Microsoft, Newspeak and Open XML

Opinion: Congratulations, Microsoft; you've got everyone believing the big lie that Open XML is an open standard.

One of the most chilling concepts of George Orwells novel "1984" is "Newspeak." In Newspeak, the language is constantly being cropped of words that might lead to "thoughtcrimes." If you control the language, the logic goes, you control what people think.

Microsoft is doing exactly this with its "Open XML." Its meant to remind you of open source—a term which is now fighting to maintain its integrity—and, in particular, of open standards.

Open standards, most of us in the IT business agree, are good things. If we didnt have open standards, wed still be stuck with half-a-dozen incompatible versions of the C programming language, we wouldnt have universal 802.11g Wi-Fi, and so on. Of course, reaching though standards can be a long, painful experience, as anyone who has followed the 802.11n Wi-Fi standard wars knows.

Microsoft, however, isnt really trying to win the open-standard wars in document formats between its own Open XML and the truly open ODF (Open Document Format). Instead, its appearing to be willing to compromise and to make it easy to translate from the two formats.

In fact, its even working with rivals like Novell and Xandros to make it easier to translate from the two formats.

Sounds good, doesnt it?

Microsoft is winning, as we can see from Massachusetts decision to support Microsofts Office Open XML format in addition to ODF. Massachusetts, in case youve forgotten, is where the open document format war started. Massachusetts CIO at the time, Peter Quinn, said "Government is creating history at a rapidly increasing rate, and all documents we save must be accessible to everybody, without having to use closed software to open them now and in the future."

/zimages/3/28571.gifClick here to read about the Massachusetts governments decision to support Microsofts Open XML document format.

Great idea, but from the reaction from some Microsoft lobbyists you would have thought hed proposed throwing babies to packs of starving dogs.

When it became clear that Microsoft couldnt just bulldoze open document standards away, the company decided that it should open up Office 2007s document formats. At the time, Id said Microsoft would find a way to poison its open standards. I was right.

Standards expert and attorney Andy Updegrove explains the current open standard trap well in his Standards Blog. Where does this leave proponents of ODF now? Clearly, if Ecma 376 (the official standard that hides Open XML) achieves equal status with ODF in Massachusetts, it will be a cause of great disappointment.

One can assume that privately, if not publicly, ODF opponents will have a field day one-on-one with other government purchasers, and will declare the open format battle over. Indeed, earlier in 2007 Microsoft did just that, calling a unilateral truce and announcing that there had been "two winners"

Next Page: Microsoft plays to win.