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06.01.08

Document Formats Roundup: Why Microsoft Should Worry

Posted in Europe, ISO, Law, Microsoft, Office Suites, Open XML, OpenDocument, OpenOffice at 2:59 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

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Recently we wrote about the gradual demise of Microsoft Office and OOXML. ODF has something to do with it, but there are other factors too and Microsoft hopes to turn back the clock and create new barriers to trade and competition.

Being the cash cow which makes up for divisions that operate at a loss, Office is something that will have Microsoft fight like there is no tomorrow. It will have Microsoft employees fly half-way across the world to stalk those who can be 'persuaded'. It will have them pack up a suitcase for surprise visits, later to be followed by vicious attacks and insults. Lo and behold. It’s the legendary bully every mother should teach her children about.

Premature Defeat

Fortunately, after persistent pressure from many directions, OOXML is suffering some setbacks. Optimistically enough, the following opinion piece from Computer World suggests that “Microsoft lost the office file format battle.” Here is a truthful observation.

There are two main ways to fail at the standards game: You can create software that handles documents in formats for which no true standards exist, or you can create a standard that exists only on paper and in committee, with no reference software implementation. Amazingly, for all its hype and bluster, with OOXML Microsoft has managed to do both.

Departures

Microsoft’s vapourware announcement (regarding ODF support) was intended to secure and extend Microsoft Office contracts, based on just a bunch of promises put on paper. It has some lesser-evident downfalls.

There are news stories suggesting that a defection from Microsoft Office is inevitable, at least in some places. Latvia, for example, appears to be preparing its citizens for OpenOffice.org adoption.

The city council of Ogre is providing free training for OpenOffice, an Open Source suite of office applications, to improve the competitiveness of the local businesses and boost the performance of the local government.

Ogre, a town with some 27,000 inhabitants is about 30 km southeast of Latvia’s capital Riga.

There are stories from individuals too, such as this one. [via Bob Sutor]

My viewpoint is changing now that it’s not part of my job. When it turned out that I hadn’t officially purchased Office, I questioned if I still wanted to.

A former Microsoft evangelist, Robert Scoble, found himself in a similar situation about a month ago. This shows that even the company’s biggest fans no longer see the need to purchase Microsoft Office because surrogate/replacement applications that are better connected (e.g. Web-based) become a commodity.

The sum of all fears does not end here. Irregular or even criminal action has not been forgotten yet.

Complaints

Yesterday we mentioned the latest complaint from Denmark (OSL). Groklaw has the details now, including some translations. In addition to this, Microsoft and ISO are getting very bad publicity at the moment because the press has finally caught up with the news about the formal appeals. Here are some articles of interest:

New York Times: Brazil and India Challenge Microsoft Office Document Standard

IEC’s Buck expects to have more to say about the appeals process next week, but noted that the situation is unusual.

“This is the first such appeal after a BRM process in ISO/IEC JTC 1, although appeals occur regularly in other technical committees,” he said.

Market Watch: Brazil, India join appeal of Microsoft standards push

Organizations from Brazil and India joined the appeal of a controversial vote that made Microsoft Corp.’s Open XML file format an international standard, threatening to delay final certification of the technology for a month or longer.

AFP: Brazil, India, SAfrica appeal standard status for Microsoft Office

Brazil, India and South Africa have lodged an appeal against a decision to grant international standard recognition to Microsoft’s Office software package, a standards agency overseeing the case said Friday.

CRN: Brazil And India Appeal Microsoft’s OOXML Standard

Even before these appeals, Microsoft’s Office Open XML victory in April has not been without opposition.Critics have strongly spoken out against Microsoft’s OOXML format, citing worrisome issues such as the ISO’s fast-track approval process and complicated voting procedure.

Embargo and Antitrust Revisited

For those wondering about the Microsoft embargo proposal in Europe (we’ve received enquires by E-mail), none of it has been dismissed or disregarded. The following new article alludes to it and also reminds us all that the European Commission is likely yet to deliver another blow to Microsoft for its carefless abuse of the entire process.

Even if Microsoft can hold the line and push OOXML through that final hoop, however, that doesn’t necessarily mean success. A member of the European Parliament recently called for a five-year ban on government contracts to Microsoft due to the loss of its antitrust case with the European Commission in September.

Besides that, the EC continues to investigate Microsoft’s alleged misbehavior during the ISO standards process. Finally, browser competitor Opera Software has also filed complaints against Microsoft with the EC.

Whether any of those moves will ultimately result in bringing down the software giant, however, is anybody’s guess at this point.

“There’s enough antipathy toward Microsoft, from competitors, critics, governments, and even some politicians who have grievances with them [that] there’s inevitably going to be that constant clipping away at the company,” Davis said. “But it’s hard to tell which action is going to blossom into a real threat,” he added.

It would be too easy to permit Microsoft to paint itself a victim.

“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.”

Government official

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