smart, together guy you are”, says the VP or Partner or whatever. “I just wanted to tell you that we really appreciate the work you’re doing and we can learn a lot from you. Say, when this is all over, if OOXML finally gets accepted – we’d love to get you in for some interoperability training and consulting, our staff could really use your insight. We pay pretty well, $500 an hour, and we estimate the contract would last for a year fulltime, but we’re flexible with your current work – we just need you on call. What do you think?”
There you go. That’s it. A year’s worth at $500/hr is close enough to a million bucks, the guy’s got a mortgage, game over. Of course MS wants it kept quiet or the deal’s off – that’s their “standard business practise”, and the contract has an NDA clause.
Game over. I’m sure this is what happened to Durusau. I’m pretty sure it’s what happened to Miguel. Unless you’re independently wealthy, not many people can say no to a few hundred thousand in “consulting”. Needless to say, he’ll never step foot in any Microsoft building. Hell, maybe it’s a lot less than a million – it was for someone I know.
I am going to be very vague here – sorry if you think I lose credibility, but I don’t want to burn my friend. He was the CEO/CTO (same guy) at a small systems integrator in the educational sector “somewhere in Asia”. A largish school deal was in the works, his company advised decision makers in favour of linux. A respected company, had a lot of sway with the local suits, it was looking like going their way. One day he gets a call to the cell phone – wow, one of the big guns!
“We really like the work you’re doing. Say, it looks like this deal isn’t going to go our way – but if it does, we’ll need a partner to help us interoperate with the existing infrastructure – you installed a lot of it, so you’re first in line and we’d like to book you in advance just to make sure we can get you. What are your rates? Well, we’d like to make sure we have you for at least six months and we actually pay a set rate in this area of $$$. Is that OK? We’ll fax over our proposed contract right now, we’re pretty eager to go ahead with this, so just to lock in our booking we’ll deposit the first 25% of the contract as soon as you fax it back to us, is that good with you? Refundable if we don’t get the deal of course. Commercial in confidence, naturally. Let us know ASAP, and good luck with the deal!”
The contract was over triple what the linux deal would have earned. He has a wife and kids – I’m not going to cast the first stone. They dropped their opposition, recommended the MS deal, and got paid a quarter of a million (equivalent) to do sweet fuck-all for 6 months. My friend feels like a sell-out, but his daughter’s now in a better school.
I don’t know how to stop this happening, but until it does, MS (or GM, or Exxon, or whoever) will win and win and win. Ask yourself how much your advocacy would sell for. Ask yourself how you’d explain to your wife that you were turning down enough money to send the kids to college because of your preferences for which software to use.
This is how it’s done people.
Interestingly, that seems to resemble the Burton Group story [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24]. Remember Peter O’Kelly's consulting work for Microsoft. He did some media brainwash too, resulting in, e.g. [1, 2]. Shortly after their ‘study’, this firm, which was already close to Microsoft and tied to its technologies, did a lot of Microsoft consulting on the face of it.
That story is rather unique and different from IDC’s OOXML/ODF report (not to mention misinformed former 'analysts'), which was practically paid for by Microsoft. It was Microsoft-commissioned, but disclosure was quite the ‘unimportant’ detail. IDC is deliberately sloppy with disclosure and sometimes willing to hide these altogether. █
“Analysts sell out – that’s their business model… But they are very concerned that they never look like they are selling out, so that makes them very prickly to work with.”
–Microsoft, internal document
“Consultants: These guys are your best bets as moderators. Get a well-known consultant on your side early, but don’t let him publish anything blatantly pro-Microsoft. Then, get him to propose himself to the conference organizers as a moderator, whenever a panel opportunity comes up.”
–Microsoft, internal document
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If you do the crime, you’ll do the time
To repeat something we alluded to at an earlier stage, Microsoft’s brand name has sunk like no other brand name, according to one among very few trackers which are based on large, industry-wide surveys. It is indicative of one of two things (or both):
- Microsoft’s product are no longer as satisfactory as they used to be, compared to self or compared to their competition
- Microsoft’s image as a company has degraded
“…Microsoft’s brand name has sunk like no other brand name…”Arguments can be made to suggest that Microsoft has suffered at both levels. With regards to (1), find examples in our off-beat posts about Windows Home Server and Windows Vista Service Pack 1. In order to avoid excessive and immature bashing, which leads to degradation of reputation, we tend to concentrate on Microsoft’s ethical behaviour, which refers to point (2). We could provide many other examples to support point (1).
You will find an interesting new post that is somewhat of a rant right here. The reason why it’s interesting is its focus on Microsoft as the example of bad behavior and the “do not imitate” model. It’s mildly amusing.
Yes, it is still about Microsoft
So yes, Microsoft is still very much a factor in the development of Linux. Microsoft is the benchmark of what not to do, where not to go, and what to be better than. Microsoft is still a very large factor in where Linux is going today, and tomorrow.
In reference to the news about the Microsoft brand, Bill Beebe has put together a comprehensive summary of Microsoft’s abuses over the years. Although it is not very broad or compelete, it is digestable enough to inform the reader of Microsoft 15-year-long abuse of the system — an abuse so great which at the moment culminates in the ISO fiasco. Here are some portions of interest.
1993 – In August the Department of Justice opens an investigation into whether Microsoft is abusing its monopoly in operating systems.
Judge Jackson in turn responded by saying that “[Microsoft executes] proved, time and time again, to be inaccurate, misleading, evasive, and transparently false. … Microsoft is a company with an institutional disdain for both the truth and for rules of law that lesser entities must respect. It is also a company whose senior management is not averse to offering specious testimony to support spurious defenses to claims of its wrongdoing.”
