IBM abuses file format standardization process to limit choice - Microsoft
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IBM abuses file format standardization process to limit choice - Microsoft

Redmond (WA) - Microsoft has fired the next round in a behind-the-scenes battle to establish the next dominant file format for office applications. Microsoft claims that IBM doesn't play nice and tries to block the standardization of the Open XML format in an attempt to "limit choice" because of "ulterior commercial motives."

The accusations come from two Microsoft general managers responsible for the firm's Interoperability & Standards and Interoperability & XML Architecture initiatives, Tom Robertson and Jean Paoli, apparently as an answer to IBM's open client announcement earlier this week. In an article focusing on file format interoperability efforts, Robertson and Paoli claim that it is actually Microsoft that tries to create a world of interoperable file formats and that it is IBM that uses unfair tactics to force the Open Document Format (ODF) into the market.

"A lot of hype - and smoke and mirrors obfuscation - surrounds interoperability these days," the open letter published on Microsoft.com states. While highlighting the work Microsoft has done to create an open format with Open XML, which is the default file format in Office 2007, the two executives take aim at the battle about getting the format standardized. While Microsoft claims that it did not try to block the ODF standardization, the company accuses IBM to do just that:

The letter states:

 
"The ISO/IEC JTC1 process for considering Open XML (called "fast track") involves a one-month period when national standards bodies can raise perceived contradictions between this and existing or in-process ISO/IEC JTC1 activities. That's followed by a five-month technical review and balloting process. The time period is essentially the same as that provided for consideration of ODF in ISO/IEC JTC1."

"When ODF was under consideration, Microsoft made no effort to slow down the process because we recognized customers' interest in the standardization of document formats. In sharp contrast, during the initial one-month period for consideration of Open XML in ISO/IEC JTC1, IBM led a global campaign urging national bodies to demand that ISO/IEC JTC1 not even consider Open XML, because ODF had made it through ISO/IEC JTC1 first - in other words, that Open XML should not even be considered on its technical merits because a competing standard had already been adopted. IBM has declared victory in blocking Open XML, hyping the comments that were filed."

Robertson and Paoli went on to describe the "campaign" as a "blatant attempt to use the standards process to limit choice in the marketplace for ulterior commercial motives." The two executives believe that "it is not a coincidence that IBM's Lotus Notes product (...) fails to support the Open XML international standard." In the end, Robertson and Paoli claim, IBM "forces" ODF on users in an "attempt to restrict choice."

On the other hand, the letter says that "Microsoft has long believed in the power of XML-based file formats to unlock data in documents and to help integrate front and back office processes" and that the company "has increasingly implemented XML-based formats in successive releases of Office. With Office 2007, the default file formats for Word, Excel and PowerPoint are now based on Open XML, which is also supported in Office 2003, Office XP and Office 2000 through a free update."

Robertson and Paoli did not provide additional information on Microsoft's decision not to integrate native support for ODF into Office 2007, which will only provide compatibility with the format through a "software-bridge" that needs to be downloaded by users. TG Daily editors have contacted Microsoft with questions about the firm's interoperability efforts as well as the firm's ODF strategy, but have not received answers by the time of this writing.

The traditional opposite of Microsoft Office, the open-source office software OpenOffice, relies on the ODF as its default format, but was recently announced to receive an Open XML extension. The only major commercial Office software that has been announced to support ODF as well as Open XML is Corel's WordPerfect suite.