Monday, August 27, 2007

Microsoft's Behavior in the Standards Process for OOXML

I have been reading for weeks now, that Microsoft is manipulating the ISO standards process to get OOXML approved, and I find what I am reading to be disturbing and ethically wrong! Microsoft seems to promote a culture within the company that says, "Don't explicitly break any rules, but use any leverage possible to get what we want". This reminds me of many discussions I have had over the course of my career about the legality of something versus whether what was being done was ethical. The law doesn't cover all aspects, and doesn't define ethics in and of themselves. It's up to individuals and the leadership of companies to define what is and what is not ethical, and apparently Microsoft uses only the law to determine its ethical values. This is a real shame, and is truly a sad state of affairs for a company with so much power in the software industry to behave the way they behave. So what have they been doing that is so bad?

Well, let's enumerate everything I have seen:

  • Using individual countries standard body's rules to add new members that are Microsoft business partners, so they can stack the vote in their favor.
  • Preventing new members to these same countries body's that they know will not vote to approve OOXML.
  • Using the rules, within the voting process, to make it so that the comments do not get forwarded with the vote to the JTC1 committee of the ISO.
  • Giving misleading information about the JTC1 committee process, so that countries will not vote "No, with comments", and instead will vote "Yes, with comments".
    • By the way, if a country votes "Yes, with comments", Microsoft is not committed to actually fix any issues raised by the comments. They can simply address the comment by logging that nothing will be done.
  • Giving misleading information about the voting deadlines, thereby possibly preventing some countries votes from being counted.
  • Telling certain countries that Microsoft's educational programs in their country would be adversely affected if they didn't vote yes.
  • Calling heads of government agencies to pressure their representatives to vote yes.
While no one has done anything illegal, at least not that we know of yet, Microsoft is crossing an ethical line that shouldn't be crossed.

Instead of being able to sell OOXML as a standard worth considering on its merits, they are subverting the standards process, albeit within the rules, which are very lose, because they know that the standard does not really meet the requirements to become an official ISO standard without that subversion (see my previous post on whether OOXML is open or not).

If OOXML, becomes an ISO standard, it will forever damage the standards process that we rely on to create a truly competitive landscape in the market. Microsoft may have won, but we have all lost, because we will never again be able to trust any standards produced through this process again!

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