The Open Standards Monopoly Challenging Innovation in Redmond

Posted by dcparris on Dec 22, 2005 12:08 PM EDT; By Tom Adelstein, Editor-in-Chief
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LXer Day Desk: 12-22-2005

In trying to portray the dirty tricks in which Microsoft seems engaged with regard to the Open Document Standard, I encountered difficulties articulating the problem. Each draft I wrote seemed like ranting. Even Gary Edwards of OASIS confessed that he had trouble writing about it because he felt he needed to lampoon Microsoft to get the point across. So, this article takes the point of view of a Redmond fanatic and praises Mr. Gates and his techniques for fighting in an open environment. The major points seem to emerge when you consider RFCs and IEEE standards the monopoly. I hope you enjoy it.

When the National Science Foundation opened the Internet to the public, it essentially created an unlevel playing field for proprietary software companies such as Microsoft. Such firms had spent billions of dollars on research, development and productizing new and innovative ways to use computers. Overnight, newcomers with low barriers to entry sprouted up and challenged established business models.

Fortunately, Microsoft had the ingenuity to turn a disadvantage to an advantage. Without a single operating system running TCP/IP at the start of 1995, Microsoft revamped its entire organization and met the challenges of the Open Source Monopoly now arrayed against it.

With everything out in the Open under the standards of the Internet, Microsoft had to find ways to keep from failing. Now, after ten years of a relentless effort, media ridicule and legal challenges of every kind, Bill Gates & Co. can extend their monopoly. They can monopolize the Internet and serve the people who will rely on them for storage and retention of important documents required by the new era of government regulations. They can also bring Linux and open source companies to their knees.

What's the Secret?

Before you dismiss this as a ridiculous notion borne in the mind of some extremist, you need to understand the issue. You cannot afford to write this off as fanaticism because that is on what Microsoft is counting. Their plan is so fantastic that it fits in the realm of the unbelievable.

The Internet has evolved to a point that XML will soon become the medium through which you create and view everything. When you render a web page today, you see versions of the Hypertext Mark-up Language (HTML) often mixed with extensions such as Java script or Macromedia Flash. In the near future, the knowledge contained on the Internet will change form and instead of HTML you'll find that XML document formats will have taken over. At that point you will need integrated kinds of applications to create and see files of all kinds including web pages.

If you use a news reader or if you see buttons that say RSS or RDF on web pages or applications, you should already know that you need a different kind of browser to read and see those pages. That's because you're looking at XML or the Extensible Markup Language.

In the past, Internet users have depended totally on open standards so that the Internet could remain free to use. With XML, the document format itself becomes a standard. By controlling the format of the XML, an organization can essentially control the information to which you have access. That includes your cell phone, your digital camera, your television signal, text messaging, radio, photographs, music and other entertainment formats such as movies.

Microsoft needs to make sure they become the standards setting organization instead of community based standards bodies. Only then, can they protect investor capital and preserve their legacy. The challenge remains significant. In the past they have succeeded where others failed by utilizing unethical practices, keeping software undocumented and embracing and extending open standards.

That's why Google scares Microsoft. You may have wondered about that. Why would a company with a facade as powerful and omnipresent as Microsoft fear a search engine company? It just doesn't make much sense. But, if you understand the XML paradigm, it all makes sense.

Few people know of Google's ambitions, but those who do have suspected it for sometime.

Understand the Need to Monopolize and Monetize

At one time, Microsoft was the only company that touched almost everyone's lives. But over the last three to five years, Google has become a competitor. Google's infrastructure would allow them to enforce a different standard than Microsoft has in mind for creating, gathering and viewing information. Microsoft sees Google as a threat and not because of its search engine capabilities but because of Google's ability to present you with digital media of varying kinds.

If you've noticed reports here and there about Microsoft considering the placement of adware in their operating systems and productivity tools, don't believe it. They would like you to think that their concern about Google has to do with Google's current business model. Microsoft has to be smart about competing in an open environment or past efforts could go for naught.

