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Microsoft's Influence On Upcoming ISO Vote 79

Posted by kdawson
from the 800-lb.-gorilla-thumb-on-the-scale dept.
christian.einfeldt writes "Microsoft has experienced some criticism for its handling of its bid to have OOXML accepted as an ISO standard, including the use of financial incentives to affect the Swedish national vote, which resulted in Sweden reversing its pro-Microsoft position; and failing to honor a promise to relinquish control of the OOXML specification if it gained ISO status. A few days ago Groklaw published an article that raises questions about Microsoft's influence on the upcoming February vote, citing concerns with the limitation of discussions of patent issues, public accountability of the process, and even irregularities with choosing the size of the room so as to limit the delegates opposed to OOXML ISO status, as had been done in the past."
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Microsoft's Influence On Upcoming ISO Vote

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  • by hax0r_this (1073148) on Monday December 17, 2007 @08:36PM (#21733274)
    That Microsoft couldn't care less whether their format becomes an ISO standard. Nearly every document stored by every business in the world is stored in Microsoft formats at this point. They don't need their format to be accepted, they simply need to make sure that being an ISO standard is meaningless. They would seem to have succeeded.
    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by pitdingo (649676)
      True. M$ could not loose in this process. If they win approval, they can trot the ISO certification around and say they have an "ISO standard" format. If they do not get approved, they will have corrupted the system so badly, ISO certifaction means nothing.
      • by HiThere (15173) <charleshixsn@NOSPAM.earthlink.net> on Monday December 17, 2007 @09:54PM (#21733792)
        Well, no. If they *do* get approved they will have corrupted the system so badly, ISO certification means nothing. If they don't get approved they will merely have jammed the channel so full of junk that nothing further can get approved. Most of those "representatives" will only show up to vote when MS tells them to. This makes it impossible to get a quorum unless MS is pushing it...and MS isn't interested in routine business.

        Or at least that's how I understand the matter. I remain uncertain. I also remain committed to odt files. (That's the extension, don't recall the acronym for the format. ODF?)

        • by HeroreV (869368) on Monday December 17, 2007 @11:18PM (#21734288) Homepage
          The problem of inactive members occurred in subcommittee 34 (SC34 [wikipedia.org]) of the joint technical committee between ISO and IEC (JTC1 [wikipedia.org]). It never affected all of ISO, and several specifications have been approved as standards by ISO since then. The problem still prevents SC34 from getting anything done.

          ISO has many committees [iso.org], and most of them contain several subcommittees. SC34 of JTC1 is only one subcommittee among many. Many people think the problem of inactive members affects all of ISO, but it actually only affects a small part of ISO, and IEC is just as affected as ISO is.

          Microsoft has really hurt SC34 of JTC1, but ISO is far too large and important for comparatively puny Microsoft to screw over the entire thing.
          • by Osrin (599427) *
            Alex Brown, the BRM convenor, talks a little in his blog about the issues in SC34 and how things are not quite as they are portrayed in various discussions on the internet.

            http://adjb.net/index.php?entry=entry071215-123604 [adjb.net]
          • by Z00L00K (682162)
            The problem is that it's contagious. The problem will stick to the ISO organization as a whole - regardless.

            The value of ISO has been decreased - because the respect of the organization caused by this has a much larger effect than just a file format. It also means that if one company like Microsoft can buy a standard - so will other companies. I wouldn't be surprised if it already has happened and what we see here is the tip of an iceberg.

            So my tip of the day - go out and dig into other areas of ISO and

    • by renegadesx (977007) on Monday December 17, 2007 @08:46PM (#21733358)
      It's not so much that they care that much that their format is an ISO standard or not, its more about the following points

      1) When someone accuses Microsoft of not using open standards they will point to OOXML if it gets passed
      2) They dont want ODF to be more of a "standard" than OOXML, on paper or otherwise as it gives people incentives to switch even if it is a small amount.

