Microsoft executives have accused IBM of single-handedly leading an effort to block the software giant from having its Office Open XML standard approved by the International Organization for Standardization.
After initially being rejected by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) in September 2007, Microsoft has a second chance for its next-generation document format to become an international standard in February at a ballot resolution meeting in Geneva.
While criticism of Microsoft's efforts to promote the standard has come from a variety of quarters, Microsoft's senior director of XML technology, Jean Paoli, accused IBM of masterminding the attack.
"Let's be very clear," Paoli said. "It has been fostered by a single company — IBM. If it was not for IBM, it would have been business as usual for this standard."
As a member of European standards group Ecma, IBM voted against the approval of Office Open XML (OOXML) as an Ecma standard. Microsoft claims its competitor has since opted for more covert tactics to influence the ISO vote.
Nicos Tsilas, senior director of interoperability and IP policy at Microsoft, said that IBM and the likes of the Free Software Foundation have been lobbying governments to mandate the rival OpenDocument Format (ODF) standard to the exclusion of any other format.
"They have made this a religious and highly political debate," Tsilas said. "They are doing this because it is advancing their business model. Over 50 percent of IBM's revenues come from consulting services."
A growing proportion of those revenues are being derived from the support of open-source software, Tsilas said.
Debate over the legitimacy of the standard has been framed by a battle over two opposing philosophies on how IT goods and services are best provided to users.
On the one side is the proprietary-software model championed by Microsoft, in which the customer buys a licence in the hope that they won't require services to implement the solution. The other, the open-source software model, sees software developers give away their intellectual property for free and aim to profit instead from consulting services.
"IBM have asked governments to have an open-source, exclusive purchasing policy," Tsilas said. "Our competitors have targeted this one product — mandating one document format over others to harm Microsoft's profit stream."
"It's a new way to compete," Tsilas said. "They are using government intervention as a way to compete. It's competing through regulation, because you couldn't compete technically."
Paoli said that Microsoft has never been an aggressor in the standards world and did not mobilise against Sun and IBM when they proposed ODF.
"We did not go and block it," Paoli said. "When it was voted as an ANSI [a standard of the American National Standards Institute] in the US, we voted 'yes'. There is absolutely no parallel between what Microsoft did in the standardisation process for ODF and what IBM is doing now," he said.
Brett Winterford travelled to Redmond as a guest of Microsoft.