Thursday, February 28, 2008

Microsoft "persuades" NGOs to support OOXML

Our friends at Linux Delhi have put up a copy of the form letters that Microsoft has been sending NGOs on the OOXML issue. Apparently, these NGOs have been sending copies of these letters to the Ministry of IT and Bureau of Indian standards.

Raj Mathur of Linux Delhi asks makes some pertinent points which are quoted below:

There is a possibility that some, if not all of these NGOs are beneficiaries of cash inputs from their (MS') Corporate Social Railroading ^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H Responsibility arm. I'd really be interested in answers to these questions, anyone up to asking them?

* How many letters supporting OOXML has the Government of India received from NGOs in the recent past?
* How many of these NGOs have received cash inputs (directly or indirectly) from MS?
* How many of these NGOs can sit across a table and discuss OOXML?
* How many of these NGOs can enumerate the benefits of OOXML over, say, ODF for their own organisations?

The NGOs supporting OOXML are probably as clueless as ASSOCHAM (Associated Chamber of Manufacturing) which told a journalist from the Economic Times that they supported OOXML because "Microsoft is a member." If that's the case, ASSOCHAM should have been honest about the fact that they are supporting a member and not palmed it off "in the national interest."

I feel sorry for these NGOs who probably depend on Microsoft's donations. Do you know of any NGO that has received similar letters? Please bring this to my attention and I will give them a call to find out how much they know about OOXML and ODF :-) Meanwhile, everyone, give a big hand to Microsoft for redefining Corporate Social Responsibility. If their tribe increases, doomsday is not far away!

"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!