What’s Wrong With Choice?

Saturday, 2007-January-20 at 00:15 16 comments

Brian Jones of Microsoft feels that the storm of publicity about shortcomings in OOXML is largely due to IBM investing its money and time in developing the expertise to consult for ODF-using products.

IBM has a lot of money in the game banking on ODF, and my guess is that there is a lot of fear on their side that if there are alternatives to ODF they will lose.

He says that he really stands for choice.  In fact, he wants the end-user and the developer to be able to choose freely whether to support ODF or OOXML or perhaps even both.

Choice is a good thing, and that’s what we are trying to promote…. I keep dying to ask IBM, "if you really think ODF is the best solution, why does it matter so much if Open XML also co-exists as an ISO standard? What are you afraid of?"

Mr. Jones, if you really care about choice, implement ODF as a fully-native peer to OOXML and automatically download it in the next batch of updates, rather than using a partially-functional plug-in that has to be searched out and then downloaded.  Or is it really Microsoft that is afraid?

Let's be honest here.  According to your latest Form 10-Q, Office is 90% of the revenue of Microsoft Business Division, which is in turn one of the three profitable segments in the company.  Both of the other two segments related directly to the Windows operating systems ("Client" & "Server").  MBD is able to charge a pretty high price for its products.  If there was a fully-level playing field—a standardized file format for the industry that almost anyone could implement—that would directly threaten Office & MBD.  Losing dominance with Office would in turn threaten the Client segment, because users would be free to utilize whatever operating system(s) met their needs without being risking being unable to share office documents with others.

XBox, Zune, Origami, MSN/Live are all money-losers.  That they still exist at all is due primarily to the huge sums that come in from Windows and Office.  So what happens if suddenly Office and then the client part of Windows become flaccid?  Will you still be able to satisfy?

In other words, I think it is clear that Microsoft Business Division is afraid that they will lose this one.

Now, I will be the first to admit that the best office suite I have ever used was WordPerfect version 7.  In almost ten years of searching, I have never found another product (not even another version of WP) that had the functionality, simplicity, and reliability that WP 7 had.  That is why I actually wrote to Corel, asking them to implement full read-write ODF functionality in their products.

Still, Microsoft's office suite (at least up to version 2003) was always decent, even if it has an annoying tendency to try to run the user's life instead of letting the user be in control.  StarOffice 5.1 and 5.2 were hideous, awful little programs that fought to constrain users to a desktop that was fully-contained inside of the office suite.  Later versions of StarOffice and its twin OpenOffice.org are very much like Microsoft Office, only less annoying.

What is the point?  Simply this: given a choice, some users will indeed abandon Microsoft for competing vendors.  Some will not.  I do not foresee Office becoming irrelevant any time soon, nor would I want it to do so.  As a user and technician, it is beneficial to me when competition increases, but not when once-major players are knocked out of the market.  I want to see Microsoft, Corel, Sun, IBM, and other vendors (such as Software 602 or MicroVision Development) competing to give me the best possible product (and face it, Office 2003 was not your best effort) at the best possible price, with nearly full fidelity in moving documents between people who may be using a competing application.

So, Brian, do you really care about choice?  Prove it to me.  Instead of a halfway-functional plug-in that has to be searched out and downloaded, have your team write fully-native ODF support and download it as an automatic update to Office XP (2002) and later.  Make sure that it is placed as an equal peer with OOXML in your "Save As" dialog.  And take all of these secret quirks (do this the way Word 95 did) and plainly specify what was done, then issue a pledge that everything necessary to implement OOXML in any application whatsoever is perpetually guaranteed to be free for anyone to implement in any way they wish at any time, whether they use Windows, Linux, Solaris, BSD, or some home-brewed system they cooked up themselves.

Or maybe you are afraid of something…

Entry filed under: ODF, Software. Tags: .

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16 Comments

  • 1. Robert  |  Tuesday, 2007-January-23 at 03:12

    The final question was rethorical?

  • 2. Andy Pepperdine  |  Tuesday, 2007-January-23 at 06:42

    Brian Jones: “Choice is a good thing”.

    Who is he kidding? If I, as a consumer, buy a freezer, I expect, for reasons of interoperability, that the plug on the end of the power cord fits the sockets in my house; I do not expect to have a choice, and in fact I would that there not be a choice. In the same way, I do not want to think about whether a recipient of a document has the tools to read what I send. Interoperability is aided by using a single standard; and I thought Microsoft had recently proclaimed their conversion to the goal of interoperability.

  • 3. shane  |  Tuesday, 2007-January-23 at 06:51

    Novell has stated publicly that they are expecting Microsoft to include native ODF support in Office.

