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Thursday, August 28 2014 @ 08:13 AM CDT

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ODF vs. OOXML: War of the Words Chapter 5

ODF vs. OOXML:  War of the Words (an eBook)

This is the fifth chapter in a real-time eBook writing project I launched and explained in late November.   Constructive comments, corrections and suggestions are welcome.  All product names used below are registered trademarks of their vendors.

Chapter 5:  Open Standards

One of the two articles of faith that Eric Kriss and Peter Quinn embraced in drafting their evolving Enterprise Technical Reference Model (ETRM) was this:  products built to "open standards" are more desirable than those that aren't.  Superficially, the concept made perfect sense – only buy products that you can mix and match.  That way, you can take advantage of both price competition as well as a wide selection of alternative products from multiple vendors, each with its own value-adding features.  And if things don't work out, well, you're not locked in, and can swap out the loser and shop for a winner.

But did that make as much sense with routers and software as it did with light bulbs and lamps?  And in any event, if this was such a great idea, why hadn't their predecessors been demanding open standards-based products for years?  Finally, what exactly was that word "open" supposed to mean?

To answer these questions properly requires a brief hop, skip and jump through the history of standards, from their origins up to the present.  And that's what this chapter is about.

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ODF vs. OOXML: War of the Words Chapter 4

ODF vs. OOXML:  War of the Words (an eBook)

This is the fourth chapter in a real-time eBook writing project I launched and explained in late November.   Constructive comments, corrections and suggestions are welcome.  All Microsoft product names used below are registered trademarks of Microsoft.

Chapter  4 –  Eric Kriss, Peter Quinn and the ETRM

By the end of December 2005, I had been blogging on ODF developments in Massachusetts for about four months, providing interviews, legal analysis and news as it happened.  In those early days, not many bloggers were covering the ODF story, and email began to come my way from people that I had never met before, from as far away as Australia, and as near as the State House in Boston.  Some began with, "This seems really important – what can I do to help?"  Others contained important information that someone wanted to share, and that I was happy to receive.

One such email arrived just before Christmas in 2005.  In its entirety, it read:

Enjoy reading your consortiuminfo blog ... keep it up.
Happy New Year,
Eric Kriss

This was a pleasant and welcome surprise.  Until the end of September, Eric Kriss had been the Massachusetts Secretary of Administration and Finance, and therefore Peter Quinn's boss.  Together, they had conceived, architected and launched the ambitious IT upgrade roadmap that in due course incorporated ODF into the state's procurement guidelines.

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ODF vs. OOXML: War of the Words Chapter 3

ODF vs. OOXML:  War of the Words (an eBook)

This is the third chapter in a real-time eBook writing project I launched and explained in late November.   Constructive comments, corrections and suggestions are welcome.  All Microsoft product names used below are registered trademarks of Microsoft.

This chapter was revised at 8:30 AM on 12/11/07, most significantly by adding the "Lessons applied" section.

Chapter 3:  What a Difference a Decade Can Make

In 1980, Microsoft was a small software vendor that had built its business primarily on downsizing mainframe programming languages to a point where they could be used to program the desktop computers that were then coming to market.  The five year old company had total revenues of $7,520,720, and BASIC, its first product, was still its most successful.  By comparison, Apple Computer had already reached sales of $100 million, and the same year launched the largest public offering since the Ford Motor Company had itself gone public some twenty-four years before.  Microsoft was therefore far smaller than the company that Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak had formed a year after Bill Gates and Paul Allen sold their first product.

Moreover, in the years to come, PC-based word processing products like WordStar, and then WordPerfect, would become far more popular than Microsoft's own first word processing (originally called Multitool Word), providing low-cost alternatives to the proprietary minicomputer based software offerings of vendors like Wang Laboratories.  IBM, too, provided a word processing program for the PC called DisplayWriter.  That software was based on a similar program that IBM had developed for its mainframe systems customers.  More importantly, another program was launched at just the right time to dramatically accelerate the sale of IBM PCs and their clones.  That product was the legendary "killer app" of the IBM PC clone market:  Lotus 1-2-3, the spreadsheet software upon which Mitch Kapor built the fortunes of his Lotus Development Corporation

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ODF vs. OOXML: War of the Words Chapter 2

ODF vs. OOXML:  War of the Words (an eBook)

This is the second chapter in a real-time eBook writing project I launched and explained last week.  The following is one of a number of stage-setting chapters to follow.  Comments, corrections and suggestions gratefully accepted.  All Microsoft product names used below are registered trademarks of Microsoft.

Chapter 2 – Products, Innovation and Market Share

Microsoft is the envy of many vendors for the hugely dominant position it enjoys in two key product areas:  PC desktop operating systems – the software that enables and controls the core functions of personal computers - and "office productivity software" – the software applications most often utilized by PC users, whether at work or at home, to create documents, slides and spreadsheets and meet other common needs.  Microsoft's 90% plus market share in such fundamental products is almost unprecedented in the technical marketplace, and this monopoly position enables it to charge top dollar for such software.  It also makes it easy for Microsoft to sell other products and services to the same customers.

Microsoft acquired this enviable position in each case through a combination of luck, single-minded determination, obsessive attention to detail, and a willingness to play the game fast and hard – sometimes hard enough to attract the attention of both Federal and state antitrust regulators.  Early on, Bill Gates and his team  acquired a reputation for bare-knuckle tactics that they sometimes seemed to wear with brash pride.  Eventually, these tactics (as well as tales of Gate's internal management style) progressed from industry rumors to the stuff of best sellers, like Hard Drive: Bill Gates and the Making of the Microsoft Empire

With the  emergence of the Web, of course, the opportunity for widely sharing stories, both real (of which there were many) and apocryphal, exploded.  Soon Web sites such as Say No to Monopolies: Boycott Microsoft enthusiastically collected and posted tales of alleged technological terror and dirty deeds.  More staid collections were posted at sites such as the Wikipedia.  The increasing tide of litigation involving Microsoft, launched not only by state and federal regulators but by private parties as well, generated embarrassing documents.  Such original sources were not only difficult to deny, but almost impossible to repress in the age of the Web - and of peer to peer file sharing as well.

Moreover, while Bill Gates and his co-founders rarely displayed the creative and innovative flair of contemporaries like Apple's Steve Jobs, neither were they troubled by the type of "not invented here" bias that sometimes led other vendors to pursue unique roads that sometimes led to dead ends.

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ODF vs. OOXML: War of the Words (an eBook in Process)

ODF vs. OOXML:  War of the Words (an eBook)

For some time I've been considering writing a book about what has become a standards war of truly epic proportions.  I refer, of course, to the ongoing, ever expanding, still escalating conflict between ODF and OOXML, a battle that is playing out across five continents and in both the halls of government and the marketplace alike.  And, needless to say, at countless blogs and news sites all the Web over as well.

Arrayed on one side or the other, either in the forefront of battle or behind the scenes, are most of the major IT vendors of our time.  And at the center of the conflict is Microsoft, the most successful software vendor of all time, faced with the first significant challenge ever to ione of its core businesses and profit centers – its flagship Office productivity suite.