What makes Microsoft blink

What makes Microsoft blink

Summary: I read with interest David Berlind's latest remarks about the ongoing saga of XML versus ODF. [See Top open source lawyer blesses new terms on Microsoft's XML file format.

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TOPICS: Microsoft
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I read with interest David Berlind's latest remarks about the ongoing saga of XML versus ODF. [See Top open source lawyer blesses new terms on Microsoft's XML file format.] Several points come to mind which should not be overlooked:

  • Regardless of what "spin" Microsoft might choose to put on it, the company blinked when the prospect became reality that their XML format was not included in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts ETRM. This is a clear reminder that, despite their heavy-handedness, Microsoft will respond to sufficient customer pressure.
  • Submitting the XML specification to both the ISO and to ECMA indicates that Microsoft's problems with the EU are a contributing factor in their decision.
  • The "conformance" aspect of Microsoft's covenant puts its competitors on notice that any attempt to offer a superset of the XML specification which is not compatible with Microsoft products puts them in jeopardy of being sued for non-compliance with the XML schema. In effect, Microsoft is attempting to make sure that its large competitors will not gain an advantage through the use of Microsoft's own intellectual property.

Others have asked why Microsoft cannot/will not support ODF when they are willing to support PDF. The reason is really quite clear: Microsoft comes from a position of strength in rejecting ODF because existing MS Office file formats dominate the desktop space -- while ODF is but a blip on the radar. However, Microsoft comes from a position of weakness with regards to PDF because the PDF format dominates the web space -- and Microsoft wants to make inroads into that space. Supporting PDF while promoting XML is not unlike the approach Microsoft took when it introduced MS Word in a WordPerfect-dominated marketplace -- it supported WP formats while promoting a transition to Word. The same thing happened in transforming a Lotus 1-2-3-dominated marketplace into an Excel-dominated marketplace.

In the end, it is competitive pressures from IBM, Sun, and other top tier competitors that Microsoft wants to avoid. At the same time, it wants to keep the regulator-wolves in the EU and at DoJ at bay. By opening up its XML schema to the little guys who just want to compete for a small piece of the pie at entry-level prices (for which Microsoft can no longer afford to compete) while not letting the Sun, IBM and others compete at more profitable price-points, Microsoft hopes to have its cake and eat it too. Regulators have no more interest in enabling IBM and Sun to dominate than they have in allowing Microsoft to continue to dominate. By their letting the open-source community compete, regulators are more likely to look favorably upon Microsoft as one of many choices.

As for whether others (including the Commonwealth of Massachusetts) pick up the XML ball, it remains to be seen -- but I find it hard to believe that Massachusetts could continue to justify keeping Microsoft off the list under this scenario. Certainly, your suggestion that Google could be a "swing vote" in a web-based services market raises the stakes for IBM and Sun, who are likely to want to woo Google into the ODF fold -- and away from XML.

Topic: Microsoft

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  • Microsoft responds to developers.

    You wrote:
    Regardless of what "spin" Microsoft might choose to put on it, the company blinked when the prospect became reality that their XML format was not included in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts ETRM. This is a clear reminder that, despite their heavy-handedness, Microsoft will respond to sufficient customer pressure.

    Do you think that the actions of the MA officials constitute "customer pressure"?
    The complaints about the decision inside the government of MA come from the actual customers. The group in support of the officials' decision include primarily Microsoft business competitors and open source advocates.

    And why shouldn't Microsoft do everything possible to reassure developers, who do have to worry on a business basis about the conditions under which they make use of Microsoft software?

    If any actual customers had concerns about restrictions on their use of Microsoft software, this would also be a reassurance to them.
    But I don't think the company is going to be intimidated by the manipulation by antagonists of a process setting bid specifications in a single State.
    Anton Philidor
    • It's not JUST 'a single State'!

      It's 80,000 desktops which may not upgrade to Office 12 when it ships -- if XML is not on the list of acceptable document formats. It's untold numbers of government contractors which must comply with state regulations for providing documents which are in the public domain. It's the states obligation to provide public access to public documents in perpetuity -- without any requirements that the public owns one platform or another to access the information.

      More important to Microsoft, it is a large governmental body among many throughout the world which are watching closely while seeking their own solutions which give their citizens the greatest choice at the lowest cost. If you've followed the process in recent weeks, you are aware that the objections to the decision came from state legislators who have been lobbied by Microsoft and not from very many others.

      Sure, it's Microsoft's detractors who are speaking out in favor of the decision -- and who objected before XML was removed from the list for not being 'open enough'. And it's Microsoft's competitors (primarily Sun & IBM) who were lobbying for ODF while Microsoft sat on its hands. So?

      (Microsoft had its chance to head this off at the pass but they sent a representiative with no authrotiy to make strategic decisions for Micrsoft. They should have sent Steve Ballmer. Microsoft has since been told -- in no uncertian terms -- that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is more than happy to put Microsoft back on the list if Microsoft opens up the XML specification to other ISVs. Or, alternatively, Microsoft can support ODF.)

      My point is not that Microsoft is evil or stepping outside its bounds by protecting its interests. Microsoft is run by smart people who know the threat posed by their supporting ODF in Office 12.

      Forget about OpenOffice, it's the threat posed by IBM and Sun suddenly competing in the desktop productivity space that Microsoft is be concerned about. And, it is the threat of Linux displacing Windows on a significant number of government-owned desktops worldwide.

      What can Microsoft do to prevent the decision from standing?

      1) They can lobby legislators -- but that only affects the decisions made by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and has no positive affect on other states and muncipalities worldwide who are already critical of Microsoft. They tried this heavy-handed approach anyway and it only got them more bad press.

      2) They can take the Adobe approach -- provide free cross-platform document readers to anyone with any platform anywhere. That is how PDF got on the ETRM list of approved formats -- and why PDF will be supported by Office 12.

      3) They can open the XML schema and seek certification through international standards bodies. And they can agree not to sue anyone utilizing the XML specification as published.

      Microsoft ultimately chose option (3) for good reason. First, unlike option (2), it permits Microsoft to continue to control for which platforms it must write code and provide support. Second, it sends the message to governments worldwide that have frowned upon Microsoft in the past that they are ready to cooperate.

      The entire point of my article is that only a few weeks ago, Microsoft was ADAMANT that it was not going to support ODF or open its XML specification further. THEY BLINKED! And it was a smart move! Whether or not it has the desired affect remains to be seen.
      M Wagner
      • Blinking.

        The change that Microsoft agreed to make does not, I believe, fully satisfy the requirements set by a few officials in MA.

        But the Governor of the State, those officials' boss, issued a statement saying he was optimistic that Microsoft will be accepted by the standards group(s) and so will qualify.

        If I'm reading that correctly, and admittedly I'm going by published reports, then who blinked?


        And why would the Governor be optimistic that he has an out?

        Isn't it reasonable to guess that the government of the State of MA does not want to exclude Microsoft products on what for most people is an obscure issue?

        Also, forcing a company to give up control of its IP may not appeal in principle to people who spend a great deal of time trying to encourage money-making businesses.

        And ODF and other OD's involve a brand new way of doing things for people who are used to what they're doing, at least, and may not be willing to sacrifice a lot for a principle they value little. If they know and understand it at all.



        Too bad this topic couldn't be continued before it disappears from this set of blog listings entirely.
        Anton Philidor