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IBM Threatening to Leave Standards Bodies

It appears that IBM is feeling a little ‘left-out’ when it comes to organizations that set the standards for software interoperability with concerns that their processes are not always fair.IBM has published its own set of guidelines that it would like follow. The new guidelines include encouraging standards bodies to have rules to protect their decisions from what IBM refers to as ‘undue-influence’ – apparently a clear stab at Microsoft.

Microsoft had submitted OOXML to the ISO under a ‘fast-track process’ which some competing opponents believed was too rushed and resulted in a poor quality standard. Ranging from end users, corporate users to technical experts – questions have been raised many times regarding the need for another standardized electronic document format.

IBM was one of the first entities to chime in with opposition over the file format created by Microsoft and approved by the International Organization Standardization. Part of the specification (OOXML) is used in Microsoft’s latest Office 2007 productivity suite, but is not 100 percent implemented either.

IBM’s new guidelines were drawn up from recommendations from a six week, Web-based consultation held back in May and June of this year. The consultation involved more than 70 experts which discussed how the creation of standards could be improved to better suit everyone.OOXML has been criticized for being too complex of a format. Microsoft has also been accused of pressuring other countries to support and adopt the standard, which left companies such as IBM in the dust. IBM has remained a long time supporter of the OpenDocument Format (ODF).

IBM believes that the guidelines it has set forth are based on the belief that open standards increase the range of software products that are interchangeable. Standards prevent one software vendor from capturing a large part of a market by locking users into a proprietary format which hinders their ability to easily switch to another products

Call me crazy, but this is what Microsoft pressed to do with the OOXML. If Microsoft didn’t want to get a standardized playing field, they wouldn’t have done this in the first place. It seems as though IBM is just a little angry that they didn’t get to it first – thus the public threats to leave the standards bodies.

Experts believe that if IBM were to make good on its threat, withdrawing from a standards body wouldn’t cause one to fall apart. IBM would also suffer. Quoting Andrew Updegrove of Gesmer Updegrove in Boston who studies standards and intellectual-property issues:

If they decided to drop out of ECMA, that kicks away from them that ability to push its favored standard through the system.