Microsoft calls IBM hypocritical on document standards

Redmond publishes open letter accusing Big Blue of blocking ISO from considering Office Open XML as document standard.
Written by Martin LaMonica, Contributor
Microsoft is accusing rival IBM of orchestrating a campaign to block efforts to standardize Office document formats.

In an open letter released Wednesday, Microsoft executives contend that IBM is trying to influence the standards process to limit choice. It also said that IBM is encouraging governments to mandate a document format that IBM favors.

The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) is in the process of evaluating Microsoft's Office Open XML (OOXML)--the default document formats in Microsoft Office 2007--as a standard. Such a ratification would be significant, particularly to governments that favor ISO certification for digital documents.

IBM and other Microsoft competitors favor OpenDocument Format (ODF), a format that has been standardized at the ISO. Government customers, including Massachusetts and some European countries, back ODF.

Microsoft contends that IBM is trying "to force ODF on users through public procurement mandates," which would have a negative effect on customers and the marketplace.

The open letter is signed by Tom Robertson, Microsoft's general manager for interoperability and standards, and by Jean Paoli, the company's general manager of interoperability and XML architecture.

In an interview with CNET News.com, Robertson said that IBM is "orchestrating a broad-based campaign" to prevent the ISO from even considering OOXML for standardization.

"We see a level of hypocrisy in IBM's activities...They have long called on us to standardize formats, make the IP (intellectual property) freely available to the broader community, and we've done it. Now that that is done, they are putting a lot of resources to block standardization" of OOXML, Robertson said. "IBM is fundamentally on the wrong side of the industry."

Contacted on Tuesday, an IBM representative declined to comment via phone or e-mail.

In the past, IBM representatives--and other Microsoft foes--have called OOXML technically flawed and not fully "open" because it is controlled by Microsoft.

Robertson said that Microsoft chose to publish the letter to "shine a light" on IBM's activities. He noted that IBM was the only representative to vote against making OOXML a standard at Ecma International, another Europe-based standards body.

He declined to offer more details on IBM's activities because the ISO standardization process is closed.

"Part of (the open letter) is to highlight what IBM is doing and its fundamentally negative implications for customers and the industry as a whole," Robertson said.

Following standardization late last year at Ecma, Microsoft submitted Open XML to ISO through its "fast-track" process, which takes several months.

During an initial 30-day comment period, which ended earlier this month, there were 20 country representatives at ISO that made "contradictions," or comments, on the Open XML specification, according to people familiar with the proceedings. The comments, which could be minor, came from nearly one-third of the total 66 country representatives at the ISO, according to Andrew Updegrove, an attorney at Gesmer Updegrove and a standards expert.

Comments on the ISO submission are expected to be made public by the end of February.

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