Microsoft takes off gloves in open documents battle

Microsoft’s fight to get file formats for its Word, Access, Excel and Powerpoint products accepted by the ISO standards organisation is getting nasty.


Microsoft’s fight to get file formats for its Word, Access, Excel and Powerpoint products accepted by the ISO standards organisation is getting nasty.

Some 200 national certification bodies, which make up ISO will decide this weekend whether to accept Microsoft backed OpenXML standard alongside the rival Open Document Format for Office Applications (ODF).

At stake are large public sector software contracts.

Advocates of ODF claim that Microsoft has been unfairly encouraging its partners to join national standards bodies to influence the vote, including an effort to "buy" votes in Sweden.

The story was reported this week by our sister publication, Computer Sweden. Excerpts of the Computer Sweden article in English are available online.

Reports on the internet suggest last-minute appearances by Microsoft allies to vote in favour of Open XML in countries such as Norway, Columbia, Switzerland and Portugal.

Microsoft admitted this week that an employee at its Swedish subsidiary offered monetary compensation to partners for voting in favour of the Office Open XML document format's approval as an ISO standard.

The company said the offer, when discovered, was quickly retracted and that its Sweden managers voluntarily notified the national standards body.

"We had a situation where an employee sent a communication via e-mail that was inconsistent with our corporate policy," said Tom Robertson, general manager for interoperability and standards at Microsoft. "That communication had no impact on the final vote."

Robertson dismissed criticism of Microsoft’s efforts to encourage its partners to join standards bodies. Most standards bodies are filled with "an old guard" membership that needs rejuvenation, he said. He also likened Microsoft's recruitment efforts to a voter registration drive.

"Have we been speaking to our community of companies about this issue? Yes, we have," he said. "They needed to know. They, in many cases, decided to participate. [But] there is no basis to allegations that we are gerrymandering the process."

Jason Matusow, Microsoft's senior director for intellectual property and interoperability, in a blog post, acknowledged that Microsoft had contacted business partners to support Open XML and also defended the action.

"It is critical to note that the addition of voting members at that time was completely within the rules of the national standards body," he wrote. "While there are many arguments to be had over the relative merits of this rule ... it is a rule nonetheless."

Matusow claimed "many of the partners had been called by IBM (which supports the ODF standard) as well, encouraging them to join the process and vote against the proposed standard. Many of these companies are partners for both IBM and Microsoft."

Andrew Updegrove, a well-known backer of the rival Open Document Format for Office Applications (ODF) and an attorney at Gesmer Updegrove in Boston, said Microsoft's tactics make the outcome of the Open XML vote crucial to the future of the technology standards process.

"I personally believe that this result is essential, due to the severe impact that the events of the past several months have had on the integrity of the standards development process."

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