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OOXML in India: Bullying of Critics, Even Professors

Posted in Interoperability, Microsoft, Open XML, OpenDocument, Standard at 6:06 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

“I’m thinking of hitting the OEMs harder than in the past with anti-Linux. … they should do a delicate dance.”

Joachim Kempin, Microsoft OEM Chief

Steve Ballmer on ODFWhat kind of a monster would bully innocent computer scientists in order to defeat an international standard (ODF) that was created to facilitate the need of the entire industry, including universities?

It was just over a month ago that we witnessed an act of intimidation in India , wherein Microsoft proceeded to doing its usual routine of bullying critics and going all the way to the top, if necessary.

An open letter has just been composed to address or at least highlight this issue in India. It praises the final decision and insistence of the nation, but nonetheless raises the very serious concerns that public confessions brought to the media’s attention before. Have a look at some fragments from this post.

On 20th March 2008, the LITD15 committee of the Bureau of Indian Standards voted against Microsoft’s proposed OOXML standard. 29th March 2008 was the last date for participating countries to vote on OOXML. In the interval between these two dates, Microsoft went to the Prime Minister of India and alleged that this committee acted against the national interest. Fortunately, the Indian bureaucrats who met the PM did a good job of defending the committee’s vote against OOXML.

Prof. DB Phatak of IIT Bombay recently wrote a mail to the LITD15 committee saying that, “In my opinion, these actions go well beyond the behavioral boundaries for a commercial entity, some of these amounting to interfering with the governance process of a sovereign country.” IIT Bombay was a member of the LITD15 committee and Prof. Phatak was part of a four-member team at IIT Bombay that did a very intense review of OOXML before the institute voted against OOXML. While Prof. Phatak is a great supporter of open source, he also has a great reputation for being fair and balanced.


As a committee member, I would like to place on record my deep disappointment at the fact that Microsoft chose to question the decision of this committee at the highest office of our country. For over a year, we have reviewed the proposed standard with a fine tooth comb. Every opportunity was given to Microsoft to put their points across. At every meeting they brought a disproportionate number of participants along; some of these participants were not even Indian nationals. I think the committee as a whole was very courteous in accommodating all this but drew the line when this began to detract from the functioning of the committee. The only words that came to my mind when I heard that Microsoft’s complaint had prompted the Prime Minister of my country to review this committee’s decision was “stabbed-in-the-back.” This was a great disservice to this committee and the country and I hope this never happens again.


Standards cannot (and should not) be created in a technical vaccum. Without a moral and ethical framework, we cannot create standards that benefit humanity. Mahatma Gandhi summed it up best when he said that, “Real swaraj will come not by the acquisition of authority by a few but by the acquisition of capacity by all.” I believe that this committee should be focused solely on the user’s swaraj (freedom) to encode and decode their data.

Who could ever forget how far Microsoft went in India?

We will shortly return to Microsoft’s announcement from the intraoperability [sic] event, but meanwhile, this article from The Register, “Microsoft embraces and extends server promiscuity”, is worth bringing up because of the bits about OOXML.

Microsoft of course has a long way to go before it can match market VMware for virt. technology or market share. But “deep integration” with SystemCenter is the key to how it will play catch-up. And if it fails, the company will certainly hasten the day that VMWare will have to lower its prices.


A third principle is to encourage data portability, so that customers can move their data, without let or hindrance. That is entirely admirable, but the way Microsoft is working to ensure this, by way of a fourth principle – to work with all the software standards bodies on God’s planet – is the stuff of battlefields, as this year’s furore over Open XML shows. Microsoft is content to work behind the scenes, while its rivals cry foul.

When the rivals stop shouting, we will know that Microsoft truly is fully interoperable and is seen to be fully interoperable. In the meantime, we look forward to reporting the bush wars for many years to come.

The OOXML saga is far from over. The finalisation of a decision is still over a month away.

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