I was dismayed this morning to see Andy Updegrove's write-up on Alex Brown's post on Microsoft failing it's own Office Open XML (OOXML) standard (formally known as ISO/IEC 29500). It is the second anniversary of the ballot resolution and approval of the standard. While Andy was reporting from the trenches through the final ballot resolution, Alex was responsible for the negotiations that allowed the standard to pass. Essentially Microsoft seems to be breaking the promises it made to the international standards community to get the standard through the process.
If Microsoft ship Office 2010 to handle only the Transitional variant of ISO/IEC 29500 they should expect to be roundly condemned for breaking faith with the International Standards community. This is not the format “approved by ISO/IEC”, it is the format that was rejected.
Unfortunately it's unclear what condemnation will bring. Even were the EU Commission to involve itself as Alex later suggests, it is unlikely that this would effect shareholder value in any meaningful way.
Alex also wonders at how such bad implementation can be allowed to happen:
So why — given the awareness Microsoft has at the top, at the bottom, and round the edges [for standards] — does it still manage to behave as it does? Something, perhaps, is wrong at the centre — some kind of corporate dysfunction caused by a failure of executive oversight.
It's nothing sinister I suspect. Cynically — it was nobody's job, and by that I mean no development manager or program management manager (or test manager for that matter) of any reasonable authority or seniority likely had it as a primary rewardable objective on their annual review. If the bugs were even filed, they were likely never deemed sufficiently important to fix during bug triage on the road to release-to-manufacturing. I saw bug triage meetings circa 1999 on the road to Windows 2000 where non-critical bugs that were effecting 10,000 beta customers were ignored because there were other bugs effecting 100,000 users. When you ship a product that has a consumer base of tens of millions, you learn different skills in the triage process. I suspect it's similar on the Office side of the company.
And Alex is completely correct, there would be no executive oversight pushing down from above on the Office development organization. The vice-president that published the open letter two-years ago making the promises has probably either (a.) moved on to other responsibilities, or (b.) assumed he had made the promise and someone else was to carry it out. It won't be on his review objectives either so he's still being well paid. So too with any other exec in the pipeline two-years ago. Even the standards team that worked so hard to get it through the ECMA and ISO processes will have moved on to other standards (and certainly wouldn't be so naive in the product-centricity of Microsoft to have accepted such an objective so far out of their control). The marketing team got its talking points two years ago. This is a cultural problem. The development teams within the company (i.e. the revenue generation engine) with a few exceptions in a few Web-related product teams just aren't tuned to deal with standards in a serious manner the way certain other vendors do.
Until there are serious lost sales to do with non-conformance from large government organizations, and the field organization starts to seriously yell, there will be no understanding in Redmond that it really mattered and that certain government officials may even have bet their careers on such promises. Even then, the first question in Redmond will [cynically] be, "How much do we sell to the Ministry of [Big Issues] in [Name-of-small-northern-European-country]?"
Alex finishes with the quote:
In short, we find ourselves at a crossroads, and it seems to me that without a change of direction the entire OOXML project is now surely heading for failure.
Failure indeed. I used the photograph at the top of the post two-years ago when I cynically predicted how this was going to go down over time. I summarized my opinions on the battle between ODF and OOXML and how Microsoft should have played the war as one of the examples in a standards primer I wrote around the same time. It will be interesting to watch how Microsoft responds to Alex's post. The world is indeed watching.