IBM, Sun Cool OOXML Rhetoric

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Includes: IBM, JAVA, MSFT, RHT
by: Dennis Byron

I am sure it's just a coincidence that the current protests against the Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) OOXML/ECMA/ISO/IEC 29500 standard came from south of the equator where it is winter. The standard has passed what is probably its second-to-last hurdle. Yet up here in the hot Northern hemisphere, most of the combatants are pretty cool about the latest news. Now the marketplace can decide, which is how it should have worked from the beginning.

The response of Sun (JAVA) and IBM (NYSE:IBM), which wasted shareholder value fighting over the Office 2007 document format in earlier stages of the process, ranges from non-existent to a soft whisper. Red Hat (NYSE:RHT) as usual framed the news as an open source community issue (“the community loses”) even though there is no connection between open source and standards. But Red Hat did say:

“If there is, in fact, a silver lining to this, it is that people are paying more attention to open standards.” 

It’s good to see Red Hat using lower case in the place of the usual propagandistic Open Standards.  

Most of the press, with the exception of the IT supermarket tabloids such as The Inquirer and TechTarget, played the news on August 15 straight. These tabloids spun the deception and misdirection you’d expect but received relatively little commentary as compared to what such rabble rousing would have generated between January 2006 and April 2008.

That’s another sign that the temperature has been turned down and that the Open Standards blogosphere has little momentum unless IBM and Sun fan the flames. I am happy about this from my IT Investment Research perspective but disappointed as a blogger. August is a slow news period and I was counting on some red meat from the IBM/Red-Hat/Sun fringe groups to fuel a few posts.

But the Open Standards/Digistan/Document Freedom Day blogoblather that I saw was also mild. It seemed to range from “fight on,” which will probably require some continued funding from the anti-free-market, pro-government-control-of-the-economy public companies mentioned above, to the ever-present “the ISO rules are unfair.” I think the appeal process should be taken as far as the rules allow, so as to totally clear the air, but not on the backs of Sun, IBM and Red Hat shareholders.

As a result, for the first time to any extent that I have seen, the position of ISO seems to be getting some air time. I don’t agree with what ISO Secretary-General Alan Bryden says in this comprehensive Reuters interview about ISO’s role in letting the market decide, but at least all but a few digiterrorists now seem to be willing to talk about these issues in a reasoned fashion. In particular, Bryden says at one point:

“Multiple national standards may be appropriate in areas such as building and clothes where local geographic and climatic conditions make unique international standards less useful. As a general rule, the objective at the international level is to have one, globally relevant standard. It can sometimes happen, especially in fast moving areas such as IT, that broadly similar standards, but focused on different functionalities, may each engage the interest of market segments. In such cases, multiple standards can exist and it is the market that eventually decides which will survive.”

I don’t think “one globally relevant standard” is ever worth the chance that those governments that want to control the market (which may include the U.S. in three months) will take away my choice as to what IT, or what size paper, or what size anything I can buy. 

But what’s bad for blogging in this news is good for IT investment planning and overall market freedom. Back to the beach book.