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Microsoft confuses standards

Microsoft confuses standards with "technology", "policy", "business models", "magic", "small black boxes", "spreadsheet", "intellectual property"

1. Introduction

A detailed refutation of the points put forward by Alan Yates, of Microsoft, at a public meeting in Massachusetts regarding open document formats on December 14, 2005. Mr. Yates' comments are taken from a transcript of an audio recording of the meeting. The transcript comes from Groklaw and the audio recording comes from Dan Bricklin's site.

2. MSinformation, MSperceptions, MSunderstandings

Alan Yates:
Thank you very much. Thanks Tim. I am very glad to be here. I really appreciate the opportunity to be here and speak on behalf of Microsoft because a) this is a very healthy public debate. It is a very important issue for a variety of, for millions and millions of companies around the world and public sector organizations, and I do hope to clear up some of, at least some of the misinformation, misperceptions, misunderstandings that has happened over a period of time, over the course of the questioning.

Where did the misinformation come from? Who tried to characterize the debate as being about software products rather than document format standards? Who cultivated misperceptions and misunderstandings in order to side-track the debate to products instead of formats?

3. Open standards promote choice, technology neutrality, competition and lower cost.

Alan Yates:
First of all, I will say that part of my job is to go around the world and to take a look at public policy and how it's evolving and work with public sector organizations to, as they make hard decisions around technology, and what I have seen over and over and over again is very similar to what John talked about in terms of the principles that public sector organizations are choosing. They're choosing to go with choice and technology neutrality as their primary focus in order to improve competition and the competitive environments so that they can lower cost.

Open standards promote choice, technology neutrality, competition and lower cost.

Proprietary methods, especially monopoloy methods, reduce choice, cause technology bias, reduce or eliminate competition and therefore increase costs.

4. Open standards increase value to customers.

Alan Yates:
That's number one. But number two, they are also very, very focused on not doing anything that would compromise the delivery of value at the end of the day to their constituencies.

Value, in this context: the monetary worth of products, goods or services. Monopolies increase costs to customers while reducing choices, thereby reducing the value delivered to those customers. Competition decreases costs while increasing choice, thereby increasing value to customers.

5. Monopolies decrease interoperability, increase costs

Alan Yates:
So I guess I would, I would add to John's list of interoperability, access and control, choice, and innovation. Really around that last part, delivering value to your constituents at the end of the day is really one of the fundamental tenets of public sector organizations and agencies. Can, you know, have different sets of requirements over longer per... over long periods of time that require different choices to be made to deliver value. So, I would balance the remarks so far by saying: let's also think about keeping the focus on value.

Yes, let's. Microsoft increases prices, increases costs to customers due to support issues, increases costs to customers due to lock-in, increases costs to customers due to conversion costs to keep old documents readable for new versions of Microsoft products.

This increases value delivered to Microsoft. This decreases value delivered to the customer.

6. Monopolies destroy competition and choice

Alan Yates:
Public sector organizations around the world that sort of balance this notion of absolute competition, choice, around their technology decisions along with being able to choose technology that gives them the most value for the money, those two things work together to be very powerful. And I would say that when you, when you focus on those two things together, you can tend to avoid a number of problems. Some of them are problems that Bob and, and Bob talked about and I think that you'll find it surprising to say that I'm not going to be arguing particularly with what Bob Sutor, Bob talked about in terms of openness.

Logic and a mountain of historical evidence argues against monopolies delivering competition and choice to customers. No, it is not surprising that you will not be arguing.

7. Open standards open markets; monopoly methods close markets, destroy choice and destroy competition.

Alan Yates:
What I'm really going to be talking about is Massachusetts actually opening up to more choice and more competition than the current policy has. That's, I think that's the fundamental decision that's before us. Can Massachusetts open up to more choice, additional standards, in order to enable greater value over a period of time? And by doing that, by enabling more choice over a period of time, you avoid the industry warfare that tends to jerk governments around from one month to the next month, to one debate to the next debate to the next debate.

