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Nice Standard You've Got There (Hate to see you use itů)

OpenDocument and OOXML
 
My, my, how's anyone with a blog supposed to get his day job done this week? Bob Sutor at IBM just sent me this link to his writeup on Microsoft's latest press release, titled (the press release, that is), "Microsoft Votes for Choice." The lead paragraph reads:
Microsoft Corp. today announced that it has voted to support the addition of OpenDocument Format (ODF) 1.0 to the nonexclusive American National Standards list. The vote took place as part of a process managed by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI).
That's a good thing, right? Well, yes, it is, as far as the vote goes. But when was the last time you saw a vendor issue a press release about one of the many standards votes it casts on an ongoing basis? Bob highlights the language from the press release that makes it clear that the PR motive for the release is to pave the way for the eventual submission of Ecma 376 (the Microsoft OOXML format) for similar approval:
Another new standard that the company anticipates will be approved for ANSI’s list is the recently ratified ECMA Open XML File Formats. Known in standards-body circles as ECMA-376, the new open standard is under review by ISO, with a final vote expected in late 2007 or early 2008 following a ballot vote in early September.
Rather than repeat what Bob has already concisely stated, you should read his argument that we need fewer, rather than more document formats. But I can't help noting one coincidence (?) that strikes me between the timing of this press release and the Fortune article that I wrote about yesterday

There are a couple of points to make in addition to those well-stated by Bob.  First, Microsoft is using the press release to issue this open challenge to ODF supporters: "We're voting for your standard.  So we expect you to vote for ours."

Of course, there's a bit of a back story to this challenge.  You may recall that when ODF was submitted to ISO/IEC JTC1 for adoption, Microsoft joined the INCITS subcommittee entitled to vote on behalf of America for adoption. To its credit, Microsoft then voted in favor of ODF - without even appending any negative reservations. Of course, when OOXML came up for adoption at Ecma, IBM cast the only negative vote against it, as one of the small number of companies entitled to vote to adopt (there were 13 members entitled to vote, if memory serves; I think HP abstained, and the remaining 11 members all voted to approve).

By issuing this press release, Microsoft is therefore making it appear that it is rising above the squabble to do the right thing, and therefore setting the stage to make IBM, Sun, or anyone else that supports ODF look bad if they later vote against OOXML when/if it comes around. Of course, there are differences, and other reasons why companies might vote against OOXML - there already would be an American National Standard, there would presumably still be only one complete implementation of OOXML, and so on.

The press release also fits within the overall spin that Microsoft adopted a few months ago, first presented by Microsoft Office Program Manager Brian Jones' blog, in which he announced that it had become clear that we have "two winners" in the fomat contest - OOXML and ODF.

But there is a second point to note, and this one is more revealing, I think. For the first time (that I'm aware of), Microsoft started talking in the Fortune piece about a specific number of patents – 45 – that it claims OpenOffice (and presumably any other implementation of ODF) would infringe. So on the one hand, Microsoft is saying "Nice standard you've got there," while on the other hand, warning "Implement it if you dare, but only for a price." 

 
How does that grab you?  Well, let's see how Bob Sutor ended his press release blog entry:
I’m not a cynical person by nature and I tried to watch my tone here, but a stunt is a stunt. I had hoped for better.
Hmm. . . I  can't understand where you're coming from at all, Bob. I expect you must have just gotten out of bed on the wrong side this morning.
 
As usual, I've included the press release text in full below, for archival purposes.

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Microsoft Votes for Choice
 
Company backs the addition of ODF to American National Standards list. 
 
REDMOND, Wash. — May 16, 2007 — Microsoft Corp. today announced that it has voted to support the addition of OpenDocument Format (ODF) 1.0 to the nonexclusive American National Standards list. The vote took place as part of a process managed by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI).
 
“We have listened to our customers, and they have told us they want choice, they want interoperability, they want innovation,” said Tom Robertson, general manager for Interoperability and Standards at Microsoft. “The American National Standards list does not include a number of document format standards in wide use today, such as PDF, .doc, RTF and HTML. The inclusion of ODF is just the beginning; we expect the list will grow in the future to reflect the choices customers already have in today’s marketplace.”
 
ANSI oversees the development of standards for products, services, processes and systems in the United States; through its InterNational Committee for Information Technology Standards (INCITS) group, it also coordinates with international groups such as the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) so that American products can be used worldwide. Members of the INCITS executive board include Apple Inc., HP, IBM Corp., Intel Corporation, Microsoft, Oracle Corp. and Sony Corp.
 
Another new standard that the company anticipates will be approved for ANSI’s list is the recently ratified ECMA Open XML File Formats. Known in standards-body circles as ECMA-376, the new open standard is under review by ISO, with a final vote expected in late 2007 or early 2008 following a ballot vote in early September.
 
Open XML File Formats were standardized in ECMA with overwhelming support in December 2006. The ratification of the formats used in the 2007 Microsoft® Office software as an international standard is a boon to customers and governments that want the ability to pick the standard that meets their needs. Already customers and partners from dozens of countries have expressed their support for the new international standard. More information about customers and developers working with the ECMA-376 formats is available at http://www.openxmlcommunity.org and http://openxmldeveloper.org/default.aspx.
 
Microsoft has been diligent in its promotion of choice for governments and industries throughout the process and has undertaken a number of initiatives in that regard. Customers of the 2007 Microsoft Office system have the ability to work with various document formats, including ECMA-376, ODF, PDF and a wide range of other formats either natively or through free add-ins provided by Microsoft to its customers. More information about open source projects to develop translators between ECMA-376 and ODF 1.0 funded by Microsoft is available at http://www.microsoft.com/presspass/press/2006/jul06/07-06OpenSourceProjectPR.mspx.
 
The company also has been collaborating with a wide variety of industry leaders to help enable greater interoperability and wider choice for customers, including working with DIN, the German national standards body, and the Fraunhofer Institute on the creation of a technical report that will help developers who want to translate between the ECMA-376 formats and ODF 1.0 to support interoperability. Further details about the work of DIN and the Fraunhofer Institute are available at http://www.fokus.fraunhofer.de/fokus/fokus/presse/meldungen_fokus/2007/05/DIN-E.pdf.
 
A number of vendors, including Novell Inc. and DataViz Inc., have shipped versions of their own products that support the ECMA-376 formats, while others such as Corel Corp. and Sun Microsystems Inc. have announced plans to do so in the near future. As a result, customers using the Windows® operating system, Linux and Palm platforms will have the ability to choose not only the formats they prefer but also a wide variety of applications that support different existing standards.For further blog entries on ODF and OOXML, click here

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Nice Standard You've Got There (Hate to see you use itů) | 5 comments | Create New Account
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That's a Rather Big Assumption
Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, May 17 2007 @ 11:10 AM CDT
"Microsoft started talking in the Fortune piece about a specific number of patents – 45 – that it claims OpenOffice (and presumably any other implementation of ODF)"

Why in the world would one presume that any other implementation of ODF would also allegedly infringe those patents?  Unless you have some inside knowledge about the patents in question (and I seriously doubt Microsoft would have given you any) for all you know those patents have nothing to do with XML or the document format at all.


- Swashbuckler
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