Response to Microsoft's Doug Mahugh on "Open Government"

Original blog post:

Setting the scene

A few weeks ago, I commented on the blow post, by Microsoft Federal Blogger (and marketing person) Teresa Carlson who wrote the piece above about how the recent discussion of "open government" by the Obama administration shouldn't be interpreted (as has been the case in the media) as a move by the US Federal Gov't towards open source software...

The piece smacked of desperation, namely that the world was passing Microsoft's antiquated proprietary software practices by. I normally would've just felt a bit of pity - and a bit of Schadenfreude :). Then I found Teresa's claim that the response to the "open government" message by the open source community (and commercial open source players) was "self serving"... Too much! Unable to leave something that rich unchallenged, I had to respond. Given Microsoft's long history of "self-service" in the political fray, hiring legions of lobbyists, attempting to pass legislation to protect its own interests (by using non-market forces to disadvantage would-be competitors to its desktop operating system and productivity software monopolies) it was very much a case of pot calling the kettle black. In any case, my initial comment to her, her response, and my subsequent response are all shown on the blog post as comments.

Because Teresa appeared to find herself out of her depth in responding to a few of my criticisms, particularly those related to ways in which Microsoft has tried to derail open standards in the productivity software arena with their OOXML format, she instead called in Doug Mahugh, Microsoft's primary OOXML cheerleader and spokesperson (some might say spin-doctor :)).

He responded to my criticisms in a way that, true to Microsoft public relations technique, was full of technically true but misleading or obfuscating statements which did little to satisfy my complaints. I attempted to respond to his comment over a week ago, and, for some reason was strangely unable to get my comment accepted by the MS Blog site... Doug attempted to get this rectified, but thus far we haven't been able to identify why the MS blog site won't accept my comment... I suggested that perhaps MS simply didn't like my combination of Firefox 3.5 and Ubuntu Linux... Apparently, according to Doug, this is a commonly used platform for people who "respond to blog posts" and it normally works... I noted that the delay in my response means that Doug's response to my comment has appeared as the "final word" on the matter to most of those who might read the blog... and it shows Microsoft in an unjustifiably good light. To rectify the situation, and to make my long prepared but as yet unpublished response available to those who might be interested (and to allow Doug to provide a link to my response as he has magnanimously offered to do), I post it below.

Doug Mahugh's role

Link directly to Doug Mahugh's comment (address to me) to which this post is my reply:

Doug has been representing Microsoft with respect to the OOXML "standard" since the start of the ISO process, or at least that's where I first heard of him. He seems like a good guy, but one who's clearly accepted his employer's line and is aiding Microsoft in their attempts to appear reasonable and considerate while simultaneously disingenuously working to reduce practical interoperability between MS Office and other, non-Microsoft applications, whose ascendancy would almost certainly break Microsoft's monopoly, and one of only two significant Microsoft profit centres. Microsoft sees the need to appear focused on interoperability (for political reasons) but to do everything possible to actually stymie interoperability because not doing so would hasten Microsoft's demise.

My response to Doug

Thanks for taking the time to meet my skepticism head on, Doug. I've re-read the two archive posts from your blog that you've linked to with great interest, particularly in the comments following the posts.

To be honest, Doug, this all looks like an attempt by Microsoft to re-write history to make it look like Microsoft are something other than a self-serving monopoly.

You Microsofties shout about your great work supporting the principle of interoperability from the rooftops (in order to mollify regulators, perhaps?)... and then (unlike your open source competitors, working with developer teams and budgets orders of magnitude smaller) turn around and provide something that doesn't interoperate

We all know that reliable interoperability will be the death of the MS Office empire. So, while talking up interoperability, which you conflate with open standards compliance in hopes that no one will notice that complying with standards is only necessary and not sufficient for interoperability, you and your colleagues at Microsoft don't actually deliver it. Instead of fixing things, you use delay tactics - splitting hairs on specifications that didn't stop any of the other apps from interoperating - in hopes that people will just get tired of the argument and upgrade to the latest version of MS Office already. Am I wrong?

Microsoft actually produce no interoperability unless required to do so by a gutsy government (like the EC - unfortunately, the Clinton and Bush governments were too pansy or corruptible to level proper penalties for MS's illegal actions). The other threat to MS's monopoly is open source software, which is increasingly reverse engineering (because no published/patent un-encumbered standards exist) interoperability with MS software - projects like Samba and OpenOffice/KOffice. MS hate open source projects, because outside of unsubstantiated threats of patent infringement, they haven't figured out a way to stop it. So now they're trying to jump on the wagon in hopes of steering it into the ditch at some future time...

My goal in taking part in this comment thread on this post is to provide those who might be researching this issue with some Google-able content that might cause them to question your motivations above, and to actually READ the comments related to your latter two posts - reposted here to be clear:
to see just how little of what you're asserting is really cut and dry. Luc Bollen's for example comments are outstanding and he has you, and confederates Rick and Gareth, quite substantially outgunned with his arguments. He get's to the heart of the matter here:

"Microsoft said: "We are committed to providing [...] enhanced interoperability between those formats and the applications that implement them,” said Chris Capossela [...] Microsoft recognizes that customers care most about real-world interoperability in the marketplace, so the company is committed to continuing to engage the IT community to achieve that goal when it comes to document format standards. It will [...] collaborate with other vendors to achieve interoperability between their implementations of the formats that customers are using today."
So it is obvious to everybody that once again, Microsoft made promises of interoperability, and then find excuses for achieving exactly the opposite.
Good old dirty tricks to extend for a few months their monopoly."

The bottom line: Microsoft is a corporation who happens to find itself sitting on a threatened monopoly. I didn't see any substantial response from you or any of the other MS supporters to counter Luc's argument.

Like other corporations, Microsoft has only one prime objective: maximising returns for shareholders. However, Microsoft is different from most corporations, who do not enjoy monopolies in their respective markets. It wields great influence due to its amassed wealth (gained by charging monopoly rents for its software). Microsoft has the wherewithal to flood the media with its version of history, which always shows Microsoft in a positive light, even if doing so is quite different from the actual history. Microsoft has never shown any qualms about reinventing the "truth" to suit its purposes (insert John Colbert "truthiness" quote here).

To those reading this with a skeptical bent, I simply encourage you not to take anyone from Microsoft on his or her word and to do your own research. If you look past the normal mass-market mouthpieces (pundits whose publications depend on MS's advertising "co-payments" to survive), you'll probably find quite a bit of credible evidence that Microsoft is not to be trusted.

A good source of credible information is Groklaw - for example:

Additional articles of interest:

  • "A New Voice for Open Source in Government"
  • "Parsing the Microsoft - EU Interoperability Commitment"
  • This one is also interesting (about MS's recent PR blitz about submitting code to the Linux kernel under GPL license):