But little money exists in advertising even for Google. Advertising certainly wouldn't generate the kind of cash flow to which Microsoft is accustomed. Delivery of content is the real play for everyone. If it made sense to put adware in applications, then the Opera browser company would not have abandoned that strategy.

Microsoft would rather keep everyone in the dark than expose its plans to change the medium of the Internet to its own version of XML. If Google decided to utilize the OpenDocument Format and an Ajax engine, for example, suddenly Google would become the world's foremost productivity suite provider. That would put an end to Microsoft's cash cow. But that's not the only worry for Microsoft.

How Can They Regain Their Glory?

It revolves around a widely known subject but little known technical detail. If everything goes according to plan, Bill Gates will own the Internet and all the information in the world. He will be able to rewrite history without any hindrance from upstarts. This may seem absurd to you and he has to count on you maintaining that attitude to succeed.

Do you trust Microsoft with your future? OK. Do you trust politicians with your future? If you do, then within the next three to five years, your world could finally look somewhat like the one George Orwell painted in his novel 1984. With everyone on-line, suddenly the technology exists to create a new reality, end domestic abuse and the war on terrorism. We would not need civil liberty organizations any more and our government could extend the Patriot Act permanently!

How Will We Create This New Reality?

Following is a passage taken from the writing of Gary Edwards, the representative who helped start the OASIS OpenDocument Format technical committee and who formed the OpenDocument Foundation, Inc. Gary explains the difference between Open XML and MS XML. Read carefully.

As we move the focus of discussion from the traditions of software and platform bound binary desktop productivity file formats, to that of Open Internet ready XML, the differences between ODF and MSXML become decidedly stark and clear.

ODF is a "wrapper" of Open XML technologies, and specifically states so in the charter. MSXML on the other hand, is a wrapper of proprietary technologies. Even if the ECMA rubber stamp effort were to become open and unencumbered with multiple vendors and users participating in the standards process, there's still the problem of all the proprietary dependencies wrapped in MSXML.

For instance, where ODF implements W3C XForms, MSXML uses a WinForms - InfoPath derivative. Where ODF implements W3C SVG, MSXML is geared to the up and coming proprietary "sparkle". Where ODF uses standard HTML, MSXML embraces the bastardized MSHTML. The list goes on and on, with one point becoming increasingly clear: Microsoft continues to embrace and extend open standards with proprietary enhancements designed to break both compatibility and interoperability with everything outside their OS Stack.

Microsoft insists that the world can live with two different desktop productivity XML file format standards. The problem is that this isn't about desktop productivity. It's about the Open Internet. And who among us wants to relive the nightmare of shamelessly self-serving Microsoft inspired incompatibilities?",2.0. There is no "Live Web". There is no "next generation of collaborative computing".

XML isn't going to provide us with a better PC based desktop productivity environment. It's going to provide us with a means of meshing the desktop productivity environment with the Open Internet. XML ready desktop information engines become first class Open Internet ready participants. That's the "why" behind this urgent and rather dramatic rush to dump our traditions of binary formats and race to XML.

What Do We Know That Others Don't?

For one, we know the game plan of the Open Source Monopoly. They want everything out in the open. They want to continue to challenge proprietary institutions and disrupt the technology market place - just when we had it in an orderly manner. That tells us a great deal.

Few people could pull off having their proprietary XML becoming an accepted standard with the exception of Microsoft. From the evidence, we have to believe that Mr. Gates has figured out exactly what to do and how to do it. He has the resources and the knowledge. He also knows the best and brightest of us will dismiss this possibility until its ready. He had already started implementing his plan and the stage is set.

Microsoft cleverly proposed an Open Document standard that would exclude everyone by setting a requirement that Word and PowerPoint formats preserve legacy support for Microsoft's prior aborted attempts at XML. If you would like to see Microsoft's filing, you can download it from this web site.

