The OOXML Ballot Resolution
[Update (2008-2-25 13:45): There's an excellent press release from ISO that outlines exact history and next steps and requirements for this ballot.]
I have long maintained that technology standardization is commercial diplomacy and the purpose of individual participants (as with all diplomats) is to expand one's area of economic influence while defending sovereign territory. This week a lot of people are gathering in Geneva for the ISO ballot resolution meeting for Office Open XML (OOXML), Microsoft's Office product specification. The debate no doubt will be contentious.
Microsoft had a perfect opportunity to participate in the Open Document Format (ODF) standard's development at OASIS. They ignored that opportunity. The best time for technology standardization arises when a problem space is well understood, with sufficient real implementation knowledge to discern what works and what doesn't. Microsoft had arguably the best experience to contribute. They chose not to participate. Standardized document formats with multiple product implementations posed a threat to their Office business.
That threat became real when the Commonwealth of Massachusetts chose ODF as a basis for product procurement to best serve its citizens. Microsoft's response was not to adopt the ODF standard that already existed with multiple implementations (and continues to act as a hub for alignment with other international work like China's UOF standard), but to rush their own product specification into the standardization process.
They have over the two year process done a remarkable amount of work to bring the specification through ECMA to ISO, and have made great gestures to enable others to support the Microsoft specification.
But there's a problem.
Microsoft is an adjudicated monopoly in the United States. The EU continues to investigate possible abuse of their market dominance. (Market leadership and innovation are not what's being punished, but rather the abuse of a dominant position.) Microsoft can complain all they want, but the practices that enabled their success continue to plague them. We cannot collectively rewrite history. Microsoft is indeed held to a different measure. They have forfeited some of the freedoms that other companies enjoy. In many ways, they have lost our trust.
One can not judge Microsoft's newly declared preference for "openness" against the work they've done promoting their own product specification, but against their continued refusal to adopt ODF. In the end, OOXML as an ISO standard (with its attendant market confusion) will best serve the needs of Microsoft over its customers, and that's a shame.
Andy Updegrove has an excellent essay on his blog as we go into this week's ballot resolution deliberations. He takes a different approach. In it he argues that a particular class of standards should be held to a higher bar for acceptance, because they enable fundamental technology access in the world going forward. He makes an compelling case for why OOXML should be flunked out of the ISO process.
This promises to be a fascinating week.