      They have to be careful not to get to arrogent in the media, saying boldly ISO standards are meaningless, Microsoft standards have more meaning will expose them as bragging about not adopting standards and bragging about being a monopoly that wants to lock you in. That too could turn people away.
    • Not true. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 17, 2007 @08:48PM (#21733372)
      They're facing legislation requiring that government documents be kept in open formats. Yes, they're working on the governments directly to ensure that Microsoft Office isn't "excluded" whether "Office Open XML" is meaningfully open or not, but making their own ISO standard is insurance.

      And if they can pervert the ISO to their own ends, they can find plenty of other things to do with that power.

      Don't misunderstand, I agree insofar as you're saying that their lock-in won't evaporate even if they lose the battle to get OOXML rubber stamped, but it's only one piece of a tide that's going against them right now. Their lock-in is weaker now than it has been in ages, and those who want out are making their move now. It may or may not work in the end, but I wouldn't expect Microsoft to go down quietly.

      Anyone who plans to ever compete with Microsoft should be challenging them now. Once they get people to transition to Microsoft's newest stuff, they're going to be stronger than ever.
      • Re:Not true. (Score:5, Insightful)

        by dpilot (134227) on Monday December 17, 2007 @09:32PM (#21733624) Homepage Journal
        The fun will come when they convince government organizations that SharePoint is an "open standard." The phrase "lock-in" for Office formats is simply nothing at all compared to the way it applies to SharePoint.

        By the way, the New Slashdot Meme is to insist that Slashdot is full of knee-jerk anti-Microsofties, that Microsoft products really are the best available for the purposes they're used, and infer that Microsoft business practices really ain't Evil. No doubt they'll also revise things so that chair-throwing is just a friendly fatherly game of catch.

        None of it matters.

        Modern companies don't transcend their Creators. They survive, true, but they're never what they were under their Creators. Nobody drove IBM the way Watson drove it. Nobody drove Apple the way Jobs drove it. It takes time to fall, but remember, Gates isn't driving Microsoft any more.

        Microsoft WILL get OOXML approved as an ISO standard. They WILL lock-in governments all over the place into their formats. They will no doubt do some other dastardly things. But it just won't matter, in the long run. The fact is, they're big, they're fat, and they have company politics all over the place. They make *acceptable* products, but they compete based on their overwhelming market strength, not on their merit.

        The marketplace simply hasn't shifted enough yet to render their current impenetrable dominance irrelevant. Kind of like IBM and mainframes back in the 80's and 90's.
        • Re:Not true. (Score:4, Interesting)

          by bl8n8r (649187) on Monday December 17, 2007 @11:31PM (#21734378)
          > They make *acceptable* products

          Since when is it acceptable for software to allow remote install of keystroke loggers and malware? How about vendor lockin? Forced hardware upgrades? This is acceptable too? Microsoft software is *not* acceptable and that's the whole point behind alternatives. The market is shifting, it's just that the U.S.A. is being left behind -- by their own doing.
          • by jayp00001 (267507)
            If microsoft is not acceptable then why is the EU so hot to get microsoft to open their APIs? Perhaps they want to communicate to microsoft servers because they are acceptable. Perhaps MS Office is so popular because it's acceptable.
            • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

              by PsychoPingu (1178147)
              Or perhaps it is because Europeans would like to migrate data away from Microsoft products, but require the APIs in order to be able to transition effectively?
              • by jayp00001 (267507)
                I suppose that's would be reasonable if the only way to get the data off was a microsoft API, however I've never heard of a microsoft product that only allowed export to another microsoft box. (I've heard and know of file formats like that but that's a whole 'nother ballgame)
                • It's not just getting the data off, but also still being able to interact with people who continue to use microsoft products.
                  • by jayp00001 (267507)
                    ok so if you have a product foo that doesn't interoperate with the product you own (AKA bar) does that mean that product foo has to give you the code to make bar work with it? Personally I think not. As a developer that worked on foo, my protocols are not open for public use. If you want to buy a license- ok I'll think about it but that should be my option. It's also your option to not use foo if a concern is that your users will need to use bar to connect. Unless foo is the only application in the fiel
                    • As a developer that worked on foo, my protocols are not open for public use. If you want to buy a license- ok I'll think about it but that should be my option.

                      And there we have it. Vendor lock in.

                      Not everyone thinks it's a good idea, hence the requirement for APIs.

