Over the weekend I read about the New Zealand Open Source Society barking about patent threats within the OOXML standard. They complained that the 6000-page documentation was "peppered" with potential patent liabilities.
First of all, I have to begin by asking this question: How can Microsoft, a company known for its inherent ability to break standards, be believed to want to follow a standard? Microsoft doesn't FOLLOW standards. They attack standards, break them, and force businesses and individuals to follow their new, broken standard. In a sense, they play a rousing game of dodge ball, change the rules of the game, and leave the playground when everyone doesn't want to follow their rules. They then keep coming back and playing the game with their rules until everybody just caves in and starts playing MS DodgeBall (the new standard.)
So why does it surprise the NZOSS in any way that MS's 6000-page documentation is "peppered" with patent liabilities? Especially when that's more than likely the sole purpose of MS's OOXML standard — to cause softwares like OpenOffice to infringe on patents Microsoft shouldn't have in the first place.
And this issue with document format standards should be absolutely a non-issue. There are already standards set by the ISO. The companies creating their document formats should simply follow those standards. And if the ISO isn't up to date on their standards, it should be their responsibility to catch up. And that's part of the big picture problem. The ISO should be the one and only organization pushing the standards envelope. Not companies who stand to cash in on creating a new standard.
Look — we need an open standard for documents. That should be obvious to EVERYONE. And that open standard should not be created by either MS or OpenOffice. That's like the Federation and the Klingons needing definition of the neutral zone but having no unbiased party to create the boundaries. Of course the Klingons are going to want the neutral zone to extend closer to Federation Territories! That way they could more easily attack.
It's the same with the open document formats. Microsoft wants to push the standard simply so they can break it. That way the developers of OpenOffice (MSs only real competition) will have to backtrack to catch up to the standard.
It's tipping the fight to their advantage. Yes it's business, but in the war of standards their must be an arbiter. And that arbiter is the ISO.
It is my opinion that the ISO (a name which means equal in the original Greek) needs to come to the front line of this battle, lay down the standard, and tell the players to follow the rules. I don't care which side you're on — MS or OO — just follow the standard so that businesses and individuals do NOT have to concern themselves with whether or not their documents will be readable by another piece of software that serves the same purpose.
I realize that if the above solution happens, only one side actually stands to "win," that side being OpenOffice. Why would it win? Because money is not on the table for them. The only thing on the table is having a standard that will allow their product to interact with their "opponents'" product. But, in all honesty, that's what this should be all about.
I've grown really tired of Microsoft taking their toys and going home. It's time for MS to remain on the playground, follow the rules, and stop whining when they get tagged by the red ball thrown by the little fat kid on the other team.
Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen.com.