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11 September 2007



I have some thoughts on the timing of the IBM / announcement. I hear the official reasons why IBM is now joining, but I'm not sure I'm convinced that's all there was to the decision.

We know that IBM's decision was influenced by the ISO vote results on OOXML.

I suspect that prior to that vote, IBM was playing things close-to-the-vest for the following reasons:
1. Old rivalries with Sun over Eclipse/Java could be spun by MS as negative.
2. Openly participating in would preclude options for IBM to partner with Microsoft (had the vote gone otherwise or the objections been less substantial) in the future to make OOXML-compliant apps without losing their support-base in the FOSS community - a possible lose-everything scenario for IBM.
3. Now that the vote is known, Microsoft has come out and said that if ECMA/ISO takes OOXML to true standards & interoperability that Microsoft will abandon the OOXML standard. This leaves IBM with a high probability that OOXML compliance will *not* equal Office 2007 compatability and that Office 2007 will likely be forevermore proprietary and closed to all Microsoft partners & competitors.
4. IBM has already been - and continues to be - accused by Microsoft of lobbying and conspiring against Microsoft to subvert the ISO voting process against Microsoft to the detriment of OOXML and to the benefit of ODF. This bodes ill for Microsoft's willingness/ability to turn their FUD-machine around and announce a partnership with IBM to build products that are either based on or that interoperate with either OOXML or Office 2007.

IBM may or may not have been active in spreading the word about known shortcomings in the OOXML spec to various countries. If so, I consider that action to be fair given the size of the spec that Microsoft dumped into the fast-track process and the number of flaws that were able to be identified in the few months available to the NBs. This is in addition to the questionable practices that were eventually made public concerning Microsoft's various 'lobbying' efforts.

IBM may have developed reservations about partnering with Microsoft as a direct result of this political manuevering and of the potential legal fallout from Microsoft's known vote-influencing (I would use stronger language, but 'vote-influencing' is being kind and gives Microsoft more credit than I think they deserve).

Given that IBM has also been working toward ODF standardization as means to enhance their 'standards-compliance' posture with governments around the world, it now makes a lot of sense to finally get off the fence between the potential that Office 2007 will dominate the office market as the successor to Office 2003 and the potential that ODF (with a bit of extra push at this point in time) might just be able to dislodge MSOffice from its public sector dominance and use ODF's public sector market penetration as a launch-pad into the private sector.

Dislodging Microsoft's hold on the office market would have the positive effect that IBM's piece of the resulting ODF pie would be much larger than IBM's piece of the current MSOffice-dominated pie. This would also allow for many new possibilities for IBM and others to implement service-oriented-architectures and software-as-a-service models that would create entirely new markets.

Finally there is the strong positive influence of all the goodwill this announcement will generate in the FOSS communities, not to mention the marketing advantages that IBM will gain by being seen to cooperate with both the letter of the FOSS licenses and their spirits as well, while also providing significant additional standards-based value for their customers.

I think the decision to join at this time makes a lot of sense for the above reasons and that contributing the accessibility technologies and the programmers to help implement those technologies provides both a substantial press announcement and a very positive counter-story to Microsoft's accusations of ISO vote-tampering.

Please do not misunderstand - I think IBM is doing a terrific thing by contributing their accessibility framework to the ODF community and I welcome their contributions. Accessibility is one of the primary 'weaknesses' in the product that Microsoft and their supporters keep harping on despite the fact that neither OOXML nor Office 2007 have any substantial support for disabled persons without massive additional expenditures to 3rd-party vendors of taxpayer dollars to acquire the needed accessibility aids for MSOffice products.

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