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by westlake (615356)
          it just won't matter, in the long run. The fact is, they're big, they're fat, and they have company politics all over the place. They make *acceptable* products, but they compete based on their overwhelming market strength, not on their merit.

          Office 2007 is more than merely "acceptable." The Geek who pretends otherwise is just blowing smoke.

          The New Slashdot Meme is to insist that Slashdot is full of knee-jerk anti-Microsofties, that Microsoft products really are the best available for the purposes they'r

          • Re:Not true. (Score:5, Insightful)

            by Tony (765) on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @12:37AM (#21734806) Journal
            Office 2007 is more than merely "acceptable." The Geek who pretends otherwise is just blowing smoke.

            Bullshit. That might be you're opinion, but it's hardly Truth.

            I used it. The interface is OK, but really it's a re-arrangement of controls to make things look a little bit more like Apple Pages. It's better than MS-Office 97, sure, but that's about it. Performance is adequate. Layout sucks, and the final printed product isn't any better than older MS-Office products-- that is, hardly acceptable at all. (Compare it to a LaTeX document, for example, and the kerning is horrible.)

            It's OK. It's marginally better than OpenOffice. For casual users, it *sucks* compared to Apple's iWork suite. For business users, the incompatibilities with older versions of MS-Office (saving as older versions are about as good as importing into OpenOffice) means that a company is pretty much forced to upgrade as soon as a small percentage of the company gets it. (This isn't a problem in a company that strictly controls software purchases, of course.)

            The Borg icon for Gates. The stained glass window.

            Those are just funny, and you know it. If that disturbs you, perhaps you might consider yoga, or getting a dog.

            Microsoft spelled with a dollar sign. The inane and ridiculous flamepoint stories that appear on a slow news day.

            Fanboi-ism. Absolutely. Doesn't mean Microsoft isn't evil. Doesn't mean their products are good. Doesn't mean Microsoft hasn't set us back 12 years. That doesn't mean we're not right.

            Twitter, twit, twit.

            Ah. That helps your argument a lot.
            • Re:Not true. (Score:5, Insightful)

              by arivanov (12034) on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @03:21AM (#21736050) Homepage
              (Compare it to a LaTeX document, for example, and the kerning is horrible.)

              Correct. It does not pass the standard test for document quality. Print "Microsoft [insert four letter word] Off" in a increasing font sizes in each. Compare. Observe for yourself (look at the ff and ft ligatures as well as capital F followed by lower case). It is sad when the latest top of the range product is easily beaten by something that is nearly 40 years old.

              Unfortunately, MSFT has taught the entire world that their sloppy half-arsed layout, ligatures and kerning is good enough. So 99.999% of the users will just say "What?".

              • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

                by rucs_hack (784150)
                You're a little wrong there, latex may be that old (I don't know its incept date), but it is the result of many years of gradual improvement and changes. Not all of it is that old.

                it's matured into a great tool, with features taking a long time to get just right.

                MS office on the other hand keeps being re-invented and added to in a sporadic fashion. Possibly it's a gradual maturity in house, but externally, to the many eyes, it keeps jumping forward to bright shiny new releases and expecting you to pay over
                • You're a little wrong there, latex may be that old (I don't know its incept date), but it is the result of many years of gradual improvement and changes. Not all of it is that old.

                  The layout engine was finalized in 1982 [wikipedia.org] (although the design itself was finished earlier; 1982 is just the date that it was forever set in fixed-point stone). 40 years is an overstatement, but you can reasonably say that TeX's output is over 25 years old.

      • They're facing legislation requiring that government documents be kept in open formats.
        First, it's only a few governments, and those cases are not as black and white as Slashdot articles would have you believe. But even more than that, it really doesn't matter to Microsoft what one or two free-thinking European backwaters think or do, it's what the majority of Big Corporate Business does. And the reality is that Big Corporate Business loves Microsoft.
        • Re:Not true. (Score:5, Insightful)

          by 99BottlesOfBeerInMyF (813746) on Monday December 17, 2007 @10:37PM (#21734020)

          First, it's only a few governments, and those cases are not as black and white as Slashdot articles would have you believe.

