Why Push So Hard, or Marrying Off Your Ugly Daughter

Monday, 2007-September-03 at 18:06 1 comment

I find myself wondering—it's a mystery to me—why Microsoft is so intent on risking everything to marry off its ugly daughter.  Surely, they could continue indefinitely as the largest seller of operating systems and office suite software without resorting to all the dirty tricks.  It boggles the mind to think that they are risking not one, but two, existing monopolies over something as mundane as file formats for office applications.

In fact, Microsoft's tactics remind me of an old joke about an ugly daughter and a vibrator.  This is a family-friendly forum, so I will go no further than that.

The tactics do make one thing perfectly clear.  There is no interest from end-users and company IT departments in utilizing their Office Not-so-open XML (OOXML) formats.  Their regular users want to stick with the binary formats that they know how to work with, even if their ability to work with them independently is limited.  Most know that they can use system calls to use Microsoft’s office applications to manipulate their own files, which gives them perfect access to their data without the need to deal with the format.  What they don’t want is for that perfect access to change.

Stephane Rodriguez has shown us that it is not really feasible to manipulate OOXML files apart from their applications.  Even minor changes that should be allowable under the OOXML specification will make a spreadsheet unusable.

In the absence of honesty from Jason, Doug, Brian, and the crew, we have no other option but to speculate.

If you already control over 90% of the world, but are burning over the fact that a small minority is not under your control, you might concoct a plan to "reunite" the world under one banner.  If you were careful not to completely wipe out all of your competition at once, perhaps threw some of them an "interoperability" agreement which contains carefully-sown seeds of their destruction, the world might not know what was up until the Gargoyle Vine grew as large as the earth itself.

I call upon Johnny Sokko and his Giant Robot to help us battle the Gargoyle gang.
You might not know it, but that felt really good. "We now return to our regularly scheduled programming."

If you have a daughter who can not find anyone on her own, you may:

  • just accept the fact; this is the healthiest thing to do, but far too many of us want to get too involved
  • start setting her up on dates, including blind dates; or even resort to negotiating a contract marriage
  • start trying to change the things about her that repel potential suitors

Accepting things might mean, in the case of Office, sitting down with OASIS and hammering out a new version of the OpenDocument Format standard which is fully functional with your product, so that users and IT departments can finally choose to use the software they desire without being held captive by file formats.  Just this evening, I convinced someone to install the Novell distribution of OpenOffice.org 2.1 instead of upgrading his trial version of Microsoft Office 2007 to a paid copy.  Why did he switch?  Price, file formats, and feeling like a patsy when his trial ran out and he couldn't export his .xlsx files to .xls files that he could use elsewhere.

Changing things that repel potential suitors, in the case of office suites, could mean that you accept that some users will prefer the functionality, interface, speed, cross-platform nature, or price of a competing product.  Cry for a little while, and then try to figure out how to make your product better in ways that will make users want to come back.

Setting up blind dates and contract marriages, in the context of office suites, would be doing such underhanded things as trying to lock users into your products through the file formats that you use (and which competitors do not have complete information about).  It would be changing from formats that are mostly understood to proprietary formats in drag that you claim are open.  It can be starting an "ecumenical movement" with certain competitors, and threatening to use the legal system to smash all other competitors.

What all of these moves have in common is that they deny end-users and IT departments the ability to freely choose which products and vendors they wish to support.  As soon as a user has to worry about whether someone can open and use the files that his chosen application produces, choice has been limited or removed from that user.

If someone in Redmond is feeling ecumenical, he may have plans to absorb and eliminate the bishops of Novell, Linspire, Xandros, and TurboLinux.

Once again, a bet-the-company strategy over a minor issue.  A sane management would have said, "ODF compatible? Put it in."  A management that is proud and arrogant, which thinks it can never be defeated, will bet its twin monopolies over a small slice of the office suites market.

It looks, as of 2007-JAN-02 2007-SEP-03, like ISO DIS 29500 (Ecma OOXML) will not get its stamp of approval without some changes.  I hope that Microsoft is humbled enough to sit down and listen to the issues raised.  Some of the comments really are asking for a convergence between ODF and OOXML, as am I.

No end-user wants to hear, "You can use that other product, but it might not work correctly with our file format."  So stop playing games.  There are tons of very smart people in Microsoft.  Get over this fear of competing in a fair market.  I would not expect the company to go away, so go ahead… sit down with OASIS and China and create one universal, extensible, format that reuses existing W3C, ISO, and other standards, is clearly and fully specified in a platform-neutral, XML-centric way, and is perpetually free of any kind of "intellectual property" claims by any known party for any implementation (including partial, full, extended, and implementations which may include reverse-engineered functionality).

Perhaps this scheme to take over the world is doomed from the start.  Since the beginning of civilization, some have attempted to conquer the entire known world.  To my knowledge, none have succeeded.

Entry filed under: ODF, Open Standards.

Link: MSFT Bullies and Bribes Office Not-so-open XML Loses This Round

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