Last Friday I thought I could sneak a few days of backcountry hiking in over a weekend without neglecting the news and my site too badly. But as soon as I was able to connect my laptop again late today, I learned how wrong I could be. So here goes with my effort to catch up.
The first item that broke over the weekend was the not wholly unanticipated news that ISO/IEC Joint Technical Committee 1 (JTC1) has approved ECMA 376 (a/k/a the format formerly known as Microsoft OOXML) to progress into the five month second phase of the Fast Track process. That story appears to have been first reported by Eric Lai, at ComputerWorld. And the second and third stories that I've noticed (so far) are by Carol Sliwa, also of ComputerWorld. In the first, Carol once again interviews Louis Gutierrez, the former Massachusetts CIO. And in the second, she reports on a poll of CIO's in which she asked whether they would consider implementing ODF.
Both of these journalists have provided excellent coverage to the ODF/OOXML story. It always pays to pay special attention when they have something to say, because each has provided some of the most carefully researched stories. Lately, Eric has been first to break several stories, while Carol went to the trouble last summer of filing the Massachusetts' equivalent of Freedom of Information Act requests that uncovered the real facts regarding Microsoft's lobbying (and more) in Massachusetts. And in the "welcome back" department, PJ at Groklaw (who has also followed ODF and OOXML tirelessly) weighs in with her own insights on several of these stories here.
I'll take a look at Eric's story first, and see if I can provide any additional context. Eric reports that Lisa Rajchel, of ISO's JTC1, made the announcement Saturday in an email that OOXML would proceed on schedule, despite the unusual level of commentary received from qualified ISO/IEC members, many of whom had objected to the brief time (30 days) allowed to digest the over 6,000 page specification.
It is not surprising that OOXML will advance to the next phase of the process, but one could wonder whether Microsoft is being smart or foolish in pressing forward at full speed in the ISO/IEC process (Eric titled his piece, "Microsoft guns OpenXML onto fast track"). On the one hand, if it is successful, it will be able to confront ODF in as little as five months with an initial indication that OOXML will, in fact, achieve parity on the global standards stage (final, full approval will take additional time, but will be a foregone conclusion after the initial up or down vote). But on the other, if Microsoft insists that the process proceed in the minimum time available, there is the potential for some countries to vote no in protest, or at minimum to abstain. I haven't gone back to check the rules, but according to Eric's article, "For a proposed standard to be approved by the ISO, no more than one-third of JTC-1, or 10 countries, can vote against it. Meanwhile, no more than one quarter of ISO’s 157 members that cast their vote -- non-JTC-1 member countries may abstain -- can vote against it."
By pressing forward, Microsoft has squandered an opportunity to resolve some of the objections leveled against OOXML (the Ecma response rebuts all objections, rather than resolves them). Had it desired to do so, some (although certainly not all) of the reservations and contradictions raised might have been resolved rather than negated. In effect, Microsoft is rolling the dice that it will be able to push OOXML through, notwithstanding any objections to the contrary.
Is that a wise bet? Perhaps not. As I reported a few weeks ago, at least one country has already said "Enough!" That country is South Africa, which on February 2 requested a discussion at an upcoming ISO/IEC meeting of what it saw as a disturbing trend, stating in part as follows:
South Africa is concerned about what seems to be a growing number of standards submitted under the PAS process that, although publically [sic] available, do not seem to have any measure of regional or even national consensus…As result of this, South Africa will tend to vote negatively on all future PAS submissions to JTC 1 where they have not been [vetted by an appropriate ICO committee]….This will be a change from our previous tendency to 'abstain' where we had no direct knowledge of the submission.
If in fact OOXML fails to pass on a first vote, it will be great blow to Microsoft's efforts to shore up its Office hegemony. If it does pass, of course, its bet will pay off, and it will have played its hand wisely indeed.
Meanwhile, at this year's ComputerWorld Premier 100 IT Leaders Conference last week, Carol Sliwa interviewed Louis Gutierrez, asking him for further details regarding his tenure as Massachusetts CIO from February to November of last year. You should read Carol's complete interview, which includes Louis' career-long favorable, but in the Massachusetts' breach negative, comments about Microsoft, as well as his other insights. For this entry, I'll simply include an excerpt that highlights the integrity of someone that I admired from first to last during his tenure as CIO:
Do you have any regrets about resigning when you did? There are things I regret and things I don’t regret. Last year was about, in a way, me using my reputation to defend the agency. And the last act of that was using my reputation and resignation to publicly highlight the funding shortfall issue. So I don’t regret having done that, because I do think the issue needed highlighting. In all candor, it is painful for any CIO to resign, much less resign publicly, and that’s the cost of the choices. But I would make the same choices.
Louis was one of for panelists in a conference aptly titled "Defining Moments in IT Leadership," about which you can read more here.
In a story datelined Monday and titled, Microsoft's Office Dominance is in no immediate peril, Carol begins:
The governments of Massachusetts, Belgium and Hong Kong are game to try the Open Document Format for Office Applications. But in corporations from Honolulu to Los Angeles to Cincinnati, there’s scant usage and little planning for it….But Computerworld polls of IT managers suggest that Microsoft’s stranglehold on the office applications market isn’t in any imminent danger.
At last week’s Premier 100 IT Leaders Conference in Palm Desert, Calif., a whopping 88% of 210 respondents to an electronic poll indicated they either hadn’t considered an alternative to Office or had done so only casually.
Is that surprising? I wouldn't think so, given that most CIOs would not have heard of ODF a hear and a half ago. ODF is still a relative newborn, having been adopted by OASIS less than two years ago, and by ISO/IEC on a preliminary basis only last May. Had the same poll been taken in Europe, I expect that the number of considerati would have been more than double, and in the third world, far higher. Early adopters are more likely to hail from those extremely large markets rather than the Fortune 100. And in the future, interest may rise in those ranks as well. Consider the following, for example, from the same article:
The desktop plans at The Procter & Gamble Co., one of the bellwethers among large IT buyers, illustrate why ODF is struggling in the private sector. The Cincinnati-based consumer goods giant employs 140,000 people, and, because of its size, finds it difficult to make dramatic changes, said Filippo Passerini, P&G’s global services officer and CIO.
This year, P&G will roll out the time-tested Office 2003 across the company, not the new Office 2007. Although Passerini said that he remains open-minded about the potential of ODF, he noted that P&G will continue to use Office’s default formats for now.
“If in two, three, five years, there is a significant opportunity to do something different, we’ll see when the time comes,” Passerini said.
Needless to say, a decision to upgrade to a four year old version of Office could be considered to fall at the, shall we say, conservative end of the spectrum.
I expect that I'll run into even more news I've missed as I try and catch up, but meantime, my hat's off to ComputerWorld for some good reporting, as well as for including ODF on the roster of topics to explore at their conference last week.
For further blog entries on ODF and OOXML, click here