          Massachusetts, Sweden, the entire European Union all have proposed or passed open format laws. Mind you, the laws themselves are interpretable. Those writing the laws want the advantages of open standard formats, but most of the legislators have a limited understanding of the subject, and so may be tricked into approving things that are called "open" but which actually remove the benefits they are seeking. Still, this is a common trend and a significant number of governments are looking into this subject and some will certainly required an approved standard format (which is why MS is pursuing this farce).

          ...it's what the majority of Big Corporate Business does.

          How many big businesses do you suppose have to do business with governments including exchanging documents? So if all those companies then make provisions for handling ODF files, what is to stop other businesses from emulating the government and saving money on licensing? Exchanging documents is no longer a big problem, since everyone can handle ODF since it is required by so many governments.

          And the reality is that Big Corporate Business loves Microsoft.

          Corporate business, loves MS, but they also love IBM; especially in enterprise. You know what else they love, money. In particular they like making a "cost saving" move that catapults them into the limelight and sets them up for a big promotion. More and more American businesses are feeling the crunch these days and there has been some real trends towards alternatives, both OpenOffice and even the corporate version of Google docs and other, similar services.

          The truth is, MS doesn't like to compete either on price or features. They like to avoid competing using lock-in strategies and their file formats are their biggest customer lock-in. Government adoption of ODF undermines that lock-in and makes it easier for companies to use alternatives for some or all of their needs. Once Google and the like get their offerings to compete with the big, expensive CMS solutions in use by big corporations, I predict we'll see a lot more companies opting for all-in-one solutions that are better integrated than MSOffice+Documentum or Livelink. You know IBM will be pushing FileNet and Domino pretty hard.

          Will MS lose significant market share? Maybe, maybe not, but there is a real chance they will have to fight on price and features for the first time in a decade and that will be good for everyone (except MS).

          • Massachusetts, Sweden, the entire European Union all have proposed or passed open format laws.

            And how did that go in Massachusetts? Lot's of things get proposed. What is relevant is what gets decided. And Massachusetts did not (unfortunately) ditch Microsoft. Likewise, resolutions to "embrace" open formats are virtually worthless because they are not binding. Which of these European Union countries have kicked the Microsoft habit? Which ones, please? Exactly none.

            • Re:Not true. (Score:5, Interesting)

              by 99BottlesOfBeerInMyF (813746) on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @12:18AM (#21734690)

              Which of these European Union countries have kicked the Microsoft habit? Which ones, please? Exactly none.

              So far:

              • Belguim - By law, from September 2007 on every federal government department must be able to read OpenDocument documents. From September 2008 on, all exchanges of revisable documents (texts, presentations, spreadsheets) between federal government agencies must occur in ODF.
              • Finland - the Ministry of Justice has chosen Open Office and thus the OpenDocument format as their main document format from the beginning of 2007. The decision has been made after deep research of ODF possibilities. Other ministries may follow.
              • Germany - about half of government offices use StarOffice or OpenOffice and ODF although no law or rule requires it.
              • Netherlands - From beginning of 2009 onwards OpenSource-software and the ODF will be the standard for reading, publishing and the exchange of information for all governmental organizations.
              • Australia - ODF is mandatory for the national archives
              • Argentina - one province has mandated ODF for all government use.
              • India - the national court system has mandated ODF as the format for all document exchange.
              • Japan - government hiring policy gives preference to programs that use ODF.
              • South Africa - ODF, ASCII, or UTF-8 is mandatory for all document exchange within the Dept. of Public Service.
              • Vietnam - all government systems are switching to OpenOffice and removing MSOffice (currently underway).

              Those are the ones I know about from a quick Google mining. I'd say it is a bit more than "none." It isn't a huge movement, yet, but each one makes the next easier.

              • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                by houghi (78078)
                How many countries require closed format by law? I would say a lot less then there are laws that require open formats.
            • by Atzanteol (99067)
              Are you people stupid? Microsoft didn't get where they are by just assuming Word will be accepted everywhere "just because." The see some clients muttering things about using open formats. They go out and get their document format certified as an "open standard" so they can put one more bullet point on their presentations.

