Microsoft Accuses IBM of Limiting Choice for Interop, Standards

By Peter Galli  |  Posted 2007-02-14

Microsoft Accuses IBM of Limiting Choice for Interop, Standards

Microsoft has released an open letter that accuses IBM of driving the effort to force the OpenDocument Format on users through public procurement mandates, which the Redmond, Wash., software maker views as an attempt to restrict choice and limit adoption of its Office Open XML format.

Microsoft is also speaking out against what it sees as Big Blues coordinated and resource-intensive campaign to limit choice in the marketplace for interoperability and standards, regardless of the impact of those moves on customers and the broader ecosystem.

The full text of the four-page open letter issued Feb. 14 can be viewed here.

The open letter, signed by Tom Robertson, Microsofts general manager of interoperability and standards, and Jean Paoli, its general manager of interoperability and XML architecture, addresses what Microsoft refers to as all the hype—and smoke and mirrors obfuscation—that it believes surrounds interoperability.

The use of ODF has been a controversial subject in Massachusetts. Click here to read more.

"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," they say in the letter.

While Microsoft realizes that it needs to do a better job of explaining its interoperability vision, and has started doing so, it also believes it has a duty to highlight what IBM is doing and how that has a fundamentally negative implication for customers and the industry as a whole, Robertson told eWEEK in an interview.

"The open letter is the first step in our decision to shine a bright light on IBM, which is taking concrete steps against choice in the marketplace. It was the only company in Ecma to try and stop the standardization of Open XML and to try and stop Ecma from forwarding the standard onto ISO, the International Standards Organization, for ratification," he said.

Microsofts Open XML format recently hit roadblocks in the United States and abroad. Click here to read more.

IBM is also driving a well-coordinated and resource-intensive effort around the world to stop the consideration of Open XML in ISO.

"We also see IBM trying to promote government procurement mandates that would eliminate competition against ODF in the government procurement markets around the world," he said.

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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.

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