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04.03.08

Selected Reactions and EU Investigation of the OOXML Fiasco

Posted in Antitrust, Europe, Free/Libre Software, ISO, Microsoft, Open XML at 2:57 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

As further evidence of the fact that this story is not over yet, consider the following batch of reports and commentary.

What Makes it a Fiasco

“OOXML Fiasco” are actually the words used in iTWire in order to describe what has happened. Here are some of the hugely negative implications of this fiasco, which has earned Microsoft a lot more skeptics and foes.

Microsoft’s promises about changing its skin (becoming more “open”) fit this pattern very well. But after the company, using methods that can only be described as dubious, muscled through its Office Open XML document format as an ISO standard, no-one will ever be able to claim that it has changed in any way since it was set up in 1975.

It has always used tactics like this – winning is important and it doesn’t matter how one does it. There are plenty of promises at the start but then when it comes down to the knuckle-duster stage, the ugly side of Redmond manifests itself and it’s a win-at-all-costs game. After that, we get pious statements.

Further he adds, referring to Novell:

There are many people who try and make believe that Microsoft has changed – indeed, Novell chief executive Ron Hovsepian went on the record recently claiming that Novell had contributed to Microsoft being more “open.” See the first three paragraphs of this piece, Ron.

Hovsepian would do well to learn the history of the personal computer industry. My advice to all those who talk about change at Microsoft is to buy a copy of Accidental Empires, the seminal work by Robert X. Cringely, the grand-daddy of all of us tech journalists. (And Bob, remember my commission when sales take off again).

This is actually a reference to an article which we covered right here, claiming that Ron Hovsepian did not only offer endorsement to Microsoft, but also took pride in the sort of ‘protection racket’ that company was running. It came to show just how detrimental to the goals of Free software Novell had become.

The response to this at LinuxToday contains humour of desperation, akin to that which came from SJVN when the US Government turned a blind eye to Microsoft, as well as here.

Well, I for one want to be the first to say to Microsoft congratulations, and thanks!

Thanks Microsoft, for demonstrating just how far you are willing to go to get your way in the marketplace. Having determined that your format could not be approved on technical merit, you blatantly gamed the ISO system to push it through anyway. Good for you.

Now you have given the world a standard that is cumbersome, possibly broken, and very likely not really open enough to be used by any company other than its author. Congratulations!

Because now, like it or not, you will ultimately be held responsible for your actions. Entire nations are looking askance at this standard and your practices. Very soon, I believe, entire nations are going to start looking for alternatives to your brand of software lock-in, as they discover just how “good” OOXML really is.

Sarcasm may be helpful, but it’s too early to be called a victory or a defeat.

EU Acknowledges Problems

The word from the European Commission is reassuring because investigation are confirmed to be taking place.

The effort stems from a complaint lodged by anti-Microsoft lobbying group ECIS (European Commission for Interoperable Systems). The Commission said in January that it is exploring whether the Open XML file formats are sufficiently interoperable with competitors’ products.

The Wall Street Journal in February reported that the investigation had started.
In a letter seen by CNET News.com, European regulators queried the national standards body in Norway to gain details into the local standardization process. Specifically, the European Commission sought information on attempts to influence the debate or vote over the standards proposal.

In response, Standards Norway said there was heated debate but not any “inappropriate behavior that endangered our process,” according to a document seen by CNET News.com.

At the end, this could become a textbook example of sheer monopoly abuse and standardisation going terribly awry.

What It All Means to ISO, Standards

Here is a view that is pessimistic as far as standards go but optimistic with respect to Free software, which makes the standardisation problem a bit less relevant.

This shows that standardization organizations are no longer relevant in the software field. What really matters is free full documentation, free full implementation source code, and of course the absence of any patent risk. In other words, coming back to the fundamentals of what a standards is, what matters is evidence that any independent third-party can create and distribute a fully-conforming implementation. When this is the case, nobody needs an organization to certify that it is a standard.

Here is a two-line blog post about “The Future”:

Person A “It’s an ISO standard”
Person B “And that means what ?”

Elsewhere, Mark Shuttleworth vents out some anger at ISO, mainly for failing the tame the Beast of Redmond.

Ubuntu founder Mark Shuttleworth said the approval of Microsoft’s Office Open XML is a “sad” day for ISO and the computing public.

“I think it de-values the confidence people have in the standards setting process,” Shuttleworth said in an interview just hours after the news was leaked. The International Standards Organization (ISO) did not carry out its responsibility, he claimed.

“It’s sad that the ISO was not willing to admit that its process was failing horribly,” he said, noting that Microsoft intensely lobbied many countries that traditionally have not participated in ISO and stacked technical committees with Microsoft employees, solution providers and resellers sympathetic to OOXML. “When you have a process built on trust and when that trust is abused, [ISO] should halt the process.”

What if ISO simply does not care about being abused, if simply because it was hijacked by the very same company that abused it? Indeed, as Shuttleworth points out, they had the moral and practical responsibility to halt the process, acknowledge the fiasco, and see antitrust issues unfolding before making a premature announcement that goes out of context and out of all proportions.

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