2008 – February is a bad month for Microsoft. The Windows Vista Capable lawsuits are granted class-action status. The emails released due to discovery are damning to both Microsoft and Intel; they show that Microsoft executives knew they had a problem with Vista, and that even for them Vista was a sorry excuse. The European Union fines Microsoft a record $1.4 BILLION for defying sanctions imposed on it by the EU for anti-competitive behaviors. It’s just the end of March, but 2008 is turning into a banner year for Microsoft bad news. Who knows how low their brand power will sink?
Needless to say, the abuses and total disregard for the law predate 1993, but scope was deliberately limited.
Now that Novell and Microsoft openly describe themselves as partners, one has to pause and wonder. Novell’s business is poor enough as it is and Novell’s brand might be affected in a similar way, particularly among those who matter the most, namely Linux professionals or enthusiasts. The deal with Microsoft may have pissed off all the people closest to procurement process. Affiliation with Microsoft was the last thing that Novell, a long-time Microsoft rival, actually needed. From fighting SCO they came to inherit a similar role. So, to summarise, Novell ought to learn here from Microsoft’s brand dive. It could be pulled down by the weight of the partner. █
“The government is not trying to destroy Microsoft, it’s simply seeking to compel Microsoft to obey the law. It’s quite revealing that Mr. Gates equates the two.”
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First and foremost, it is important to emphasise that ISO is just a part of a bigger battle. To remind ourselves of this fact consider a new contribution from a reader who wrote in to say:
Denmark’s public sector requires OOXML or ODF. Microsoft Office supports neither, so it is one suite that will be locked out of Danish government. OpenOffice.org, StarOffice, Symphony, and others all get the green light:
Here is the new article which back his assessment but only to an extent.
Denmark’s public sector will not be affected if Microsoft’s latest file format is rejected or accepted by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), a government official said Wednesday.
Our reader speaks of open and well-documented standards that are implemented with an open source reference design, which also happens to be available for reuse (LGPLv3-licensed, for a good reason). It all aligns pretty well with this decent new article from a standards expert. He talks about the symbiotic relationship between open source software and open standards.
The acceptance and success of open source development methodologies pose both a challenge and an opportunity for standards organizations such as the JCP. Some argue that standards are less necessary in an open-source world, or that the collaborative efforts of open source communities can develop “de facto standards” in a more agile manner than the more traditional standards bodies whose processes are necessarily more cautious and time-consuming. I believe that both open standards and open source are necessary; they can and should complement each other. Open standards are essential to enable multiple competing implementations, protecting against vendor lock-in.
The definition of open standards is in jeopardy though, or at least their formal approval and status. See SubSonica’s comment right here. It is defended very strongly by the following blog spot which explains why Microsoft will gain in case it successfully ruins ISO altogether.
Hasn’t anyone learned anything over the last few years. It doesn’t matter if OOXML is approved or not. All that matters is that the process that gave ODF it’s international standing is ruined. ODF got where it is today because it is an international standard, not because it is necessarily the answer to every possible question. People believed in the ISO process and believed that a standard with their seal of approval was actually worth something in the real world. By badgering, bribing and threatening, Microsoft has effectively destroyed the ISO process. So who cares if OOXML becomes a standard or not? No one if there isn’t gold standard for it to be judged against. While ODF was a saint, the sinner of OOXML looked very dark and shabby. Now Microsoft has cast doubt on the lineage of ODF everyone is a sinner.
It is a sad truth and the quote below validates it further. █
“We want to own these standards, so we should not participate in standards groups. Rather, we should call ‘to me’ to the industry and set a standard that works now and is for everyone’s benefit. We are large enough that this can work.” ¶
–Microsoft Corporation, internal memo (source
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Realising they don’t go away, Microsoft seeks to control them
This old and tiresome story about invasion and subversion has not reached its end yet. For quite some now we have kept track of Microsoft’s approach towards a variety of companies/projects (e.g. [1, 2, 3, 4]) whose presence, prevalence and products empower the remainder of the Free software stack, GNU/Linux included. Needless to say, Microsoft worries about this because it immediately puts at jeopardy two of its cash cows, albeit one only by association.
As we continue to explore and find new stories, we also learn more about the methods with which Microsoft 'charms' the innocent and — dare we say — naive.
Further to the IronPython story, consider this short report.
Microsoft shows Django running on IronPython
This is a huge step for the team, to be able to run a widely-used framework, such as Django, on a dynamic language running on the .NET Framework. Django is a mature web application framework written for Python and intended to create applications very fast with a clean and pragmatic design. It is a framework developers normally use on Linux or some other platform where Apache and Python are found but this demo showed Django running on Microsoft’s DLR, the IronPython language and SQL Server 2005.
Some observers choose to view this as benign. O’Grady from RedMonk, for example, thinks that this self-serving illusion openness is genuine while also acknowledging that Microsoft is setting up new barriers in the process by warping a rule or two.
As some of the attendees of the Microsoft Technology Summit have noted, Microsoft is making some genuine, good faith efforts to evolve its attitude about and work more effectively with open source. From Apache to Eclipse to Mozilla, Microsoft is working – and working effectively, by most accounts – with some of the more important open source projects on the planet. Projects, notably, that in every case compete directly with Microsoft products.
The point that he misses or perhaps feels comfortable with is that Microsoft simply wants to improve those products so that they run better on Windows (or in turn run only on Windows). It’s a question of optimisation and development focus, not just a simple matter of compatibility. Watch this picture again and remind yourself of how Microsoft views open source projects. It wants them to be the vassals of the monopoly and a small dependable portion of the proprietary Microsoft stack. And that’s not good for anyone, except Microsoft. █
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