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04.24.08

Big Set of Shakeups for Microsoft O[OXML]ffice, ODF Rises

Posted in Asia, ECMA, Europe, GNU/Linux, Interoperability, Microsoft, Open XML, OpenDocument at 10:01 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Protests in Norway (OOXML)

There is a lot happening in Europe at the moment, but that’s not the only subject of this post. Herein you’ll find a grouping of more good news for real open standards (like ODF) and Free software. The OLPC debacle may have eclipsed the good news, but it’s actually a wonderful time and another major tipping point for GNU/Linux.

As far as FOSS and ODF go, some weeks ago we saw big success stories in Germany [1, 2, 3]. This wave is not over yet and here is some of the latest.

According to this German article, the City of Munich and the German Federal Foreign Office have started to collaborate on the implementation of their open source and open standards strategies.

Germany intends to gain more independence (practical and financial) with Free software and Microsoft does not sit idly. Microsoft’s OOXML misconduct in Germany was last summarised here, however partially.

Over at the Commission, which already has Microsoft on probation, questions about OOXML as a procurement option arose. We last wrote about procurement and misconduct just a day ago. Here is the latest:

THE EUROPEAN Commission has started investigating Microsoft’s OOXML standard under procurement rules instead of the old competition statute with which they usually bash the software giant.

The Danish Unix User Group (DKUUG) complained to the EC’s competition regulators in February about a Danish government mandate on the use of software standards. But the Competition lot didn’t want to know about it.

The European Commission confirmed today that its Internal Market people had taken up the complaint. They were examining it to see if it constituted an infringement of procurement rules.

[...]

It was based, as originally, on the idea that Ecma International, the standards body that backed OOXML, had specified that the standard was to be implemented “in a way that is fully compatible with the large existing investments in Microsoft Office documents.”

This meant that it was designed to give Microsoft documents an advantage, said, Simonsen, in the same way a television manufacturer might have an advantage over its rivals if had designed a signal that was tuned to operate special features on its own sets.

The EC’s procurement police are now considering whether this puts the Danish government in breach of procurement rules, despite the moves Microsoft has made to make its standard acceptable.

It seems clearer that unless Microsoft considers implementing or officially supporting ODF (and properly so), Microsoft Office could become irrelevant and excluded from government procurement. The Microsoft Spin Machine appears to be well lubricated though. Watch what it emits in the Malaysian press:

It’s not about choosing, but about having a choice.

Yes. Try to understand that fantastic quote from Yasmin Mahmood, Microsoft Malaysia’s (current) Managing Director. This was reported by Tech&U, which is currently leading the pack as the most reliable source of Microsoft propaganda. What’s wonderful is that they quote Yasmin word for word without questioning what she really means. It makes hilarious reading.

This type of spin was seen before. Of course it’s a matter of choice. It’s a matter of choosing applications but without unification inside standards there is hardly an ability to choose between applications. Microsoft is, as always, preying on ignorance.

As shrewdly pointed out by the same blog a few days ago, in reference to South Africa's decision on document formats:

This goes to show that certain Ministries of Science and Technology can stand up for the interests of their citizens, and not have to feel pressured by a single foreign multinational. If only this independence was more prevalent around the world.

Brendan Scott, who has covered some of the OOXML fiasco, wrote a very long essay about it this issue. He explains how governments became agents of monopolisation, anti-Commons.

Misapplication of “value for money” requirements when purchasing software results in poor value for money – Government purchasing policies for software tend to support the creation of monopolies.

Government purchasing has effects on the price paid by citizens for the product purchased. In some cases purchasing produces volume which permits scale discounts and therefore a net benefit to citizens who also purchase the product. However, in the case of lock in software* Government purchasing can create a monopoly in the software which leads to increased costs for citizen purchasers and a net detriment for society as a whole. It is not appropriate for value for money policies to be assessed on a per acquisition basis when software is being acquired. Doing so will almost certainly create net costs for the community when considered in the aggregate.

[...]

Government procurement can both create and reinforce a monopoly in goods and services which it is acquiring. Anecdotal evidence suggests that bureaucrats look at “value for money” type formulae and assess it against the cost to Government on a purchase-by-purchase basis. This approach is fine in respect of goods and services which are easily substitutable (such as hammers, screws, cars etc). In respect of goods which are specifically designed to prevent substitutability – eg devices which are not designed to be interoperable it is an extremely hazardous approach. If those goods also tend to be a natural monopoly (such as software in general, but particularly that which is designed not to be interoperable) this approach is absolutely the wrong one.

Microsoft must be baffled, scared and therefore merciless at the moment. Add all the above to recent news about dropping profits and large-scale GNU/Linux migration. Some lobbyists from Microsoft must already be packing up suitcases to make unplanned visits worldwide. This is a time to watch Microsoft’s behaviour carefully because Microsoft won’t give up easily. The Microsoft Unlimited Potential programme, aka the “anti-Linux dumping budget”, is one to keep an eye on for sure. Deep pockets make room for disruptive intervention.

“Microsoft looks at new ideas, they don’t evaluate whether the idea will move the industry forward, they ask, ‘how will it help us sell more copies of Windows?’”

Bill Gates, The Seattle Weekly, (April 30, 1998)

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