Response to Rod Drury's blog entry on the OOXML vote by Standards NZ

This is my response to Rod's original posting on his blog. I recommend you read his posting first.

Hi Rod (and other posters),

I would like to say that I support Don Christie's position on the OOXML issue. We only need one standard, and that standard is already here: ODF.

Rod, in an earlier comment you said: "For years we have asked MS to open up their document format. I almost fell over when they did." I think we can all agree that Microsoft exists for a single purpose: to maximise the return to its shareholders (as any business should). If being nice to their customers increases their profits, they'll do so. If bending ethics, destroying competitors, consuming partners, and wringing money out of customers (Microsoft Genuine Advantage anyone?) maximises their profit, they'll do that too. Due to the market dynamics of Monopolies, with Microsoft it's more often the latter.

So why would Microsoft do something "nice" for their customers, partners, and competitors, like offer to open a file format? I don't think it's because its nice. It's because Microsoft knows something most people don't: they're on the brink of losing their Monopoly. They're about to start their decline. Rod, I appreciate that you make most of your money building software on Microsoft technologies. As a conscious choice, neither I nor my business colleagues use Microsoft technologies in our companies. We use and build on technologies that compete with those that Microsoft produce, despite the fact that we're currently on playing field that is decidedly skewed in Microsoft's favour. We are part of the quiet masses of open source developers rather busy running small, successful IT businesses that don't use any Microsoft technologies - and who therefore see little value in turning out for TechEd... As a result, you might've got a slightly misleading impression of the support within NZ for Microsoft's OOXML from the sycophantic demographic who did attend.

I assert that the company I run actually represents a proportion of the kiwi IT industry comparable to that made up of Microsoft-dependents - the sort of folks who turn out for TechEd. I don't think you'd find much evidence to contradict me. Sure, you don't hear about us much because we're lower profile - we don't have the benefit of Microsoft's momentum in the public eye, nor the marketing budget assistance they lavish upon their favoured partners. To be fair, many of us are a bit rough around the edges with regard to marketing. We might not even make as much money (although there's nothing fundamentally wrong with that, either). We do, however, cut a lot of code. And build very good technologies. That integrate very nicely because they use open standards. Innovative technologies, something which really troubles Microsoft. The sort of technologies which will disrupt the current incumbents and power the next generation of businesses that will make NZ a real knowledge economy. And they will make Microsoft and any business too tightly bound to their proprietary technologies... decidedly less bankable.

Conscientious individuals and groups in the governments of the world - who take seriously their responsibility as guardians of the citizens' information - are realising that the Digital Dark Age is real threat. A truly open standard, ODF, already exists to help remedy the situation - hell, Microsoft even helped create it as part of OASIS. Of course, Microsoft has attempted to make it look like whole idea of heading off the Digital Dark Ages was their idea - but in fact their self-serving business practices are the main reasons that it exists in the first place. How would their OOXML actually help the situation? It wouldn't. Not a bit. But it might help Microsoft buy some time.

OOXML isn't about offering a better way to store new files, or retain access to old files, or allow competition, or about being "nice". It's about a company that fears being legislated out of existence (and with good reason). They're absolutely desperate to see this pass for their very survival. Look at the fuss they kicked up in Massachusetts - they pulled out all the stops and employed some rather heavy handed tactics resulting in the resignation of the key advocate within commonwealth's government. Not cricket. They've used the same heavy-handed approach in every other "bell-weather" jurisdiction. Once the first domino falls, the rest will soon follow.

From your admittedly self-interested perspective, I can understand your support of OOXML. But perhaps you can also see how you could just as easily succeed in a world in which Microsoft was somewhat less dominant or even non-existent - you're a smart guy, you can continue to succeed on your own merits. Why ride on Microsoft's coat tails? Rod, you have earned a degree of influence for your demonstrable savvy in a competitive business climate. Since your initial victories, however, I think you'll agree that the climate has changed. I respectfully encourage that you to reconsider your position on OOXML.


Dave Lane
Director, Egressive Limited
Director, Effusion Group Ltd.