November 22, 2005

"ECMA" - Where's the Beef?

There's no there there on "ECMA."

David Wheeler made this stimulating post to the OpenDocument Fellowship discuss list this afternoon:
The notion of a standard with licensing terms that forbid some competitors from implementing it is reprehensible. Massachusetts eventually saw through this, but many others may not.

It is possible that Microsoft may drop those licensing terms and allow anyone to implement it, as part of their discussions with ECMA. In which case, hooray! But I've seen no evidence that this is true. Another issue is that Microsoft's XML format hasn't gone through the multi-year vetting and fixing [that OpenDocument has undergone], so [Microsoft's] format probably has a LOT of problems, and Microsoft will certainly want those mistakes enshrined, not fixed.

Both OASIS and ECMA have the right to submit to ISO, directly. But OASIS is done with their standard -- after many years and a wide group of reviewers -- and has already submitted their results to ISO. ECMA hasn't even started evaluating Microsoft's proposal; it certainly hasn't approved it and sent it on to ISO. If ECMA rubber-stamps this proposal immediately, it'll be blatantly obvious that's what they're doing. I would expect OpenDocument to become an ISO standard long before Microsoft's XML format becomes a standard, if it ever does.

Remember that standards can be withdrawn, too. Sun submitted Java to ECMA, many companies invested billions of dollars on that promise (IBM invested over a billion dollars all by itself, if I recall correctly), and then Sun decided to cancel it... leaving no standard at all. OpenDocument is far less risky than Microsoft XML at this time, because instead of a hope for an eventual standard, for a product that is still not available, OpenDocument is a fully released standard with many actual implementations already available.

(with kind permission of David Wheeler)

Have you noticed what little substance there is behind this announcement? Far less than the usual vacuuosness (less than even the Sun/Google announcement), and the large number of international newspapers that ran the story should be the first clue that nothing is happening.

What meat there is on the bone is a farrago of me-too stuff for a manufactured comparison to OpenDocument (my friend Amy Wohl, in fact, is working on one of those right now). About the standards-body parts, as David Wheeler noted, there's nothing but uncertainty here concerning developments that may or may not play out many months away.

The only reasonable conclusion is that "ECMA" is pure Market-Freeze from The Microsoft Special Sun Tsu Playbook.

Accordingly, my own Art-of-War cheat-sheet tells me that this tactic should not be dignified with numerous blog posts (this is 3 -- sorry 4 -- today, for me) and lots of email chatter.



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