Help Me Go Mano a Mano with Microsoft

Next week, I'm taking part in a debate with a Microsoft representative about the passage of the OOXML file format through the ISO process last year. Since said Microsoftie can draw on the not inconsiderable resources of his organisation to provide him with a little back-up, I thought I'd try to even the odds by putting out a call for help to the unmatched resource that is the Linux Journal community. Here's the background to the meeting, and the kind of info I hope people might be able to provide.

Not surprisingly, the meeting is neither for my nor Microsoft's benefit, but for that of Richard Steel, who is CIO of the London Borough of Newham. Those with good memories may recall that back in 2003 it looked like Newham was going to switch to open source, in what could have been a real breakthrough for free software in the UK, but that it then changed its mind and signed a long-term - and secret - deal with Microsoft. Winning Newham was so important to Microsoft that it helped set up a competitive trial:

Using open source-based software in desktop and server packages offers no short-term savings.

That was the initial finding of a trial at Newham Council in East London, which pitted open source products against proprietary rivals.

As part of the trial, first reported by Computer Weekly on 14 October, Microsoft provided the council with consultancy services from Cap Gemini Ernst & Young in an effort to prove its products offered better value than open source options being tested at Newham.

Newham Council IT director Richard Steel said, "The tests we conducted with Cap Gemini Ernst & Young were very helpful as they substantiated many of the views we already held about open source. We have yet to come to a conclusion for the longer term."

Newham was crucial for Microsoft, because had it taken the open source route, Microsoft risked losing other UK local government bodies in a kind of domino effect. In the wake of Newham's decision to stick with Microsoft it has become one of the company's key case studies for this area:

Originally, Newham officers were considering Linux/open source software (OSS) to update the borough’s desktop and server infrastructure, especially because some of its existing Microsoft products needed to be replaced. Richard Steel, Chief Information Officer, London Borough of Newham, says: “Since 2004, we have been engaged in an upgrade of the whole infrastructure. Identity management, communication, and collaboration technology—and other solutions that support mobile working—are central to this.”

Newham agreed on a 10-year partnership with Microsoft using a low-cost volume licensing Enterprise Agreement with technical support from Microsoft Services through an Enterprise Strategy Consultant (ESC). ESCs combine in-depth knowledge of local government with a detailed understanding of Microsoft technologies to help build, implement, and deploy leading-edge Microsoft technologies and solutions.

Obviously, much has happened in the open source world since 2003; in particular, enterprise offerings have improved enormously. Against that background, I and Mark Taylor from the UK open source consultancy Sirius Corporation been talking to Richard Steel directly, encouraging him to explore open source again, and to consider using it where appropriate. Here's what he wrote following our last meeting:

When chatting to Glyn Moody and Mark Taylor during their visit to Newham Dockside last Tuesday, I was again struck by their level-headedness, knowledge and courtesy as well, of course, their passion for Open Source - or rather, as I think they see it, breaking the establishment’s fixation with proprietary software. I think it was Mark who said that Open Source zealots do their cause a disservice - or words to that effect.

For Glyn, a particular complaint about Microsoft was the way it “bought votes” at the International Standards Organisation to get its OXML ratified as a standard. Now this was all news to me (although if I had followed his blog as I now intend to do, I bet I’d have known all about it) so I asked a colleague from Microsoft for its perspective, which was quite different.

In fact, Microsoft saw another major supplier as the villain of the piece. I therefore suggested a meeting to discuss either viewpoint, which both “sides” would be free to report as they see fit, although it would be great if we were able to achieve, and report, consensus.

So, to summarise: this meeting is about some of the messy goings-on during the OOXML standardisation process last year. Where I'd appreciate your help is in providing links to information of any kind about underhand activities *on both sides* - note that in Steel's post above he writes: “Microsoft saw another major supplier as the villain of the piece.” I presume this is a reference to IBM (or maybe Google?), and it would be helpful for me to be better-informed about accusations of misconduct here as well as on the other side. Rebuttals to accusations are also useful.

You can either post links in a comment below, so that others can expand on your information, or if you prefer to contact me privately, my email is glyn.moody@gmail.com. Either way, I'd be really grateful for any help that you can provide. I'll report back how well – or badly – things go in due course.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca.

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many thanks for the offer

Glyn Moody's picture

I think the Noooxml stuff is enough - time is getting short. Rob Weir is a great idea.

