Microsoft’s road to Canossa

Who would have believed it a few months ago? Who could tell Microsoft would “clarify” the coverage of its OSP and extend it to cover the GPL and FOSS developers as well as users? Clearly, pigs might actually fly, and Groklaw does think the same way.

As it was not enough, Microsoft also became an arch-sponsor of the Apache Foundation and paying a decent sum of money as sponsorship fees. IIS anyone? And wait, good news never come along. According to the guidelines of the OASIS Consortium, a member of any Technical Committee that is registered for more than 60 days in this committee automatically neutralizes its own IPR and cannot litigate against any member of the said committee, nor against any implementor, nor user of the standard at hand. In that case, that would be ODF. OOXML anyone?

Of course, there are drawbacks; the OSP still has many flaws, one of them being that it only covers the present version of the spec, and that nobody knows exactly what it refers to (Ecma 376?MS Office 2007 OOXML? The grand paraphernalia otherwise known as ISO/DIS 29500?). Another one is that it “only” allows you to implement the spec, and does not cover you if you modify it. Also, the OSP does not and will not change the flawed standardization processes that have led to the creation of an ISO standard called OOXML. In fact, many things are left as they are, and yet, it feels like so many other things have changed in less than a week.

Perhaps what is changing the IT industry is also changing Microsoft? Perhaps the inroads of, crowned and adorned several times this year (heck, that’s the year of the 3.0!), the ineluctable long march of Mozilla Firefox, the long agony of the “.doc” that has started with ODF and is only beginning to show thanks to many governments worldwide and more recently, the NATO, perhaps all this, and all the shame and negativity are starting to come back to Microsoft. Am I naive? No. On the long run, Redmond has no other choice to open up or die.

This is where we stand, at the edge of the foam, as the tidal waves of change are soaking up the sands of idleness. Of course, it’s a tidal movement, so the sands fight it off and the waves do sometimes recede. When they do, they usually leave a clear and white track of foam behind them. This is where the industry finds itself, not knowing if it should go back to the illusory safety of the shore or if it should rather take on the ocean, blissfully feeling the call of the horizon and the sweet bites of the fresh water flowing all around it, then going away to better come back.

Oh, there is to be sure much left to do for Microsoft to embrace the competition and change. I have heard today that many out there are still locked into the proprietary platforms trap. An example of this is what’s happening right now at the Bank of China. This bank recently upgraded its systems to what appears to be an all Microsoft environment. As a result, its customers are only able to perform their banking operations through the good old Internet Explorer. Wake up, folks. We’re in 2008 and such things should have stopped a long time ago. But I don’t see the lock-in effect being lift up by Microsoft any time soon.

So I was thinking that perhaps the good way to end up this post was to point to the excellent Michael Tiemann’s blog. I think Michael has devised some excellent proposals to Microsoft, and I could only wish for the same goals Michael is prescribing. Until then, I feel I should as a gracious gesture apologizing for my latest post about the OSP and the RAND license terms. What I wrote was absolutely true at that time, but I shall now leave it to Microsoft the duty to correct the impressions Ben Henrion and anyone who asked for the license terms for OOXML got when they received the answer from Redmond’s legal department.

The road to Canossa has just started…

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