Microsoft accused of stacking ISO committee

Microsoft accused of stacking ISO committee

Summary: "The days of open standards development are fast disappearing. Instead we are getting 'standardization by corporation', something I have been fighting against for the 20 years I have served on ISO committees," wrote Martin Bryan.

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Martin Bryan, ISO Governor, JTC 1/SC 34 WG1Microsoft's strong-arming of the ISO process regarding Open XML, the proprietary format of Microsoft Office, may be destroying its legitimacy. (Picture from the IS-Thought Group.)

In a memo sent following his last meeting as head of the working group on WG1, which is handling Microsoft's application to make the Word format an ISO standard as ECMA 376, outgoing Governor Martin Bryan (above), an expert on SGML and XML, accused the company of stacking his group.

At issue is a sudden influx of so-called P members to the body, "whose only interest is the fast-tracking of ECMA 376," Bryan wrote. The P members are not voting on anything else, preventing it from moving on any other work.

Bryan suggested that unless the ISO tightens its membership rules to eliminate the abuse its work should be passed on to OASIS, and he closed with this:

The disparity of rules for PAS, Fast-Track and ISO committee generated standards is fast making ISO a laughing stock in IT circles. The days of open standards development are fast disappearing. Instead we are getting “standardization by corporation”, something I have been fighting against for the 20 years I have served on ISO committees. I am glad to be retiring before the situation becomes impossible.

Is making Microsoft's Open XML format a standard so important that Microsoft is willing to destroy the ISO process to win it?

Topics: Microsoft, Enterprise Software

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32 comments
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  • Doubtful

    [i]Microsoft?s strong-arming of the ISO process regarding Open XML, the proprietary format of Microsoft Office, may be destroying its legitimacy.[/i]

    I don't see this doing any harm at all to Microsoft's legitimacy.
    Yagotta B. Kidding
    • Its in this case refers to the ISO

      Sorry for the lack of clarity there. It's been a long day.
      DanaBlankenhorn
      • I should apologize

        I was being deliberately obtuse. The point remains that any harm to ISO is at worst no harm to MS, and arguably beneficial to them. In the absence of [i]de jure[/i] standards bodies such as ISO, the [i]de facto[/i] authority of other powers (notably Microsoft) increases.

        In the ideal case, of course, MS would enjoy the kind of Crown monopoly that John Company once did, largely unconstrained but backed by the might and majesty of the State, no others need apply.
        Yagotta B. Kidding
        • Wow Zealotry at it's best. (NT)

          (NT)
          ju1ce
          • Not at all

            The naked self-interest model has always been the best for explaining/predicting MS' behavior. Yagotta's point was that the only thing that MS cares about is MS. The sad thing is that that's really the only safe position a large corporation can take.
            John L. Ries
          • Unfortunately...

            ...you are completely right.

            :^(

            Threepio to Artoo: "...we seem to have been made to suffer."
            thx-1138_
          • How so?

            I merely point out that it's unreasonble to expect Microsoft's management to ignore their fiscal and legal responsibility to their shareholders in favor of some "process" that doesn't benefit the owners of the Company.

            If you think that MS exists for charitable, rather than business, purposes then I suggest that you start your search for zealots in the mirror.
            Yagotta B. Kidding
        • You have it exactly wrong

          If Microsoft wanted to harm the ISO they would simply ignore it and its standards, and impose their de facto standards. They've been there, done that.

          But things have changed, and Microsoft has now switched tactics 180 degrees. Their actions re the ISO in this case quite clearly show that they care a great deal about the ISO and its standards. They're desperate to get ISO endorsement for their standard, and they're calling in every IOU to make it happen. That doesn't support the idea that Microsoft regards the ISO as irrelevant. They quite clearly believe that industry standards are important; they simply want to make sure that other people don't set them, to Microsoft's disadvantage. And when they can, they'll use their clout in the market to get the ISO to support standards with which only Microsoft products can comply.
          degrootp
          • Please read carefully

            [i]Their actions re the ISO in this case quite clearly show that they care a great deal about the ISO and its standards.[/i]

            But I didn't write that [u]ISO[/u] or [u]ISO standards[/u] are of no value to Microsoft, only that the [u]ISO standards process[/u] is.

            Preferably Microsoft could get ISO standards holy water sprinkled on anything they wanted blessed. If necessary, pay a chunk of petty cash for the "ISO Seal of Approval." Ideally, they could prevent all others from getting the same endorsement, so a simple (but large) price tag might well be optimal.
            Yagotta B. Kidding
          • Said without laughing???

            "Their actions re the ISO in this case quite clearly show that they care a great deal about the ISO and its standards."

