Why Microsoft deserved to lose the OOXML standards vote

Summary:I believe that the world is big enough for multiple file-format specifications. I don't think the Open Document Format (ODF) deserves to be the only format sanctioned as an "open standard." That said, I also believe Microsoft deserved to lose the ISO standard fast-track vote that was tallied this weekend. Here's why.

Microsoft lost its bid to fast track its Office Open XML (OOXML) file-format specification. (It's next-to-impossible to tell from Microsoft's press release announcing "Strong Global Support for Open XML as It Enters Final Phase of ISO Standards Process," but it did lose.)

As readers of this blog know, I believe that the world is big enough for multiple file-format specifications. I don't think the Open Document Format (ODF) deserves to be the only format sanctioned as an "open standard." That said, I also believe Microsoft deserved to lose this vote. Why? 1. Lobbying is legal. But certain lobbying tactics are not. Microsoft officials admitted that one of the company's employees behaved inappropriately in Sweden, attempting to influence partners to vote for OOXML approval. It's good Microsoft admitted that this was wrong. But it still makes me wonder whether company officials did the same in other countries and were just not caught. And if anyone thinks Microsoft was the only company engaging in lobbying around this standard battle, you need to stop drinking the IBM Koolaid.

2. Microsoft has a history of changing specs at will and leaving developers in the lurch. It's true you can teach an old dog new tricks (especially when the U.S. Department of Justice, state attorneys general and your competitors are all watching to make sure the dog is behaving properly). But when a specification is created and maintained by a single company or entity, it's more prone to being manipulated and abused.

3. Openness is in the eye of the beholder. Microsoft considers OOXML open, yet so far, it hasn't been able to get its own Mac Office product to interoperate with the new OOXML formats in Office 2007. Microsoft has enlisted a number of its new friends to build OOXML-ODF converters, but it has done so only an attempt to "prove" to standards makers that OOXML isn't the island that it is.

Microsoft isn't throwing in the towel: It is predicting it can overcome objections by the time the final tally is taken for ISO standardization. Between now and then, both Microsoft and IBM and other ODF backers will, no doubt, continue to lobby as to why OOXML should/shouldn't become an ISO standard.

In spite of the rhetoric on both sides, Microsoft wants OOXML to gain ISO standardization so that it won't lose out on government contracts that require "open," standards-based products. Microsoft's competitors don't want Microsoft to obtain ISO standardization because they see this loss as a chance for them to finally lessen Microsoft's 90-plus-percent market share in the desktop-productivity suite business.

This battle's not about interoperability, motherhood and apple pie: It's about Microsoft wanting to keep its desktop-suite monopoly and its competitors seeking ways to break Redmond's stranglehold on this part of Microsoft's business.

What do you think will happen next? Will Microsoft triumph in its OOXML standards quest in the end? Why or why not?

Topics: Microsoft

About

Mary Jo Foley has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications, including ZDNet, eWeek and Baseline. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008). She also is the cohost of the "Windows Weekly" podcast on the TWiT network. Got a tip? Se... Full Bio

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