              Sure, it's no silver bullet. But nothing is. It's yet another reason to choose Microsoft. "Oh, you want to use open standards? Our document format is ISO standard XXXX."

              Microsoft do
          • So if all those companies then make provisions for handling ODF files, what is to stop other businesses from emulating the government and saving money on licensing?

            "Handling ODF files" is separate from "saving money on licensing," you know. Don't forget that Microsoft Office supports ODF files now too, and that ODF is a standard format which is implementable by proprietary software, not just OpenOffice's format.

            Conflating separate things and making conflicting claims (e.g. "ODF is a standard" vs. "switch

            • "Handling ODF files" is separate from "saving money on licensing," you know.

              Yes, I know. I never implied otherwise. That is why I said a large number of companies doing one enables other companies to do the second. You see how that works?

              Conflating separate things and making conflicting claims (e.g. "ODF is a standard" vs. "switch to OpenOffice to use ODF") when it suits them is a tactic Microsoft uses, not us. We should be better than that.

              I never conflate those items at all. Where are you getting this? I said that if most companies can handle ODF, the main reason to avoid using certain software packages that are cheaper than MS Office (like OpenOffice) has been removed. You never answered my question. If almost all companies have a way to handle ODF, what is the disadvantage to

    • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      I agree with you WRT basic office documents.

      Many companies (especially state/county) use scanning tech to save millions of docs that are NOT saved in MS format.

      I recently worked for a company that did document scanning work. The core product scanned in a lot more PDF and non-MS Office documents, than MS Office Word documents.

      With that being said, yes, I agree with you, far too many U.S business use the standard MS Office format. Which means they are locked-in to MS-Only crap for a long, long time
    • by KnightMB (823876) on Monday December 17, 2007 @10:29PM (#21733964)
      "Nearly every document stored by every business in the world is stored in Microsoft formats at this point."

      Well I wasn't sure what to do with my mod points, but I just had to reply to this one. The Microsoft format, while very popular, is not "the" format for all and every business. I know many of private business and government agencies just in my area alone that use Open Office to store all documents. Converting to Microsoft word when someone just has to have it in that format. I've helped many more convert to some kind of Open Office or the likes format for many business. Business don't care what format it is, as long as it's portable and best of all is cheap (or free). I don't know how many IT admins have thank me for clearing up the tremendous trash that Microsoft builds up in their files to make a simple one page letter eat 10 times more space than an Open Office document of the exact same text on their file servers. It's nice to see letters and spreadsheets that don't eat up so much space for so little data inside (at least the data that the business cares about anyway).

      So yeah, it's popular, but the world certainly not 100% all Microsoft documents.
    • by Hymer (856453)
      That's not so obvious... countries (and even corporations) has started to require ISO certified standards. That is partly MS own fault because of problems with backwards compatibility. If your government require a standard, you are out of business if you can't provide documents in that standard.
      ...and yes we have seen it before... when everybody shifted from the de-facto WordPerfect standard to the de-facto Word standard.
    • It appears to me that you might be assisting in devaluing ISO standards by your statements. Please judge each action by it's own merit (even Microsoft actions which appear very unsavory in this episode by btw)
    • You've got your facts right, but your inferences are out there. MS doesn't need for its format to become an ISO standard. As you point out, anything they do is a de facto standard. But for whatever reason, they do want this format to be an actual standard. If not, they've put a hell of a lot of effort into something they don't want.

      And now that I think about it, they do need this ISO standard. A lot of big organizations are beginning to balk at being dependent on Microsoft-proprietary technology. It's a bad
  • by ravenspear (756059) * on Monday December 17, 2007 @08:42PM (#21733334)
    All of the chairs were removed from the Microsoft board room as a contingency measure pending the outcome of the vote.
    • by caluml (551744)
      I'm amazed at how long chair jokes have remained funny for.
    • by SimonInOz (579741)
      For a moment there my mind drifted to thoughts of Queen Victoria, who had all the chairs removed from the Privy Council meeting chamber as she thought the meetings were getting too long (yes, it worked - try it!).

      Sorry. This is slashdot. History is bunk. Sorry.