  • 4. OpenStandardsAreGood  |  Tuesday, 2007-January-23 at 07:37

    Of *course* Microsoft is afraid – afraid of actual genuine competition.

    Microsoft doesn’t like genuine level-playing-field competition where competition is actually on the merits of a product.

  • 5. lnxwalt  |  Tuesday, 2007-January-23 at 09:26

    The Microsoft comment I referenced is found here: http://blogs.msdn.com/brian_jones/archive/2007/01/19/passing-the-openxml-standard-over-to-iso.aspx

  • 6. Mike  |  Tuesday, 2007-January-23 at 11:36

    Re: lnxwalt

    Read comments too :)

    The Microsoft comment I referenced is found here: http://blogs.msdn.com/brian_jones/archive/2007/01/19/passing-the-openxml-stan

  • 7. Sean Smith  |  Tuesday, 2007-January-23 at 15:08

    [Begin Quote]
    #

    Andy Pepperdine // Jan 23rd 2007 at 6:42

    Brian Jones: “Choice is a good thing”.

    Who is he kidding? If I, as a consumer, buy a freezer, I expect, for reasons of interoperability, that the plug on the end of the power cord fits the sockets in my house; I do not expect to have a choice, and in fact I would that there not be a choice. In the same way, I do not want to think about whether a recipient of a document has the tools to read what I send. Interoperability is aided by using a single standard; and I thought Microsoft had recently proclaimed their conversion to the goal of interoperability.
    [End Quote]

    In this effect, you were actually given a *HUGE* choice as a consumer. Instead of having to have multiple closed standards (different types of proprietary plugs), you have electrical standards for the types of plugs out there. In the USA, there’s a very typical 15A polarized and grounded standard. *EVERY* manufacturer knows you will have that standard socket in the wall, so they can *ALL* plug into it.

    This is what MS does not want. They don’t wish to have a completely open, interoperable standard because they are afraid that if someone plugs something else into the standard socket, that they will lose money.

    There’s still a choice of sockets too. For 120VAC systems, there’s different sockets to designate 15A and 20A devices. If you buy a device that needs 20A, you will not be able to plug it into a 15A socket. Same with 240V. Plus there’s twist-lock styles too. This is the choice that standards give us. We don’t have to buy any particular brand of socket or plug. We only have to know the type. We can get it from any manufacturer and know if it abides by the standards, you can plug it in and it will work.

    In this case, you have actually proved the case of open standard being better. I know you originally intended it to prove there was a limit of choice there but if you look deeper, the reason you can plug it in with “no choice” is because there’s an open and interoperable standard to which all manufacturers build devices that can plug into it.

    This is how everything should be. Not special plugs and special electricity or special gas and special tires to drive on special roads. One open and robust standard and everyone can use it freely makes for MORE choice and a wide range of products from the cheap junk to the expensive quality.

    As a contractor, do you buy the cheap $20 Black and Decker drill at Wal-Mart or do you go buy a nice $120 Makita or Milwaukee? Both drill holes…but because we have standards, we have a choice of both and everything in between. The $70 DeWalt a better value? Perhaps.

    Open standards allow choice. Choice allows using the right tool for the job. Is the $20 tool right for the job? Then we should have that choice. Not all being forced to buy the $20 cheap quality tool at $200 and being told “that’s how it is” because it’s a “Microsoft Standard.”

    As with any big business, Microsoft is afraid that people will realize that they are buying the $20 tool but paying $200 for it. That’s a 10% comparison. Since the market studies show that most MS Office users only use 10% of any of the available functions…what’s 10% of the retail cost of Office 2003 Pro’s $600? If people are only using $60 worth…why are they being forced to buy the whole thing? Why are they dumb enough to buy the whole thing? Because they *DON’T* feel they have the choice because there is no true standard that all use to make the wide choice of tools available.

    Pink anyone? Taligent? OS/2 and a real Object Oriented Desktop? Truth of the matter is, Microsoft has put us 10 years behind where we could be in operating system power. I literally had everything I needed with OS/2…except support. I had a full 32-bit, fast, powerful, scriptable, shell swappable, amazing PC that did everything I needed…with a fraction of the PC horsepower needed nowadays. I already had the GUI with the animated desktop icons and the skinnable everything, multiple virtual desktops…Object Desktop from Stardock anyone? Powerful commandline multitasking? Been there, done that….in 1995. The latest MS products are lackluster. People will buy their crap though…hey, they voted for Bush, at least 20% of the population is dumb enough to believe anything and vote or buy because that’s how it is and they can’t think for themselves.

