Microsoft admits to standards ignorance pre-OOXML

Microsoft admits to standards ignorance pre-OOXML

Summary: The company has admitted it had no experience or specific personnel dedicated to software standards prior to getting OOXML approved by the ISO

TOPICS: Tech Industry

Microsoft has admitted that, despite being one of the dominant names in IT for over 30 years, it had little or no experience or expertise around software standards until the company was mid-way through the process of getting Office Open XML approved by the International Organization for Standardization.

Speaking at a panel debate, at a Red Hat conference in Boston, entitled 'The OOXML battle: Who really won?', Microsoft national technology officer Stuart McKee admitted that the company had no specific department or individuals focused solely on standards prior to beginning the process of fast-tracking Office Open XML (OOXML) to become officially recognised by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO).

"We found ourselves so far down the path of the standardisation process with no knowledge. We don't have a standards office. We didn't have a standards department in the company," said McKee. "I think the one thing that we would acknowledge and that we were frustrated with is that, by the time we realised what was going on and the competitive environment that was underway, we were late and there was a lot of catch-up."

The comments came partly in response to a question concerning whether the company regretted actions reportedly taken to try and encourage partners and allies to join national standards bodies in the run-up to voting around OOXML.

According to the Free Software Foundation, standards bodies in Sweden, Germany, Portugal, the Netherlands and the US were all influenced by Microsoft during the voting process.

"Membership of the Swiss body saw a surprising growth before the vote, while in Sweden a very similar thing happened; suddenly the room was overcrowded with Microsoft partners," Free Software Foundation Europe president Georg Greve told in August 2007. "Microsoft stuffed the ballot boxes in Sweden; the room was crammed with Microsoft 'yes' men. Special interest groups were formed in Germany to speed up the process."

However, McKee said Microsoft did not regret any of its actions during the voting process and claimed the company was merely trying to catch up with a process that it had very little experience of.

"I think the thing is that Microsoft was really, really late to this game," he said. "It was very difficult to enter into conversations around the world where the debate had already been framed."

Microsoft's OOXML specification was initially approved as a standard by ISO in April this year. However, the process has now been stalled after four countries — South Africa, Brazil, Venezuela and India — appealed against the decision, claiming a flawed balloting process.

Despite the difficulties with getting OOXML approved, McKee claimed that Microsoft would be getting involved in two further standards processes in the near future.

"Are we going to develop products that no-one else has and be first to market? Absolutely, and we will continue to do that," he said. "There is a whole conversation coming around high-definition photos and Microsoft is presenting another standard around extensible paper specification that is really more related to PDF, which is going to get Adobe particularly excited."

The reference made to 'extensible paper specification' refers to Microsoft's XML Paper Specification, also known as XPS, which first came to light in 2006 and is included in Vista and Office 2007. Adobe and Microsoft have been involved in a legal tussle around XPS ever since 2006, as the specification is considered a rival to Adobe's PDF format.

Topic: Tech Industry

Andrew Donoghue

About Andrew Donoghue

"If I'd written all the truth I knew for the past ten years, about 600 people - including me - would be rotting in prison cells from Rio to Seattle today. Absolute truth is a very rare and dangerous commodity in the context of professional journalism."

Hunter S. Thompson

Andrew Donoghue is a freelance technology and business journalist with over ten years on leading titles such as Computing, SC Magazine, BusinessGreen and

Specialising in sustainable IT and technology in the developing world, he has reported and volunteered on African aid projects, as well as working with charitable organisations such as the UN Foundation and Computer Aid.

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  • Wow! MS admitting something.

    That was rather obvious from all the comments posted at the time, but it is surprising to hear them (M$) admit to it then say that they will learn from this experience and extend their standard business practices into this area (Standards).

    However, their 'inexperience' is hardly justification for the tactics they employed to get OOXML adopted as a Fast Tracked Standard, as implied by Stuart McKee. Or is this all just a snow job!

    From the article above, it does seem that M$ do not propose to change vis-a vis their aggressive business model which they are now, apparently, proposing to extend into ' Standards'. Never one to miss an opportunity, even when they come late; embrace, extend and etc.

    I feel, as usual, that we need to turn the stone over and look for the worms underneath.
    The Former Moley
  • Re: Microsoft admits something shocker

    It was strange to see Microsoft at such a pro open source conference and I really questioned what their motivation was as I am not sure they managed to have much effect on most of the audience's attitudes to Redmond. The questions were quite hostile
    Andrew Donoghue
  • Microsoft did not regret any of its actions.

    I think this tells all you need to know about the Redmond empire. Even when caught with their hands in the cookie jar they have done nothing wrong, the only thing they are sorry about is the fact they were caught. Admitting to ignorance is like buying votes to them, alls fair as long as they get their way. No morals equals good business.
  • They did admit one thing...

    As I pointed out in an earlier blog, Microsoft's McKee did say that "ODF had won". However, he didn't actually go so far to say OOXML had lost, and didn't rule out the idea that the two standards (well one standard and one would-be standard) may merge in the future. What form this merging would take is unclear but OOXML supporters would obviously see this as a long-term failure if it was to come about.
    Andrew Donoghue
  • What a load of manure!!

    Seriously, does anyone believe that Microsoft 'didnt know'?

    As far as excuses, this ranks right up there with 'my dog ate my homework'.
    Im not going to into why since Andy Updegrove does such a good job:
    And the update at then end is the cherry on the sundae from the horse's mouth (i always wanted to mix metaphors like that)

    But I do want to thank the author for a good laugh,.. the article was passed around at our regular friday meetings and got bigger laughs than Mike Myers did this week. Those in our IT dept who have been members of standards organizations over the past 2 decades alongside with Microsoft employees really found it funny.

    This was a fluff piece. When you repeat word for word without asking any questions as if it was a press release, you're a fluffer.
  • Reporting what was said.

    Thanks for your comment.

    This is a News article - that means I report on what is said in an un-bias way. That means reporting what the Microsoft representative had to say when questioned about why so many people believed the voting process around OOXML was flawed.

    If you read the article, you can see that Microsoft made the comments about their standards ignorance, in response to a question
    Andrew Donoghue
  • And Matusow says that Microsoft is still pushing for OOXML...


    Another interesting thing from Jason Matusow's post is the assesrtion that Microsoft is still pushing ahead just as hard for "standard OOXML", even though it is delayed till the next Office version.

    I'm not sure whether to read that as the usual assertion that an obviously sidelined effort is still "critical to the company", or a misunderstanding of just how big a blow to OOXML this delay is.

    Either way, it's not that convincing.