In Section 10.3.1 of their proposal to ECMA entitled "Alternative Format Import part" allows a WordML file to directly embed content from a legacy file format such as RTF, MHTML, or earlier WordML formats. A conforming application would be required to read and understand these legacy formats.

If Microsoft's schemas are licensed royalty free only to conforming applications, and conformance require support for fragments in older abandoned formats like RTF, WorldML and VML, then that would make it impossible for anyone to use these formats other than Microsoft. That would allow Microsoft to recapture its sole possession of the productivity market.

But the lynch pin of Microsoft's plan should go further into document management, which includes the storage and retrieval of documents - digital documents. At the moment, we're evolving from an analog world to a digital one. Technologists with exposure to the evolutionary track call it digital convergence. A digital photograph can contain all sorts of information and an XML wrapper can contain all sorts of digital graphics. If no one else can conform to the Microsoft format, then Microsoft would control the world of document management.

Compliance in the New World Order

Over the past decade, Congress and various regulators have passed a number of measures that require organizations to change their record keeping methods. The regulatory environment alone demands resources we did not consider necessary five years ago.

Now, even small-to-medium size businesses have to make investments in storage area networks (SANS), back-up facilities and redundant architectures. Requirements for open standards and application security can bring heavy fines and penalties for non-compliance. In February of this year, for example, the SEC levied fines totaling $2.1 million against J.P. Morgan Securities for failing to produce all of the e-mail requested during an routine inquiry.

At one time, regulators felt that a three year period for maintaining records proved sufficient. That's when you needed to maintain them in paper - an analog format. Now, with legislation passed over the last decade, document management requirements extend retention and retrieval to 30 years. Microsoft is counting on that requirement to sell more of its Office productivity suite while cutting out free software projects such as and open standards such as OASIS OpenDocument Format.

Some of the legislation and regulations effecting almost everyone of us include:

  • Healthcare Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)
  • Sarbanes Oxley
  • DoD 5015.2
  • Employee Retirement and Income Security Act
  • Consumer Product Safety Act
  • Family and Medical Leave Act
  • SEC Rule 17a-4
  • NASD 3010 and 3110
  • Homeland Security Presidential Directive (HSPD) 12
  • Gramm-Leach-Bliley
  • FIPS 201

Of these regulations, three have a wide impact on everyone of us.

HIPAA regulations provide for the protection of healthcare information. Control of access to information systems has become big business in the health care industry. Fines of up to $100,000 and prison terms of up to five years for noncompliance make HIPAA compliance a big concern.

Sarbanes Oxley or Sarbox requires CEOs and CFOs of public companies to swear under oath that the financial statements they publish are accurate and complete. This is supposed to protect investors by improving the reliability of corporate financial statements. It imposes stiff penalties for auditors, corporate officers, company directors and others who violate the Act. Every publicly traded company registered under the Exchange Act or that has a pending registration statement under the Securities Act of 1933 falls under the regulations.

Gramm-Leach-Bliley eliminated legal barriers to affiliations among banks and securities firms, insurance companies and other financial services companies. Such affiliations require legal and security safeguards. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), Federal Reserve System (FRS), Federal Trade Commission (FTC), Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), National Credit Union Administration (NCUA), Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) and the Office of Thrift Supervision all regulate some area of Gramm-Leach-Bliley.

Since we live in a society that requires money, regulation of financial records becomes critical. Microsoft has spent the last five years working with financial institutions establishing a national network for on-line banking. When you view your bank account from your browser, you're looking at Microsoft technology and that technology will transform into an XML format soon.

Helping to Redistribute Income

The United States has economically ruled the world and prevented underprivileged nations from achieving full prosperity. By moving jobs to other parts of the globe and bringing foreign technology workers into the country, Microsoft has helped spread the wealth. If Redmond can control the Internet and all document formats, then they would be in a better bargaining position to set global policies.

