Maybe Because They Are Losing Control

Tuesday, 2007-January-23 at 14:12 1 comment

CyberTech Rambler notes that the file format discussion seems to be intensifying.  He concludes that neither IBM nor Microsoft has much skin in the game.

The truth is, none of them had bet their company on ODF or OOXML. If OOXML succeeds at the expense of ODF, IBM can easily rewrite their applications to make OOXML the default file format. I cannot see IBM being so stubborn that they wrote their applications to use nothing but ODF. Nor are they big enough, or stupid enough, to employ Microsoft’s trick of mingling code in such a way that ODF cannot be separated from the application. In fact, I expect IBM to have their OOXML->ODF->OOXML converters whether or not ISO accredit OOXML. IBM will be at a slight disadvantage when it comes to selling document manipulating software compared to Microsoft’s Share Point/Project servers, but not much. IBM has the business expertise that MS would love to have.

If ODF succeeds at the expense of OOXML, Microsoft will see its monopoly rent on Office Application decline. It will not disappear overnight but will be eroded over a few years until Microsoft will, eventually, not be able to collect monopoly rent anymore. Note that this does not mean Microsoft Office will not make a profit, just not as much as it would. Microsoft Windows market will be affected, but not as bad as most analysts predicts because Windows is in a separate market, and using Windows has advantages that other operating system don’t. Yes, Microsoft will no longer call the shots but that is just brused ego, nothing more. Other money losing Microsoft’s divisions will have lost their sugardaddy and have to start pulling their weight. The decline in monopoly rent can be relatively fast, say over a 6 years period, but it leave sufficient time for Microsoft to transform itself and Microsoft will be transformed, but it will still be prosperous, not limping along. Will Microsoft then support ODF natively in MS Office? It will not have a choice. In fact, it can save face by declaring that there is sufficient demand to implement ODF in MS Office. Will it be a big problem for Office to support ODF? I don’t know, but I will say it will not be a big problem as Microsoft is trying to imply now.

CyberTech Rambler, welcome to the discussion.  I would say that as long as ODF is the only ISO-approved standard, Microsoft stands to lose their monopoly.  I do not expect, neither do I want, them to lose money or go broke.  But if they have to respond to the desires of those who actually pay for software, the whole industry will be better for it.  Remember that this is a company that has not been in competitive markets for some time.  Either they lead by a long way, or they are serious also-rans, but they rarely become "just one of the gang."  That is why I think that if they lose on OOXML, they will have to learn how to handle competitive markets.

Remember when Ma Bell said that they needed high rates to pay for all that copper wire they had put up?  What happened once there were several long distance companies, which were separate from the local exchange carriers?  They suddenly recognized that those wires had been paid for years ago, so they cut their prices to try to compete.  They lost market share, they cut prices, and they greatly reduced their profits for a time.

In any case, we must remember that Ecma recently approved OOXML and passed it to ISO.  Likewise, Microsoft Office 2007 is launching this month with OOXML support, but not ODF support.  Brian Jones says

Have you seen how many formats we support in Office? There are tons of them. There was absolutely no customer demand for ODF until about a year or so ago. That demand came from some governments, but at that point it was way too late to try and build a brand new file format into Office. Instead we supported an add-in project and when that’s complete any Office user can download that add-in for free and open/save ODF files.

I recall a time when there was a font in Office 2003 that was deemed "unacceptable", so it was replaced in a "critical update".  I am sure that if something as minor as a font replacement qualifies, then adding the capability to use a format that governments (a major customer group) are requesting surely qualifies.  Or is Microsoft willing to give up government sales in any jurisdiction where they choose to require ODF (or UOF for some Asian countries)?

So Microsoft is making it political, by refusing to support the existing standard (or even to help make it better for their use), by using subterfuge as in the state of Massachusetts and in Malaysia, and by pushing OOXML to be a standard—even if no one else can use it to make competing office applications—and by trying to game the tables.

Opposition is not just coming from IBM—most of the groups that are opposing OOXML are not even software vendors—but from the community of technical people who will have to deal with the effects of this non-open open standard.  In my case (and my last name is HUCKS, not Huck), I do not work for any of the companies involved.  Not Microsoft.  Not IBM.  Not Novell.  Not Sun.  Not Microvision Development, who have stopped development on their office application and recommend that people instead download OpenOffice.org.  I oppose the imposition of OOXML because I support users, and it is far better to do so when those users have a choice of vendors for hardware, peripherals, applications, operating systems, et cetera.

Entry filed under: ODF. Tags: .

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1 Comment

  • 1. ctrambler  |  Wednesday, 2007-January-24 at 06:38

    Apology for spelling your name wrongly.

    I did not meant to imply you work for IBM. If I do, I apologize.

    Compare with OOXML camp, which I had so far aware of only one member, the ODF camp is larger and make more persuasive arguments.

    The Ma Bell argument is persuasive, and I would use it myself in the same context. It is yet another example of a company that had ‘forgotten’ how to compete.


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