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Microsoft slams IBM in document standards fight

by Saleem Khan, CBC News Online

It may not be a sexy subject, but it's potentially worth a lot of money: Microsoft Corp. has fired a volley over IBM Corp.'s bow with an open letter that claims IBM is trying to block Office document formats from being established as an industry standard.

The letter, signed by signed by Microsoft executives Tom Robertson, general manager for interoperability and standards; and Jean Paoli general manager of interoperability and XML architecture, calls out IBM on its opposition in the international standards process.

The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) is looking at Microsoft's document format as a possible standard. If it is ratified, it could add to Microsoft's bottom line since companies and governments partly base software buying decisions on whether it would be compatible with an internationally accepted file format. Governments in particular prefer to use ISO-certified digital documents.

On Feb. 2, a Microsoft-sponsored open source programming project released a translation tool that converts files between the company's Office document standard (also known as Office Open XML) and the competing Open Document format (ODF).

The Open Document format (ODF) is backed by Microsoft competitors IBM Corp., Sun Microsystems Inc. and Novell Ltd. and designed to work with the free OpenOffice suite of productivity programs.

Microsoft claims that IBM is trying to scuttle its attempts to establish the standard:

This campaign to stop even the consideration of Open XML in ISO/IEC JTC1 is a blatant attempt to use the standards process to limit choice in the marketplace for ulterior commercial motives – and without regard for the negative impact on consumer choice and technological innovation….
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.


Robertson told CNet News IBM's stance is "hypocrisy":

"We see a level of hypocrisy in IBM's activities...They have long called on us to standardize formats, make the IP (intellectual property) freely available to the broader community, and we've done it. Now that that is done, they are putting a lot of resources to block standardization" of OOXML, Robertson said. "IBM is fundamentally on the wrong side of the industry."

Whether Microsoft's assertions are correct remains to be seen. What is certain is that the open source software movement appears to be gaining traction, particularly in developing countries where the economics of moving society into the information economy can be prohibitive between the cost of computer equipment and software. Those countries coincidentally also represent the underdeveloped markets that hold the greatest potential for growth for companies like Microsoft in the years ahead.

The outcome of the document standards battle could have a major impact on how the world gets its information and who, if anyone, they pay to get it.

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