By Peter Galli  |  Posted 2007-02-14 Print this article Print

Both of these were efforts to fundamentally limit choice in the marketplace for interoperability and standards, regardless of the impact on customers and the broader ecosystem. "Frankly, we think this is hypocritical if you look at what IBM has said in the past about the value of standardization and the importance of choice to customers. They have also called on Microsoft to standardize and to make the technology we have in the formats available to everyone for free, which we have done. To then come back and fight the very effort they have called on us to do is hypocritical," Robertson said.
In the open letter, Microsoft also points out that "it is not a coincidence that IBMs Lotus Notes product, which IBM is actively promoting in the marketplace, fails to support the Open XML international standard."
IBM recently unveiled its latest open client offering. Click here to read more. But Rob Enderle, the principle analyst at the Enderle group, told eWEEK that IBM is positioning itself for a run at the desktop and, to be successful at this, they have to break the advantage of the entrenched vendor. "So they are trying to force Microsoft to abandon Open XML, which Microsoft drives, and move to ODF which IBM believes—though there is substantial risk this isnt true—they can drive," he said. As such, IBM is not being hypocritical with regard to the disparity between its words and actions, but is rather trying to "cripple" Microsoft on this front in order to gain a competitive advantage, he said. "IBM is playing a political game, and doing so very successfully. Regardless of what Microsoft does, they will aggressively move against it for the sole purpose of ensuring the strongest IBM advantage as they ramp their own (Notes/WebSphere) solution into this space," he said. Whatever Microsoft does going forward, including if it were to embrace ODF, would simply not be good enough from IBMs perspective, "because they need to see Microsoft crippled so they gain a comparative advantage," Enderle said Asked if Microsoft had reached out to IBM behind the scenes to try and resolve the matter in a less public way, Robertson said that the company had ongoing discussions with IBM about all aspects of its relationship and was "more than happy to have this conversation with them in that context." Microsoft and its partners have finished work on the Open XML Translator. Find out more here. When asked if the open letter meant that Microsoft outreach on this front had not been successful, Robertson said it was rather a recognition that the steps IBM were taking in the marketplace were not in the interests of anyone but Big Blue. "It is damaging to the interests of our customers, and we think that this is something we have to do," he said. Customers and the broader ecosystem were telling Microsoft that they wanted to be able to take full advantage of XML technologies in Office-related document formats and were excited about the opportunities with Open XML and what that opened up in terms of opportunities for ISVs and new and innovative ways of delivering functionality to customers. "We think Open XML does that in a way that ODF doesnt and we know that others feel the same way. But they want to be able to choose," Robertson said. Bob Sutor, the vice president of standards and open source at IBM, notes in his latest blog post about Microsoft and its troubles at ISO, that "were in the middle of the end game where vendors can expect to get international standardization for what are essentially technologies they control and uniquely fully implement." This is also not the first time that Microsoft has accused supporters of the ODF of not allowing choice. The last time was in March 2006, when Sutor responded on his blog that "we all have a choice between ODF and the old, proprietary Microsoft formats. "We have a choice between ODF and the eventual result of the ECMA process that will do nothing but guarantee compatibility with Microsofts own products. We have a choice to actively participate in the continued future development of the ODF work in OASIS. We have a choice by thusly participating to benefit the industry as a whole instead of our own installed market share." He went on to say that "We have a choice to work with the community instead of against it … It is an insult to ODF and the OASIS process to claim that what is going on in ECMA is open or just as open as the process under which ODF was created and is being enhanced. Give us a break, were all really smarter than that," he said. ODF has already been approved as an international standard by the ISO. Click here to read more. But Robertson said those assertions are baseless as Ecma has been in operation for 46 years and has developed hundreds of technical standards that are widely adopted around the world, with some 90 percent of those being adopted by ISO. "This is not a fly-by-night organization but rather one that has a deep history in the information technology industry and a long history of developing standards that are widely adopted in the community and ratified by ISO. I dont see the basis for the assertion that an Ecma standard is somehow a second-rate standard when you see the dynamic that has taken place over the past 46 years." Microsoft also says it believes that its strategy is the right one, for its business and that of its customers. "We have listened to the wants of our customers. They want choice. They want interoperability. They want innovation. We and others believe that Open XML achieves all these goals," the open letter states. Check out eWEEK.coms for Microsoft and Windows news, views and analysis.

Peter Galli has been a financial/technology reporter for 12 years at leading publications in South Africa, the UK and the US. He has been Investment Editor of South Africa's Business Day Newspaper, the sister publication of the Financial Times of London.

He was also Group Financial Communications Manager for First National Bank, the second largest banking group in South Africa before moving on to become Executive News Editor of Business Report, the largest daily financial newspaper in South Africa, owned by the global Independent Newspapers group.

He was responsible for a national reporting team of 20 based in four bureaus. He also edited and contributed to its weekly technology page, and launched a financial and technology radio service supplying daily news bulletins to the national broadcaster, the South African Broadcasting Corporation, which were then distributed to some 50 radio stations across the country.

He was then transferred to San Francisco as Business Report's U.S. Correspondent to cover Silicon Valley, trade and finance between the US, Europe and emerging markets like South Africa. After serving that role for more than two years, he joined eWeek as a Senior Editor, covering software platforms in August 2000.

He has comprehensively covered Microsoft and its Windows and .Net platforms, as well as the many legal challenges it has faced. He has also focused on Sun Microsystems and its Solaris operating environment, Java and Unix offerings. He covers developments in the open source community, particularly around the Linux kernel and the effects it will have on the enterprise.

He has written extensively about new products for the Linux and Unix platforms, the development of open standards and critically looked at the potential Linux has to offer an alternative operating system and platform to Windows, .Net and Unix-based solutions like Solaris.

His interviews with senior industry executives include Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, Linus Torvalds, the original developer of the Linux operating system, Sun CEO Scot McNealy, and Bill Zeitler, a senior vice president at IBM.

For numerous examples of his writing you can search under his name at the eWEEK Website at


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