      (They still don't get chairs - it's been a while now).
  • What's next? (Score:5, Informative)

    by arotenbe (1203922) on Monday December 17, 2007 @09:00PM (#21733456) Journal

    What's next? Will Microsoft try to bribe OpenOffice.org to make OOXML the new default file format? Will they attempt to make Microsoft Bob an ISO standard? Will they try to release a document specification that has four different definitions of a "percent"?

    Oh, wait... they are already doing [grokdoc.net] that last one.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    IT ISN'T OOXML

    It is MOOXML


  • by erroneus (253617) on Monday December 17, 2007 @10:07PM (#21733862) Homepage
    In a way, this is not really news. We know that Microsoft has not yet been able to demonstrate that they know of any limits when it comes to getting their way. They don't care about ethics. They don't care about established process. They don't care about standards. What they care about is getting their way regardless of the disruption and damage they may cause.

    It's not news, but it's a pretty clear indicator of what most of us have come to accept long ago... but perhaps with this reminder, yet one more person might be convinced that Microsoft isn't "just doing business." ... perhaps a few more people.

    One of my users mentioned something interesting to me today. He told me that when he was shopping for a Mac for Christmas, he said going to the Apple store was a useless effort. He could not get the attention of a sales person to save his life. They were utterly flooded with customers. It was complete chaos. Meanwhile, he could have been treated like a king in the Dell store.

    People really *ARE* voting with their dollars. Dell wasn't the unpopular item... I believe it would be the same if it were any PC running Windows. People know what to expect from Windows. They are expecting much more from Apple. To be fair, I think those expectations may not be met to their satisfaction, but the fact is, it seems pretty plain that things are changing for Microsoft. And it may not be 2008 when everyone moves to an alternative, but it is the year to watch because more people than ever before are actually acting on their long-time interest in buying a Mac. And if it works for the few who make the leap, then more people will start making the leap too. Microsoft won't be able to react in time...and they may make good on their threats to stop making Office for Macintosh... who knows?
    • by westlake (615356)
      He told me that when he was shopping for a Mac for Christmas, he said going to the Apple store was a useless effort. He could not get the attention of a sales person to save his life. They were utterly flooded with customers. It was complete chaos.

      In New York there are only a half dozen or so Apple stores outside metro New York City.

      You will find them - quite predictably - in the upscale Galleria mall. Targeting the same demographic Appple has mined for the last twenty-five years.

      The question is, is the

    • by foreverdisillusioned (763799) on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @03:20AM (#21736040) Journal
      Well, I'm no Microsoft apologist (been an Ubuntu user since Hoary), but the phenomenon you describe could be due to the simple fact that you can buy a PC anywhere or even build your own from scratch. If you want a complete selection of Macs to choose from, though, there's really only one place to go--the Apple store.

      Make no mistake, I believe that over the next 5-20 years Microsoft dominance will die by the collective hands of Apple, Linux and themselves, but it's going to be a slow process. Lock-in is a bitch, and it's not just about document formats--drivers are a bitch as well, and many important programs simply do not have decent OSS equivalents (or run in Wine without tons of tweaking.)

      If it were a fair fight, I'd have to wager Microsoft on being the absolute victor; fortunately, it's not a fair fight. Apple is a small and nimble target, kept alive by specific, loyal market segments, while Linux is simply immortal.
  • Amid all the ranting and raving...why is MS really pushing this? It's because if we managed to have a genuinely OPEN document, (and hey, why not mail, calendar, contacts...yes I know they exist in the FOSS community, but we're not there yet) INTERNATIONAL STANDARD it will badly hit MS's monopoly foundation - which is that the vast majority of documents are stored and exchanged in their formats. It goes further - lots of software and devices sync with Office and/or Outlook - it's the default. Try getting
  • All that matters to Microsoft is that they have a fresh new format to help them lock their customers in. The old formats can be used with a number of other products - from those dastardly Open Source solutions like OpenOffice, to other crappy, bloated, overpriced commercial software like Documents to Go on that dastardly PalmOS. With a new format out there, the competitors will be left scratching their heads for a while. When more alternatives come out, MS will come out with another new format, and the circ

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