Whose Standard Is It, Anyway?
you last week
that Microsoft is talking a lot about document format interoperability
these days and that part of what it's trying to do in order to be -- or at least
seem -- more open is have its document format, Office Open XML, accepted as
a standard by the ISO (and, perhaps not surprisingly, the U.S. delegation to
the ISO seems
to be on board
with the idea). Well, one paragraph in last week's entry
on this subject prompted an insightful e-mail from Bryan, who writes:
"One paragraph in today's newsletter caused me to chuckle, but not
in a 'ha ha, that's funny' way. More of a, 'He's kidding, right?' kind of
"You said: 'Incidentally, Open XML is already a standard, having
been accepted as such in, of all places, Europe, by the ECMA International
standards body. That means that ECMA actually "owns" the format now and that
future evolution of it is in ECMA's hands, not in Microsoft's. If the ISO
accepts Open XML, it'll own the format.'
"I'm not going to get into the numerous conspiracy theories about
ECMA (though they sometimes make amusing reading). The 'funny' part is the
idea that either of the standards bodies could ever 'own' this particular
standard. Let's face it: The standard, as written by Microsoft, is so deeply
and fundamentally linked into the base design and operation of Microsoft Word
that it will always be at the mercy of the proprietary product. The idea that
ISO or ECMA could drive the future of Word is ludicrous.
"Once the standard is approved, it will have to follow the direction
Microsoft leads. That doesn't really sound like ownership to me. Well, maybe
ownership the other way around but certainly not ownership by the standards
bodies. Changes to the standard may require fundamental changes to the way
Word works, and that would be resisted vigorously by Microsoft. And if the
methods in the standard can't change, then Microsoft still owns it...
"I still think this standard, as currently written, is bad for IT. The
links and dependencies on the proprietary product are far too extensive."
First of all, we should have noted, and didn't, that the paragraph above from
last Thursday's RCPU should have been attributed to Tom Robertson, Microsoft's
general manager of interoperability and standards. It was Robertson who explained
at an event in Cambridge, Mass. last week how the whole standards thing is
supposed to work, and we got that paragraph from his explanation.
Beyond that, RCPU is playing off-position a little bit in writing about standards,
as we're not really experts on the subject. However, we're guessing that you're
probably fairly well on-target with what you're saying, Bryan, and, as we said
last week, we suspect that one of the reasons that Microsoft is so determined
to get ISO approval for Open XML is so that it can pull the rug out from under
open source. We can hear the pitch now: "Open source is standards-based?
Well, so are we! Look, we have ISO approval! So, there's no advantage in going
with open source as far as that goes..."
Of course, if that were to happen, it might not be the worst result for Microsoft
partners...even if it wouldn't be the best result for IT as a whole.
Have another comment on Microsoft's talk about standards and openness? Make
it at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted by Lee Pender on March 11, 2008 at 11:54 AM