Attending a session at the Red Hat conference in Boston recently, I got to witness a Microsoft exec brave, or with enough front, to step into what can only be seen as enemy territory for any Redmondite.
Microsoft national technology officer Stuart McKee was there to take part in a panel a debate about OOXML – probably one of the most divisive issues his employer has been involved in a while – and it has been involved in a few.
During the panel debate McKee said:
"We don't have a standards office. We didn't have a standards department in the company. 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."
"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."
This kind of admission was surprising to hear in some ways but not in others. Microsoft doesn't exactly have a strong-pedigree of playing well with others, let alone the intricacies of standards processes.
Anyway – the idea that Microsoft was completely unprepared for the furore around OOXML was believable to a degree but not having any standards expertise didn't quite ring true – nevertheless that is what McKee said and our job is to report those kinds of comments.
However one of his colleagues at Microsoft – Jason Matusow - found the comments odd, obviously blaming inaccuracies in reporting, given that he actually works on standards and interoperability for the organisation.
He had this to say about the story:
"More than eight years ago, a corporate standards organization was formed in the company to help product teams be better participants in standards orgs, to make more strategic decisions about what and where to contribute specifications, and how to deal with the legal issues surrounding standards bodies (there is an entire specialization in the legal field for this kind of work believe it or not).
Currently, the standards organization at Microsoft has more than 25 full-time employees in it and is focused not only on standards, but how the company thinks about interoperability and standards as a whole. What's more, because we are active in more than 150 standards orgs at any one time, and more than 400 overall - we have more than 600 product team and field employees who have been internally certified for standards work (and most of them are active in some committee or other). Our products have supported literally more than 10,000 standards and we have contributed specifications in the areas of development languages, runtimes, networking protocols, systems management, hardware, mobility, document formats, security,...the list goes on. "
I think the thing to talk about here – is how much expertise did Microsoft have around standards pre-OOXML. I guess it doesn't make sense to think they were as bad at is as McKee claims – his excuse for why they played "catch-up" so hard and alienated so many standards bodies in the process around claims of vote-rigging – but although Microsoft has obviously been involved in standards processes for 20 years, that doesn't translate to them being expert in it or having a specific department.
At the end of the day, my role as a reporter is to report what was said – and a Microsoft spokesperson did say that the company "found ourselves so far down the path of the standardisation process with no knowledge." While this may not be an accurate reflection of the true-state of Microsoft – the comments were made.