            Are you serious about this statement??? Are you watching the same developments the rest of the world is???? MS is interested in getting ISO recognition, nothing else, and not legitimately at that! Think of this as being as close as ballot box stuffing as MS can barely legally get, and you catch the drift.

            Aaaahahahahahaha!! Just thinking of the idea that you think MS wants to be perfectly legitimate in view of their actions makes me laugh until milk shoots out of my nose!
            kingttx
  • Where's the downside?

    [i]Is making Microsoft?s Open XML format a standard so important that Microsoft is willing to destroy the ISO process to win it?[/i]

    How much of Microsoft's market cap does "the ISO process" constitute? I rather suspect that the answer is quite a bit less than "departmental coffee fund." If so, Microsoft's management has no more obligation to preserve it than they do that coffee fund, and arguably less.
    Yagotta B. Kidding
    • The ISO process is important...

      ...to a lot more people than Microsoft. Destroying it solely on corporate self-interest is bad mojo.
      DanaBlankenhorn
      • Zero sum

        [i]The ISO process is important to a lot more people than Microsoft. Destroying it solely on corporate self-interest is bad mojo.[/i]

        So what you're saying is that since it's of no value to Microsoft, damage to the ISO process is a net competitive gain: it hurts others but not them.

        As I asked before: where's the downside? I mean, of course, from Microsoft's standpoint since they're the ones making the decisions in question.
        Yagotta B. Kidding
        • Only another embrace before the extend

          This is only a step in their embrace/extend/destroy mantra. Since FOSS is becoming such a strong force in todays software world, MS says "Me too!!" while kicking children and kittens out of the way in their haste to keep from losing customer base. Problem is, they cannot change their spots. They are still hacking and slashing at other true Open Source projects (especially Linux), undermining as much as they can. It is as genuine as cramming all the trash into a closet and telling your spouse, "Sure, I took out the trash!" It just takes time for the stench to leak out.
          kingttx
    • Microsoft should have absolutely

      NO bearing on the standards process. Seems it's going the same route as our politicians. Lobbying and being bought out.

      Fantastic :P
      ju1ce
      • Standards bodies are judges

        Using elections and politics in the selection of judges only transforms justice into a market good.

        Just us.
        DanaBlankenhorn
      • What we have here is a weakness in the system

        The goal of the typical standards process is to facilitate the creation of rules that promote interoperability among competing products. The normal assumption is that those participating actually want this, but that's not always correct, so it's important to have procedures in place to guard against parties seeking to employ the system to either frustrate the creation of open standards, or to promote the creation of pseudo-open standards for their own benefit. Recent events suggest that the ISO's anti-subversion procedures are inadequate.

        It's well known that MS' business model involves doing whatever is possible to insure that their customers have nowhere else to go. It's therefore not surprising that they would game standards processes in support of this goal. It's the job of standards bodies to prevent it, so the leaders of ISO and ECMA bear considerable responsibility for what has transpired.
        John L. Ries
        • Evolution

          [i]The goal of the typical standards process is to facilitate the creation of rules that promote interoperability among competing products.[/i]

          Ah, but the new approach is an evolution on that idea: a meta-standard as it were. The new objective is to have competing [u]standards[/u], each with only one implementation [1]. As a result, customers don't have to go through the selection process twice (once for the standard and once for the implementation); they pick one or the other and they're done. Much more efficient. Especially if someone else does the choosing.

          To use the inevitable automotive analogy: nobody picks out air filters and then selects a car that uses it. The important thing is, after all, the car itself. Likewise, the major purchase is the software, with the file formats being accessories.

          This is, after all, the way most businesses operate. They decide on a vendor for their mail systems, and that vendor chooses whatever file system their product uses. Thanks in part to archaic purchasing laws, governments aren't as efficient as businesses and can't always write RFPs for "Microsoft Flight Simulator" or whatever [2].

          That's where this is all coming from: the introduction of political issues and mob rule into a system that has worked nicely for decades with decisions being made quietly and efficiently over golf and brandy.

          [1] As Brian Jones points out, DIS-29500 is inextricably bound to the implementation of Microsoft Office: there is a one-to-one relationship between the files and the structure of the software that produces them.
          [2] Sometimes they do, and sometimes they run into silly legal objections from companies like Corel that can't compete where it counts: in the Lincoln Bedroom.
          Yagotta B. Kidding
          • I appreciate the sarcasm

            I don't think John Carroll will, but I don't think his take on this makes a lot of sense anyway. "Competing standards, each with only one implementation", are, of course, not standards at all, but rather a species of fraud (you did know that hypocrisy is sometimes a fiduciary duty).
            John L. Ries
          • John might

            [i]I don't think John Carroll will[/i]

            ... but then he wasn't who I had in mind.
            Yagotta B. Kidding