Microsoft accuses IBM of Office standards sabotage

The software giant has published an open letter accusing Big Blue of trying to sabotage its plans to have the Office Open XML specification accepted by the ISO.

Microsoft has added fuel to the fire of the standards furore for office software by publishing an open letter accusing IBM of attempting to sabotage its efforts to have the Office Open XML specification accepted as a global standard by the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO).

The debate centres on interoperability, and whether that is served best at a standards or format level, and whether that should be by single or multiple instances.

Microsoft's pitch has been that standards are what matter, and that more than one means choice for users. Its vested interest is the progress of its Office Open XML specification, which has already been ratified by the Ecma standards body and is under scrutiny by the ISO for approval.

However, Microsoft has been under siege for much of this process. Critics accuse it of using the standards process to serve its own commercial interest: having Office XML ratified will help fend off the threat of the Open Document Format - itself a standard built by the OASIS body - to its huge cash cow of public sector licences.

The open-source community has overwhelmingly backed ODF as the format of choice to untie documents from the software that created them. It will ensure they remain accessible for the lifespan of the standard, rather than being vulnerable to the commercial success or otherwise of the companies behind office software.

As well as the likes of OpenForum Europe (OFE) and the ODF Alliance, Sun's chief executive Jonathan Schwartz has also put his weight behind ODF.

In its open letter, Microsoft explains its choice of an XML-based standard for its new Office documents, the ease with which XML enables documents to be translated, ensuring interoperability, and customer demand for choice. However, it is IBM's campaign on the ODF issue that has provoked the strongest reaction from Microsoft.

It accuses IBM of leading a global campaign to bully national bodies into demanding the ISO not to consider Office Open XML because ODF had already been ratified.

Tom Robertson, general manager of interoperability and standards and Jean Paoli, general manager of interoperability and XML architecture at Microsoft, turned the tables on IBM alleging similar conflicts of interest Microsoft has been accused of. "This campaign to stop even the consideration of Open XML in ISO/IEC JTC1 is a blatant attempt to use the standards process to limit choice in the marketplace for ulterior commercial motives - and without regard for the negative impact on consumer choice and technological innovation," they said.

They point out that IBM's Lotus Notes doesn't support Office Open XML and that attempting to make public procurement policies for government departments a political or emotional rather than technical decision is more indicative of a company lacking confidence in its own office products.

"If successful, the campaign to block consideration of Office Open XML could create a dynamic where the first technology to the standards body, regardless of technical merit, gets to preclude other related ones from being considered. The IBM driven effort to force ODF on users through public procurement mandates is a further attempt to restrict choice.

"We have listened to our customers. They want choice. They want interoperability. They want innovation. We and others believe that Open XML achieves all these goals, and we look forward to supporting Ecma as it works positively with national standards bodies throughout the ISO/IEC process."

IBM declined to comment on the letter.

The open letter can be read here.

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