As we have learned, Microsoft has proposed a document format it wishes to establish as a standard. That standard is hardly understood by even the technically inclined. Think of it as a wrapper in which all kinds of content will exist. For example, under the auspices of Internet II, Microsoft would own the mechanism for transferring your tax information to the IRS, the bills you pay, the email you send, the instant messages you relay and all sorts of documents like those created in word processors, spreadsheets, presentations, etc. One has to question how safe our data would be without the stewardship of a single company overseeing compliance.

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts almost upset Microsoft's ability to stop the challenges of the Open Source Monopoly.

What Massachusetts Thought They Knew and Others Didn't

From the very beginning, it appeared that the Governor of Massachusetts and Peter Quinn, his Chief Information Officer, favored the Open Source Monopoly led by Linux and In fact, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts officially ratified its Enterprise Technical Reference Model (ETRM) on September 21, 2005. Among other things, ETRM required that all of the Commonwealth's agencies as well as outside entities that do business with it move to the OASIS-ratified Open Document Format (ODF) as the state-wide standard for storing and exchanging documents that are produced by productivity applications such as word processors and spreadsheets.

Fortunately the Senate Post Audit Committee Chair, Senator Marc Pacheco got wind of Peter Quinn's agenda and called a hearing to probe into the process that led to a mandate to make OpenDocument the standard document format for all commonwealth agencies in the executive branch as of 2007. The IT Division's policy effectively would have shut out Microsoft Office because the dominant supplier of productivity software does not support OpenDocument.

The Senator was unimpressed by Quinn's process which claimed to provide:

  • Interoperability: Creating and maintaining an open information ecosystem that achieves interoperability between computing environments, applications, and sources of data - whether created last year or 25 years from now - is the primary motivation for moving to an open standards policy.

  • Access and Control: Ensuring that citizens and the state have access to our data and the ability to control our data long into the future, grounded in the knowledge that electronic data is becoming more and more important. It's about the users -- in the parlance of the states, the citizens -- after all.

  • Choice and Cost: Establishing a truly open standard can ensure that the Commonwealth, over the long-term, has the greatest range of technology choices and the lowest technology costs through competition. An open policy is not one that results in lock-in to a single technology vendor, nor one that precludes any vendor - which may be the most competitive - from participating.

  • Innovation: Promoting the continued innovation in information technology, on Rte. 128, in university computer science labs, and in garages throughout the Commonwealth and beyond, supporting economic development in the process.

Microsoft was able once again to demonstrate its ability to compete in a market dominated by Open Standards concepts. Fortunately, the Senator expressed misunderstandings during the hearing which benefitted Microsoft. Those included his statement that OpenOffice was licensed under GPL (it's licensed under the LGPL), and that ODF would mean choosing OpenOffice at the expense of other vendors (OpenDocument is of course a format, not software).

With new legislation proposed to transfer control of information technology from the Governor and the Municipalities to the Secretary of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, it appears that Microsoft will endure again over the Open Source Monopoly.

Bigger Issues Than Anyone Can Imagine

The world has changed overnight and few people understand it. But the people at Microsoft understand it and they know how to take advantage of stupidity in the population. If they take their time and play it cool, they wind up with all the marbles. As he stated about Linux, on October 1, 2004, at an appearance at the Computer History Museum in northern California, when someone asked about a possible threat from Linux, Gates replied: "Microsoft has had competitors in the past. It's a good thing we have museums to document this stuff."

He knows if things continue the way they have, Linux,, Sun Microsystems and Mozilla will become dust.

He understands the power he would have over every aspect of industry and government if people adopted his Microsoft open standard Office XML format. He would finally own the Internet and every enterprise in the world would have to buy their software from Microsoft.

Not long ago, an enterprise could erect walls around its IT infrastructure. It safely could contain the outside world, and if it had problems, security could contain it. Value added networks, or VANS, provided private pipes with which to do business with EDI partners.

Today, IT infrastructures stretch beyond the firewall. Vendors and supply chain management touch one end of the value chain, and customers and business partners touch the other end. The regulatory environment touches your infrastructure, we need a standard that will hold up under the tests of time and a company that can change formats as it wants while establishing its own international standard.

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