OOXML

Anonymous's picture

I found the blogs of Andy Updegrove at www.consortiuminfo.org the "best" source.

But what's the purpose of this meeting with Richard Steel? Is he proposing some sort of private gladiatorial debate for his own amusement? Claiming not to be aware of the OOXML debacle when it was a prominent topic in many (all?) UK technical media covering IT hardly inspires confidence.

Many people who watched with horror at the process for approving ISO29500, have alleged malpractice on the part of Microsoft. I assume this meeting is an opportunity for Microsoft to defend itself. Since IBM and Sun were the vendors also accused of trying to manipulate the ISO processes, shouldn't they be allowed to defend themselves too?

Actually, does this guy have the clout to persuade the British Standards Institute to justify their stance?

Richard Ardern

well...

Glyn Moody's picture

I regard it as an opportunity to make someone aware of things that have been happening both good and bad. The point is, Newham was a big victory for Microsoft, and so anything it does has huge symbolic importance. It's informal, hence there's no way to start sending out invitations for all parties who might be interested. Rest assured, if there are any accusations made, I'll be writing them down and reporting on them: then there will be a chance to respond.

What's the point?

Anonymous's picture

Glyn,

But what does the London Borough of Newham get out of this meeting? (Remember, Newham is one of the poorest of the London boroughs.) I thought even Microsoft has now admitted that OOXML was pointless and was going to enable ODF in its products.

I'm not sure how many senior IT people saw the deal at Newham as a "big victory" for Microsoft - all the press coverage at the time made it clear that Microsoft made them an offer that was too good to refuse, so anyone about to enter into a similar decision process would either discount the events at Newham or perhaps demand a similar deal from Microsoft! I'd not agree with "anything it does has huge symbolic importance" since most folks would see decisions made at Newham in the light of the earlier events. Anyway, didn't Newham subsequently partially repudiate the deal - has that had a huge impact?

But I'm not trying to denigrate your efforts - keep them up!

One snippet on events at Newham: In late 2004, I installed a PostgreSQL/CENTOS-based system for a Newham Council-funded project - at no stage did I hear any mention of a preference for Microsoft and I was certainly listening for it.

RichardA

At a deep level...

Glyn Moody's picture

....I have no idea what Richard will get out of the meeting. But the fact that he wants it, and has already had a couple of discussions with me and Mark Taylor is interesting in itself - and makes these avenues worth pursuing in my view.

And yes, Richard himself pointed out that they use some open source, but the backbone of Newham is still Microsoft.

It is a good idea to find out what Richard wants

Anonymous's picture

Dear Glyn,

I think it is a good idea to find out what Richard actually wants from the meeting, then tailor and work your way towards his objectives.

My first reaction on the meeting is "don't attend unless you REALLY have to". I cannot see how a debate like this is useful. As you already stated, these type of debates leads to nowhere. One is usually none-the-wiser after attending the debate.

Obviously Richard has a reason for doing so, so ask him. Any party who don't know the objective of the meeting is clearly at an disadvantage. For example, lets say Microsoft comes in from the Sales perspective but as this is not about a sale, any movement towards that matter will be futile.

As others already point out, Microsoft people always seems to be following the same, well-prepared script. It also means we know what their responses will be. Since to them it is a job, most will actually not bother to find out more about the topic then what they are told on the script.

HOWEVER, if you think about catching them off guard, you cannot.

If you try to engage them in a debate that the script does not cover, or steering the debate into some place they don't like, it appears they are instructed to answer "I have not involved directly about it and therefore cannot answer ..." or "I have not heard about the situation..." or offer to raise the issue with the relevant people and get back to you later" something to that effect.

The problem with this type of answers is they close the door completely. [In fact it is so good that I am training myself to use them]. If you back off immediately after hearing these excuse, as most people will do, they successfully close the door on something they don't like. There is no way you are going to get the upper hand here. May be one, and that strategy is difficult: make sure they answer a lot of questions this way and in effect, paint them as uselss people to engage with in the debate.

The insane beauty of this approach is it leave them smelling like roses if you insist on knocking at the door. I mean, how are you going to engage in a debate with someone that "had just heard about the situation from you?", or "who do not want to take a stand because they are not involved directly or haven't spoken to the people who are involved directly", even though the reason they haven't done so actually means they are not doing their job?

It is tempting to shout back at them and ask "If you don't bother to find out about those situations, why bother coming here!" but I am sure they have a planned answer that will put you in worse light than you had been when you ask them the question.

