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 Standards Organisation (ISO).
After initially being rejected in September 2007, Microsoft has a second chance to have its next generation document format become an international standard in February at a Ballot Resolution Meeting in Geneva.
While criticism of Microsoft's efforts to promote the standard have come from a variety of quarters, Microsoft senior director of XML technology, Jean Paoli, accused IBM of masterminding the attack.
"Let's be very clear," he 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."
IBM was the member of European standards group ECMA (out of over 21) to vote against the approval of Open XML as an ECMA standard. Microsoft claims its competitor has since opted for more covert tactics to influence the ISO vote.
Nicos Tsilas, senior director 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 ODF (Open Document Format) standard to the exclusion of any other format.
"They have made this a religious and highly political debate," he 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, he said.
Debate over the legitimacy of the standard has been framed within a battle for 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 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," he 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," he said. "When it was voted as an ANSI (American national standard) 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.