Greg Stone, Microsoft's national technology officer for Australia and New Zealand, faced the criticism during his presentation at the Australian Unix User Group's Open Computing in Government conference in Canberra. However, he stood firm on the company's policy of making the XML schemas for its Office 2003 document standard publicly available provided interested parties sign an agreement with the software heavyweight.
"Why should I have to sign an agreement?" one audience member demanded to know.
Another participant pointed out the National Archives of Australia had chosen the competing OpenOffice.org document format as the basis for document storage, and called on Microsoft to do the same.
However, Stone said the process was not that easy. "We want to innovate," he said. "Some of the things that we do are not represented easily in XML. We had to ask the question of whether to include backwards compatibility for that [OpenOffice.org] specification. We chose not to."
He added Microsoft had some binary format licensing arrangements with governments for the company's Office document standard. This aided governments with security reviews, archiving issues and the forensic examinations of documents.
Stone argued there was nothing wrong with proprietary standards. "We often hear the words "proprietary standard" as a pejorative," he said. "However, it was the proprietary standards that grew up and allowed those open standards to develop."
He said open and proprietary standards could co-exist, arguing Microsoft promoted common development of standards by sitting on all of the representative bodies working on them.
But one Microsoft rival disagreed. Novell Asia Pacific solutions manager Paul Kangro -- who spoke after Stone -- said it was "fascinating" to be lectured by Microsoft on open standards.
Kangro quoted an unnamed Indian customer of Novell's as saying "why should I have my documents from government in a proprietary format and have to ask a third party for permission to open them?".