One trick that I had learned is to put forward what seems like open-ended question but it actually support your point. For example, imaging you, Rob and I are debating on the merit of you going to this date. I won't say "Glyn is stupid to engage in this type of debate" but will say "Don't you think Glyn is stupid to engage in this type of debate?". That will force Rob to think about my proposition. If you don't give Rob time to digest the information, you will look aggressive. Unfortunately for you, Rob had eaten a lot of my words before you manage to put yours in.

I also notice that Microsoft normally prefers to defend itself then to fire the shot first. Try to get them to fire the shot instead.

Moreover, Richard Steel is not a clueless man. Engage his intellect. A man who can build a credible alternative to force Microsoft to push the price down more than they are prepared to originally is quite clue up on technology. Treat him as such.

Let the evidence speaks for itself. Show Richard the evidence, let him draw his own conclusion. Make sure he knows that except for a few stupid cases, Microsoft usually use third parties to do their dirty work. Show the connection. They will deny it but let's not forget this is not a law court so there is no need for beyond reasonable doubt, just aim for "much better than on balance of probability". With third parties doing dirty work, your aim is to demonstrate a pattern from several events. In this debate in particular, lets go and ask the question on what the third parties gain from engaging in the debate as most of the time, we cannot see any other credible reason except they are paid to do so.

One thing: Make sure you show that the opposition to OOXML is a grass-root movement. A lot of us are not zealots. Sure, we have a big gun supporter, but unlike the opposition, we oppose OOXML for our own reason and would had done the same without that big gun supporter.

HTH

lots of really great advice

Glyn Moody's picture

Thanks for taking the time to pass that on. Much of it chimes with my thoughts (I won't go into details for obvious reasons...). As to Microsoft's slipperiness, well, yes, but at least its clear they're an eel....

just follow the money

deep troat's picture

look into the people pushing the thing to become a standard...

OOXML irregularities

Axel's picture

Hi,

on these web sites you can find a comprehensive list of all the irregularities during the OOXML ISO approvement process:
http://www.noooxml.org/irregularities
http://boycottnovell.com/ooxml-abuse-index

Axel

(thought I replied to this - obviously not)

Glyn Moody's picture

thanks for those, v. useful

Some slides

AnandV's picture

Hi Glyn,

You say "Since said Microsoftie can draw on the not inconsiderable resources of his organisation to provide him with a little back-up" - I found that need not be true, I had participated in the TC discussions in SG, and the huge team that MS brought was unable to counter a lone man (me) representing local LUG. The only difference was that I had prepared very well , thanks to Groklaw, Rob Weir's blogs etc. MS people came unprepared and were caught unawares. They lost that round very badly with the TC deciding against OOXML.

(MS twisted someone's arm later and got a yes vote later )

My slided from those days are still available, though somewhat outdated by now:

http://www.vsa-services.com/files/documents/misc/ODF-vs-OOXML-v1.5.odp

thanks

Glyn Moody's picture

the flaws stuff looks very useful. When did you put this presentation together?

And I prefer to assume the worse in terms of preparation...

Groklaw!

Michael Raugh's picture

I can't think of a better starting point for you than Groklaw. PJ has an entire page of material all about OOXML, both as a standard and the BRM process. And of course being Groklaw there are extensive citations of sources so you don't have to take PJ's word for anything.

-MR

yup

Glyn Moody's picture

great resource - thanks.

Jomar Silva

André Nunes Batista's picture

I'm not able to supply you with structured info on this matter, but I know the ideal source. I strongly advise you to contact Jomar Silva, who is deeply involved with office documents standardization and for the last three years or so has defended the adoption of ODF file format.

His personal website is http://homembit.com/ and there you will find a huge amount of data concerning the approval of OOXML and Microsoft bully behavior. All posts are written on Portuguese, Spanish and English, so the language shouldn't be a barrier.

Also, I should point out that recently he gave a speech on FISL 10 (a Brazilian meeting dedicated to Free Software awareness to which R. Stallman also attended) precisely on this subject and I can personally guarantee that he is very well informed on the subject matter.

His twitter is http://twitter.com/homembit, but I wasn't able to find his email address, but I also commented on his blog linking him to your post here on linuxjournal.com.

Hope that will be enough and good luck!

great suggestion

Glyn Moody's picture

I've come across his site before, but had forgotten how much stuff he had on this topic - many thanks for reminding me.

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