    The only real answer is to take the warning labels off everything and let the problem take care of itself but the lawyers won’t let that happen…

    Lovely modern world we live in.

    -S

    Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

  • 8. Arguing About Archiving « Opportunity Knocks  |  Tuesday, 2007-April-24 at 14:23

    [...] and whether ODF and MS/ECMA-OOXML fit the bill. Brian Jones of Microsoft is an honest person in a tough position, so we must be gentle with him. I think as we see more and more applications pop up that support [...]

  • 9. XPS Submitted To Ecma « Opportunity Knocks  |  Saturday, 2007-June-30 at 14:44

    [...] remain flat for several years is starting to worry people in Redmond.  Not only must they preserve the current monopolies and continue to prop up financially-failing businesses, they must find new areas to expand [...]

  • 10. Santayana « Opportunity Knocks  |  Thursday, 2007-December-20 at 19:33

    [...] products if they wanted to give end-users the choice of what products to buy.  It is their fear that they will not be the choice of enough buyers to remain on top that drives the urgency of DIS 29500.  It is their fear that without an ISO stamp of approval, [...]

  • [...] How many of the known implementers of the OOXML formats could tell of similar arm-twisting?  Why is it that Microsoft feels that it cannot compete without misusing its huge market share to stifle the growth o…? [...]

  • 12. Johnnyg  |  Wednesday, 2008-April-09 at 10:16

    To paraphrase the opening quote from Brian Jones:

    “Microsoft has a lot of money in the game banking on OOXML, and my guess is that there is a lot of fear on their side that if there are alternatives to OOXML they will lose.”

    It is Microsoft that is afraid here — very scared that they will lose their monopoly on office formats, hence the dirty tricks on the OOXML ISO process.

    “Standing for choice” is all well and good, but what matters most here is choice in end user applications. Having multiple competing formats diminishes that choice. Having all applications share a common document format is the way to go. Brian Jones knows that well, but also understands that such a format threatens the monopoly which his company relies on.

  • 13. chris101010  |  Wednesday, 2008-April-09 at 14:01

    Anything done and said by Microsoft has one end in mind, the maintaining of their vendor lock-in on their customers. All the talk about interoperability is just smoke and mirrors. Interoperability and open standards is what BG has nightmares about.
    They have never competed fairly in the marketplace with anyone and they’re not about to start now.

  • [...] allergy Microsoft has for real choice gets a mention in this old blog post. [via Groklaw] So, Brian, do you really care about choice? Prove it to me. Instead of a [...]

  • 15. wtr  |  Wednesday, 2008-April-09 at 23:32

    Microsoft does not want to lose all goverments to open standards, so they created their own…but why do goverments need backwards comaptibility to old ugly binary formats? They can convert .doc files to odf can’t they?

  • 16. Drummer  |  Thursday, 2008-April-10 at 11:51

    - Andy Pepperdine said on 2007-January-23 at 6:42 –

    ”Brian Jones: “Choice is a good thing”.

    Who is he kidding? If I, as a consumer, buy a freezer, I expect, for reasons of interoperability, that the plug on the end of the power cord fits the sockets in my house; I do not expect to have a choice, and in fact I would that there not be a choice. …”

    He has a choice. First, he could buy a freezer that runs on 120volts/60Hz alternating current, or one that runs on a 12volt DC supply (like a battery), or one that runs on propane or natural gas. But let’s assume that he chooses to have one that runs on 120VAC.
    The “industry standard” (I assume he’s in the U.S.) would specify that his appliance would have a male plug, with two flat blades and one round connector, which would mate with a female connector with two slots and one hole. It wouldn’t matter if his appliance was from Amana, Whirlpool, Sub-Zero, Bosch, or any one of dozens of other suppliers of appliances. They would all come with a similar male plug. Likewise, the wall socket could be made by Leviton, Cooper, or any one of a number of other manufacturers. Each plug would work identically in each socket because there is ONE standard for plugs and sockets.
    Granted, in this case the standard is an American-only standard. But the standard for specifying voltage is international. It wouldn’t do to think of how a “volt” is determined would be different in the U.S. than in Canada or France, or even state-to-state.
    Neither the definitions for electrical properties nor the specifications for plugs & sockets is encumbered by patents. Standards such as these promote competition. Competition means that although the functionality is identical, there’s still something that each manufacturer can offer – lower price, more durable materials, color choices, special features. These do not take away from or add to the functionality, but can be determining factors for consumers.
    Oh, and I guess you could still buy a freezer that runs on 12 volts. Or on gas. But at least there’s some “standard” connectors for those as well.


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