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Would It Matter if Microsoft Didn't Cheat with OOXML Approval?

The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) has adopted an international standard based on Microsoft's Office Open XML (OOXML) document format. This adoption process has caused some to wonder if Microsoft strong armed this standard into existence. 

I've been watching the approval process for OOXML with some interest. Never before have I seen a vendor that has the existing standard for anything challenged in this fashion. I'm not sure what it means for the market, but regardless of which side you are on, I think both sides can agree the process sure made ISO look like a joke. Seriously, when should an approval process look like a U.S. election (with hanging chads)?

Regardless of prevailing opinion that Microsoft cheated to get ISO approval, would it even matter if it didn't? Currently, there is no evidence that it has, even though there is an ongoing investigation. If I apply the teachings from the book "True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society," I'd conclude, probably correctly, that it doesn’t. (As a side note, much of the coverage on this book has been on Apple fan behavior, which is actually a really small part of the book.) By the way, while the book has very little to do with tech, it should be required reading for all of us as it showcases how we are losing the ability to determine the truth, which could have significant adverse life consequences.

The Damning Evidence Against Microsoft

There isn't any on this vote; there is only an investigation, which so far just makes the process look bad. I may be nuts, but don't you have to prove guilt?

However, Microsoft currently has so much oversight from the U.S. and European governments that it seems to be an open book at the moment.

There is apparently an independent report saying that OOXML is actually better than ODF, and the editor of ODF has formallly gone on record saying that if OOXML lost, so does ODF, suggesting that there may have been good reasons to approve it.

Microsoft Isn't That Powerful

I’d like you to stop and think of the Mac vs. PC campaign that Apple is running where they nightly make Bill Gates look like a stupid, self-centered, untrustworthy twit. Now don’t you think, given that Steve Ballmer and Bill Gates are close friends and Windows is Microsoft’s most important product, were Microsoft that powerful, those ads wouldn’t exist? Think for a moment what would happen if Sybase tried this with Larry Ellison and Oracle, or IBM with Michael Dell.

If Microsoft doesn’t even have the power to protect its brand or the image of its founder, do you really think it has the power to overturn a vote that cuts across this many people? Remember when they gave Ferrari laptops out for Vista Web review? Fact of the matter is, it wouldn’t work.

Why It Doesn’t Matter

According to the research in “True Enough,” and it is substantive, in this age of creative reality, people form opinions more on what they want to believe than the actual facts. In effect, folks will both selectively choose to read things that agree with their world view and selectively interpret evidence they are confronted with to confirm that view.

In fact, in the book, there was substantial evidence that when confronted with opinions that might conflict with what they believe, folks will conclude the source is suspect and the person writing or talking has been bribed. That appears to be the case in this instance.

This means that Microsoft isn’t innocent until proven guilty — it is guilty unless proven innocent, and even in the unlikely event such proof is even possible, the folks speaking out couldn’t see it if it were 10 feet tall and standing on their collective chests.

The problem for Microsoft is that if enough people believe Microsoft cheated, they won’t use the OOXML because they won’t trust it or Microsoft. In fact, I expect folks to use this belief as yet another reason to choose a non-Microsoft solution broadly.

The Big Message

If we truly don’t want to be able to tell the difference between fact and fiction, we are so incredibly screwed. For instance, if we agree that Microsoft taking away all choice is wrong, why would we also not agree that making the only choice ODF was equally wrong? Being free to choose only one thing isn’t freedom, no matter what the choice is.

Let me put this into real perspective and step above Microsoft. I belong to a group called the Lifeboat Foundation, which is dedicated to saving the human race from extinction. Right now, a good number of members are convinced that we are building a device that will destroy the earth. Others are convinced that this device is critical to our future. If the people deciding have no more connection to the facts than the folks rendering their opinions on OOXML, we are either all dead or on a path to another Dark Ages.

In short, if we can’t each at least try to make the truth matter, the approval of OOXML will be the least of our problems. It’s not just Microsoft that’s screwedArticle Search, we all are.

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Rob is President and Principal Analyst of the Enderle Group, a forward looking emerging technology advisory firm, and one of the most recognized commentators on tech. Before founding the Enderle Group, Rob held leading positions with Forrester Research and the Giga Information Group. Read his blog at IT Business Edge to the real truth about technology and IT.

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