Open standards open up the market for more choice in order to enable greater value to the customer rather than to the vendor. The customer benefits when vendors in the industry have this "warfare" among themselves in their attempts to satisfy the customer's demand for greater value. The customer has only to choose that only those vendors working within the customer's chosen open standard qualify to sell to the customer.

Monopoly methods close the market and leave the customer to be jerked around from one product revision to the next, at the whim of the vendor.

8. Standards are not "policy" or "technology". Standards are definitions.

Alan Yates:
Secondly, it avoids public policy sort of sitting at a craps table, trying to choose a technology and hoping that the technology is the right one, that somehow you land on the right technology to solve the problems today and tomorrow.

Choosing open standards is not choosing a particular "technology". Choosing open standards permits any "technology" to compete. It is not a gamble at a craps table. Just as setting standards such as 60 Hz, 120 Volts for household electricity delivered to homes in the U.S. enabled uncountable companies to compete to provide electrical devices based on that standard, a document format standard allows the creation of multiple "technolog[ies]" which will work within that standard. It encourages competition, not monopoly.

9. Standards are not "products".

Alan Yates:
Third, we find quite often that policy can be used, if these principles aren't followed, policy can be used to establish political agendas. In Brazil, for example -- I was just in Brazil last week -- and a public sector CIO came to me and said, "Gosh, I've been forced to use these certain products for political reasons, and basically it's not working. I've now tried to revamp everything and gone back to the original products that were commercial software products and things are much more efficient, much more cost effective , etc, etc. But my government was choosing my software for me." Public policy shouldn't do that.

Choosing open standards is not the same as choosing a product. Standards are not products. Standards promote competition among many products, from which the customer gains better value and choice.

10. Standards are not business models.

Alan Yates:
Next, public policy shouldn't necessarily favor one business model over another.

Open standards do not favor one business model over another. Open standards are completely neutral regarding business models. Open standards may be met by any number of business models.

For example, one business may rely upon receiving the bulk of its revenues from providing service and support while another relies on receiving its revenues from licensing fees. Open standards do not distinguish between the two. Each offering can be evaluated on how well it implements the standard and how much value it provides to the customer instead of the vendor.

11. Standards are not "magic" business models.

Alan Yates:
Commercial software can be quite, quite, quite open, just as Open Source software can be quite open. They're simply different business models. One business model relies more on the magic of software, if you will, and one business model relies more on the magic of services, if you will, gluing disparate parts together through professional services to make it all work together. Two different business models. Governments should be open to both and to whatever else rolls down the street next.

Open standards are neutral regarding business models. If the offering by the vendor implements the standard, the customer is free to choose among the offerings of any vendor.

The business model chosen by the vendor is the vendor's business. The customer's interests are satisfied by implementing the open standard chosen so that the customer is assured that all products will work with the customer's data.

Returning to the household electricity standard, the customer is not interested in what business model the appliance maker uses. The customer is interested in whether the appliance will operate correctly when plugged into the outlet and not burn down the house because it fails to meet the standards.

12. Document format standards enable choice. Monopoly formats do not.

Alan Yates:
And by essentially enabling more choice, more competition like this, we feel that you avoid creating problems that sort of more narrow choices, uh, create problems like additional cost, problems like conversion cost, problems like one product may not have the accessibility features that another product may have, etc. So, again, my message is to open up to more choice.

Open document standards enable choice. Monopoly methods restrict choice.

Monopoly methods require the customer to absorb conversion costs each time the monopoly owner decides to change the monoply format.

A customer who chooses open standards ensures that the cost of conversion from monopoly methods to open standards is a one-time cost. Thereafter, the monopoly vendor must meet the customer's chosen open standard in order to sell to the customer. The customer's chosen open standard prevents the monopoly from changing the format to suit the monopoly's interests at the expense of the customer's interest.

Monopoly methods restrict customer choice. Open standards increase customer choice by specifying what criteria any and all businesses, old or as-yet created, must meet in order to sell to the customer.

