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Killing Open Standards Bodies to Tout ‘Interoperability’ Meme

Posted in Interoperability, ISO, Microsoft, Novell, Standard at 11:49 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz


The destruction of ISO’s credibility worked to Microsoft's advantage. Microsoft never cared much about standards, which it pretty much mocked as the following fragment of text demonstrates:

“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 [compressed PDF])

The key goal is then to fake compliance using exclusive deals whose terms are favourable to Microsoft and preferably exclude competitors, e.g. using RAND and vaguely-cited software patents. Watch this preparative announcement about a conference whose focus is not standards but something altogether separate. Sponsored by familiar faces (Microsoft and Novell make an appearance) that stress “interoperability” at the expense of “standards”, which are not at all the same thing, this announcement/article also states:

The catch: Critics say OOXML is not truly standards-based and is not fully interoperable, and have accused Microsoft of bullying the ISO into approving the format as an international standard. With that background, it should be a lively session — especially if there are some fans of the rival open source Open Document Format in the audience. Kitterman may need a mouth guard and a good corner man!

Whoever is not a “critic”, as the author puts it, is either misinformed or in Microsoft’s pocket. It should be made very clear rather than described as a divisive scenario (unless it be a division between corrupt/denier and justice seeking). Even Tim Bray strongly denounced this because he saw it more closely.

Over at CNET, Matt Asay too has just ridiculed some of this new “interoperability” pitch. He stresses the important of participation by customers, by users.

With all the talk about interoperability rumbling around, I thought a quick sanity check would be in order. Vendors are fond of talking about interoperability, but myopia-challenged as we are, we tend to forget that most software is not developed by vendors. It’s developed by so-called “customers.”

Bravo to Microsoft for making much of its interoperability with Novell! Unfortunately, this hardly resolves even a rounding error’s worth of the industry’s need to interoperate with enterprise-developed software.

As a practical example from several days ago, consider this story about the way things should be done (openly, not by having Novell and Microsoft swap code with NDAs).

Being OOo available in source code, I started digging into it until I found the code responsible for index generation. Built a patch for myself and solved the index generation problem, at least at my end of the line.


So the discussion continued until I was suggested to post a comment to the relevant OASIS list to describe the proposed modification to ODF standard.

I did so, and after some discussion my proposed change was integrated in current ODF 1.2 specification draft.


What’s the moral? A truly public specification can be upgraded by the public at large, provided the suggestion is a sound one.

Rest assured that Microsoft is not only screwing with document formats nowadays. Apart from its quiet fight against PDF, which is already an ISO standard, Microsoft is already combating another well-established medium which is HTML (and XHTML). With Novell's help, Microsoft hopes to replace all that with its patents-encumbered (and potentially DRM-laden) XAML while at the same time, on the face of it, fragmenting and ruining HTML as we know it.

The ever-increasing intricacy of the World Wide Web is evidenced by the character and scope of the HTML 5 draft specification. Microsoft wants to hasten HTML 5’s arrival, but its proposed solution may not sit well with all parties.

In a recent interview, Internet Explorer platform architect Chris Wilson told SD Times that more progress could be made with teams working in parallel, and he recommended that portions of the HTML 5 specification be broken off and assigned to new workgroups.

This is far from the sole incident of this kind. Microsoft has already tried to ruin JavaScript because it competes with Silverlight. The Web standards snub has a long history and it deliberate.

“We’re disheartened because Microsoft helped W3C develop the very standards that they’ve failed to implement in their browser. We’re also dismayed to see Microsoft continue adding proprietary extensions to these standards when support for the essentials remains unfinished.”

George Olsen, Web Standards Project

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A Single Comment

  1. DarkPhoenix said,

    April 27, 2008 at 5:13 pm


    Well, it’s hard to say whether splitting up HTML5 would be good or bad. There are good reasons to do so; it is a rather large specification, and doing it in pieces allows for certain sections to be updated separate from the others. It works rather well for CSS3, which is coming along nicely (too bad it’s not well implemented outside of Selectors yet).

    However, my bet is that Microsoft wants HTML5 split up so they can selectively implement it, like they did with CSS…

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