Thursday, February 28, 2008

"Talk is cheap; flouting the rules is expensive"

Microsoft's interoperability announcement has been met with skepticism by the European union, which levied a record $1.3 billion fine on Microsoft. This comes on top of an earlier penalty of $1.17 billion.

Marketwatch reports that:

The European Commission in 2004 found that Microsoft was using its dominant position in operating system software to prevent new competition, and ordered the company to grant rivals access to its technology "protocols" at a reasonable price so they could develop compatible products.

When billion dollar fines do not deter Microsoft, what else will? This is a classic example of the worst excesses of capitalism where companies become so powerful that they are not answerable to any soverign country. The systematic subversion of ISO's processes to "fast-track" a massive 6,000 page "standard" with huge gaping flaws, gaming the ISO system by fixing the ballot in countries like Pakistan and Sweden, getting a whole bunch of countries to join ISO at the last minute to rig the system so that OOXML gets two-thirds majority required to become an ISO standard.... how long will this abuse continue? And how long can India remain a mute bystander to such blatantly unethical practices? We are a soft state and we often pay the price for it.

This is where I admire the European Union for having the guts to investigate the anti-competitive practices of Microsoft. I doubt if any Indian policy maker will ever make the kind of statement that Neelie Kroes, European commissioner for competition policy made. "Talk is cheap; flouting the rules is expensive. Microsoft continued to abuse its powerful market position after the Commission's March 2004 decision requiring it to change its practices."

The EU is also investigating Microsoft's anti-competitive practices around OOXML and I thank god that at least one government has the sense to do something more than stand by and watch like a dumb pole. I hope that one day, Indian policy makers will display the kind of spine that Neelie Kroes and others at EU have shown in taking on Microsoft.

Meanwhile, the eerie radio silence from the OOXML BRM at Geneva is unnerving. More than 120 people discussing such a critical issue and not a peep out of the blogosphere! Such a secretive way of creating globally important standards is a practice that stinks to high heavens!

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