Microsoft Hicks Take Backward Stand On Interoperability

Posted by dcparris on Feb 19, 2007 5:08 AM EDT
LXer - Editorial; By D.C. Parris (Charlotte, USA)
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LXer Feature: 19-Feb-2007

Microsoft's recent letter argues for choice of formats, not office suites. Yet, their argument undermines the foundation of interoperability that a single standard can offer. In other words, their argument is so backwards, it makes this old hillbilly's head spin.

I grew up in rural West Virginia. The nearest thing to a city was 10 or so miles from our house. Now that I live in Charlotte, NC, 10 miles is across town. People consider West Virginians to be "backwards hicks", "hillbillies" and sometimes worse than that. I didn't help that impression while my Marine buddies were teasing me, either. I firmly upheld the "Mayberry" image, letting some of them believe Pa was among the first in the Southern part of our county to own an automobile.



Regardless of how backwards I may seem or even be, the recent "love letter" from Microsoft to IBM makes me feel like a modern-day, global jet-setter. Consider the following:


"The IBM driven effort to force ODF on users through public procurement mandates is a further attempt to restrict choice. In XML-based file formats, which can easily interoperate through translators and be implemented side by side in productivity software, this exclusivity makes no sense – except to those who lack confidence in their ability to compete in the marketplace on the technical merits of their alternative standard. This campaign to limit choice and force their single standard on consumers should be resisted."



Microsoft is attempting to turn the tables on the OpenDocument supporters by arguing for choice in document format standards. Ironically, having a second standard will only serve to perpetuate the interoperability nightmare. Picture two businesses, each with an office suite that supports only one of the standards. Oh, sure, bigger companies will have less to worry about. Still, a small business may find it difficult to do business because it cannot support, say OOXML documents. The situation could be reversed. The point is that one business may find itself locked out of competing with other businesses simply because they chose a solution that implements a different standard.



I spoke with the IT manager of a local engineering firm here in Charlotte some time ago about the potential for using OpenOffice.org. He was not willing to risk losing the fidelity of documents in a document conversion exercise. This is exactly the problem that any "open" document standard should solve. The customer deserves to have a choice of office suite, regardless of the underlying format. The already accepted OpenDocument Format standard already offers that. Adding a new standard means having to continue worrying about document conversion, which will, in turn, perpetuate the notion that a business cannot migrate without risking interoperability. And Microsoft will, of course, use exactly that argument in their future marketing campaigns.



The purpose of OpenDocument, as I have always understood it, has been that it will enable me to use the office suite I want to use, while still being able to share documents with people who use other office suites, including Microsoft Office. Unfortunately, someone at Microsoft decided not to participate in the development of OpenDocument. The company has thus created a self-fulfilling, paranoid prophecy of their enemies being out to "get them" with this "inferior" document standard.



Had Microsoft contributed to OpenDocument, they could have helped to ensure its compatibility with the billions of aging Office documents sitting on hard drives everywhere. I seriously doubt they could have helped to make it perfect - that is likely impossible, even with OOXML. They certainly could have helped improve ODF. Instead, they rejected ODF, and threw millions of dollars into developing an alternative format, apparently thinking like George Bush, that they would be greeted with cheers and ticker-tape parades.



Microsoft's only arguments for choice have been about choosing which versions of Windows and Office you want to use. Their only use of standards is to adopt so they can adapt to lock customers into their solutions. And now, instead of contributing to the biggest interoperability push the world has ever seen, they want to force you to keep converting between document formats. How backwards is that?



Note: The author has no connection whatsoever with IBM, other than having met a few people who claim to work for IBM. The author is a member of the OpenDocument Fellowship and lurks on the mailing list, and occasionally annoys the list members with off-the-cuff remarks.

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Office Software and the Politics of GWB - No Connection antiskid 26 1,225 Feb 20, 2007 1:03 PM
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