13. The European Computer Manufacturer's Association is not Massachusetts. Microsoft's Office OpenXML being approved by ECMA does not prevent it from becoming incompatible with itself.

Alan Yates:
I will say that we've been very gratified by the positive reception to our recent announcement of moving the Office OpenXML formats into a standards organizations, ECMA International, to make them utterly, completely, perpetually open by any measurement of openness at that point.

ECMA (European Computer Manufacturers Association) is not Massachusetts. Computer manufacturers likely have different needs than Massachusetts. Massachusetts is the customer and has indicated what it needs to achieve its goals.

Massachusetts needs document formats it can trust to provide future interoperability so that its investments are not wasted or discarded by a single vendor. Massachusetts needs multiple vendors competing to satisfy its document production and usage requirements, now and in the future, in order to get the best value for its taxpayers' money.

Microsoft has indicated that its proposed Office OpenXML format can be extended by Microsoft or anyone else, thereby breaking compatibility with itself. Microsoft Office OpenXML format is therefore not an open standard on which a customer can rely but rather an open snapshot of a format which may be made non-standard at any future moment in time by anyone.

14. Open standards are not "small black boxes". Microsoft uses "small black boxes" to prevent competition, increase costs to customers, and hold customers' data hostage.

Alan Yates:
When we started on this path a couple of years ago, actually, at Microsoft, we felt that there was a unique opportunity. Finally, after years and years and years of documents being small black boxes that, you know, you really couldn't open or you might corrupt the file, you might destroy the document, you might destroy the information in it, all of a sudden, XML technology has enabled us to be able to make documents and the information in documents transparent.

Microsoft created the "small black boxes" that corrupt easily. Microsoft used the secrecy within the "small black boxes" of document formats to prevent other businesses from competing with better value for customers. Microsoft used the "small black boxes" to captivate customers' data and ensure that choosing a different vendor would create significant conversion costs. It is hardly likely that Microsoft views the elimination of the secret, "small black boxes" as an opportunity for Microsoft.

15. Microsoft's Office OpenXML is an opportunity for Microsoft to continue customer lock-in by extensions which are non-standard.

Alan Yates:
And instead of having documents on your desktop and information systems that can't speak together, all of a sudden there is a common language. It's called XML, that can, you can use to bridge that gap and create a common information system, if you will. We saw this nice, big opportunity that we think is not at all just a Microsoft opportunity. It is an industry opportunity. It's an industry for very small developers, It's an opportunity for growth for big line of business systems like SAP and Seibel. It's an opportunity for companies like IBM that provide services, for organizations to make interoperability work. It's an opportunity, over all, to spur innovation at a completely new level.

Microsoft's Office OpenXML can be made into an uncommon language at any moment in time, by Microsoft, in order to maintain the significant conversion costs Microsoft artificially created in order to discourage customers from choosing other vendors. Microsoft has continually and deliberately fought interoperability to maintain its monopoly.

16. Open standards are not spreadsheets.

Alan Yates:
The, so, in getting to that point, in getting to the point where documents can be opened, documents can be XML centered, however, there are significant technical challenges. There are challenges in terms of performance. No one wants to have to open a spreadsheet that takes three minutes to open instead of what people are accustomed to today, two seconds, three seconds to open a spreadsheet.

Choosing open standards is not choosing a spreadsheet. Choosing open standards promotes competition among those who wish to provide products so the customer may choose among those products to get a better value. The customer can then decide which aspects of the product best fit the customer's needs.

Open standards for document formats have nothing to do with the speed of opening a spreadsheet. Some vendors meeting the standard may choose to emphasize speed while others emphasize ease of use while still others emphasize accuracy. If they all produce documents that meet the open standard, the customer is in a position choose which product is best for the customer.

17. Microsoft's many format changes place customer documents at risk with every change in format that Microsoft has and will impose on customers. Open standards eliminate the ability of a vendor to force customers to accept a format change.

Alan Yates:
There are plenty of problems that arise in terms of making sure that all the billions of documents that exist out there are not lost. In fact, the value that's delivered in those billions of documents in the past can be carried forward into this new open XML environment. So that was a key criteria for us as we developed our approach to OpenXML.

