Help Me Go Mano a Mano with Microsoft

by Glyn Moody

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 [email protected]. 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.