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."
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.
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