This suddenly key criteria did not prevent Microsoft from creating and using multiple, incompatible document formats throughout the years which threatened the loss of all of those documents. Microsoft Office OpenXML may be made incompatible with itself at any moment in time and once again threaten the loss of documents stored in that format.

Choosing an open standard instead of the currently open snapshot of Microsoft's Office OpenXML will eliminate the ability of a single vendor being able to arbitrarily alter that format in incompatible ways and threaten the loss of documents to future generations.

18. Open standards are not technology products. Open standards are not "intellectual property".

Alan Yates:
And then finally, we did want to make sure that the technology was open to everyone. And our earlier attempts at making it open to everyone, we listened very carefully to the feedback, actually, from all around, the Massachusetts decision about what are the nuances of licensing. The licensing area in, in technology, right now, is evolving quite, quite rapidly. So, we came up with, and in fact, we, you know, very liberally borrowed from Sun, and Sun's approach with the OpenDocument format, to come up with what we think is a way to both acknowledge intellectual property and the existence of intellectual property so not to blow up intellectual property but to make absolutely, utterly, totally clear that anyone, open source developer, anyone, can use the technology.

Open standards are not techology products. If Microsoft had indeed "listened very carefully to the feedback", it would not have rushed a snapshot of a non-standard through a computer manufacturer's association. It would, instead, have altered its "technology" in relatively minor fashion to simply save documents in an existing, truly open, standard format which Microsoft could not arbitrarily alter to be incompatible with everyone else's "technology".

Open standards are not "intellectual property". They must be freely usable by multiple vendors in order for the vendors to create products that implement the open standard.

19. Microsoft's Office OpenXML is the subject of "lawyerly debates". Microsoft's Office OpenXML is extensible by Microsoft to become incompatible with itself.

Alan Yates:
Now, there will still be many lawyerly debates and whatever, about one license not quite working here or there, whatever and that's a good discussion to have, a good debate to have, and, bottom line, Microsoft feels that we have made enormous strides in order to come up, really innovation with Sun around a licensing approach that essentially says you won't ever be sued for using this technology. Whether it's a subset, whether it's a superset, whether it's an extension, whether you're just using part of it, whether you're using the whole thing, doesn't matter, you, you know, you can use this technology with no concerns.

If a "standard" creates "many lawyerly debates", then it is not a good standard for encouraging many vendors to compete. Lawyers generally debate when there are questions of legality. Neither businesses nor customers like to suffer legal risks.

Standards are not technology products. A U.S. gallon of gasoline is the same volume whether it is sold by Chevron or by BP.

The ability of Microsoft to extend Microsoft Office OpenXML with "intellectual property" is the ability of Microsoft to continue creating "small black boxes" from which customers cannot easily escape. The only things "open" about Microsoft Office OpenXML are the current snapshot of it and the open invitation to Microsoft and others to add "extensions" and "supersets" filled with "intellectual property" and thereby render it completely incompatible with the current snapshot of it.

20. An open document format standard encourages competition in products and services. Competition between standards contenders leaves customers holding the bag while vendors make off with the customers' cash.

So, with that, I would just like to summarize by saying Microsoft has never argued, you know, really, against the OpenDocument format in any way, shape or form. Microsoft is really concerned about Massachusetts opening up to more choice, more competition. Competition between standards, we believe, is a very good thing in this rapidly evolving area of technology and by doing so, Massachusetts will, in fact, be a leader around the world in spurring this new level of innovation that's possible around documents. Thank you.

A customer encourages more choice and more competition by choosing open standards that openly specify the criteria by which any business may meet the customer's needs. A customer eliminates choice and competition by choosing monopoly methods, such as "small black boxes", which are changed at the whim of the monopoly to the detriment of the customer.

Copyright 2005 Terry Vessels. Verbatim copying and distribution of this entire article is permitted in any medium without royalty provided this notice is preserved.