Thursday, August 30, 2007

Memo to Microsoft: Stop wasting our time!

Finally word is out and the Bureau of Indian Standards has confirmed that it will be submitting a "No with comments" vote to International Standards Organization on Microsoft's OOXML proposal. This brings to a temporary close five to six months of hectic legwork to prevent a sub-standard proposal from getting the coveted tag of an ISO standard.

I doubt if Microsoft realises it, but its actions are only making it the Union Carbide of the global IT industry. Microsoft is the world's largest software company but if you flip through their 6000+ pages of OOXML documentation, you'll be justified in wondering how they grew so big if the rest of their work is as shoddy as OOXML. The extremely flawed proposal certainly does not befit its stature in the IT industry. But, does Microsoft learn from all the feedback given to it or does it learn anything from it. No. Humility and Microsoft are like oil and water--never shall they mix. According to reports coming in from countries that are involved in the ISO vote on OOXML, Microsoft is busy stuffing the ballot boxes. Read Andy Updegrove's blog post The OOXML Vote: How Bad Can it Get? (Keep Counting). Originally, only 30 ISO members were supposed to vote on OOXML. However, as the September 2nd date for the final voting comes close, another ten more countries have joined the committee. Updegrove says:

As someone who has spent a great part of my life working to support open standards over the past 20 years, I have to say that this is the most egregious, and far-reaching, example of playing the system to the advantage of a single company that I have ever seen. Breathtaking, in fact. That's assuming, of course, that I am right in supposing that all of these newbie countries vote "yes."

I guess we'll just have to wait and see a few more days to learn whether that assumption is true. Want to place your bets?

Sitting here in India, it is difficult to influence countries like Malta, Cyprus, Ecuador, Jamaica, Lebanon, Pakistan, Trinidad and Tobago, Turkey, Uruguay and Venezuela in the two days left before the final votes are submitted, but we shall try. I checked with the IT ministry in Pakistan and brought to their attention that Pakistan is now a "P" member of ISO which entitles it to vote on OOXML. This was news to them as they were not consulted on the OOXML issue. I hope that Pakistan's vote will be cast only after thoroughly reviewing the arguements for and against OOXML.

Coming back to India, I am extremely proud of the fact that my country has voted against this proposal. To accept such a poor document would have been to denigrate the very meaning of "standards." The academia, the government bodies, industry organizations and non-profits like the Free Software Foundation spent countless hours debating and discussing this issue. Some of the best brains in India burnt the midnight oli to review this 6000 page proposal and the final consensus was that none of Microsoft's answers to the 201 technical issues raised was found satisfactory. I hope the Microsoft bosses in Redmond take note of this and make a genuine attempt to rectify the issues instead of trying to stuff the ballot boxes.

For wasting the collective intellect of India's best IT brains, Microsoft and ECMA must be blacklisted. Just as a person with a bad credit history has to redeem himself or herself before applying for subsequent credit, any standards proposal submitted by these two organizations should be thoughly vetted before it is even accepted for review or voting in India. India has more pressing problems to tackle than OOXML. Therefore, Microsoft, please do us a big favor and stop wasting our time. Next time, do your homework before you submit something to India.

PS: This is an old joke in the IT industry and shows how little Microsoft has changed in decades.

Q. How many Microsoft engineers does it take to change a light bulb?

A. None. Microsoft declares Darkness(TM) an industry standard.


Vigorous said...

s/oli/oil - in midnight oil. Have you considered using the local language desktop ?

Swapnil said...

That was pretty good one. Just that don't blacklist MS as of yet.

Tinks said...

Very shocked to see Venezuela in the list of the countries. I think some serious misunderstanding happened among the govt. authorities since Venezuela has already proved their interest in 'FOSSism' under the leadership of Hugo Shavez.