Microsoft's proposed resolution to EU on competition

By Rick Jelliffe
July 28, 2009

Andy Updegrove has a worthwhile article up Parsing the Microsoft - EU Interoperability Commitment.

As far as I can read it, Microsoft is now promising to

  • Release things it has already released (SP2, etc)
  • Follow the relevant standards, except where it doesn't
  • Extend the relevant standards, except where it doesn't
  • Provide details on the external characteristics but none on internal functionality
  • Tell us all about these in confessional detail
  • Tell you before they sue you

But I am being too sarcastic!

There were some other parts of the Microsoft proposal that caught my eye, as being pretty positive. I like the clearer and more objectively verifiable commitments.

  • Promises to pass particular HTML tests and technologies, such as ACID 2 and the W3C conformance suites
  • The explicit commitment to track the ODF standard for the next 10 years
  • The endorsement that it will be the ISO-reviewed versions of the standards that should be used in the future

IANAL, and I am not a European (I could get a UK passport if I wanted, by patriality) so there is no reason for the EU —let alone anyone else— to listen me, but I would prefer more broader commitment to systematize the bit and pieces:such as

  • tracking future versions of standards. (if this is good enough for ODF, why isn't it good enough for HTML, especially with HTML 5 in the offing?),

  • completely passing more objective tests (in particular to commit to supporting a future ODF test suite from OASIS or NIST or Franhoefer etc, with appropriate safeguards): documents created and accepted need to be completely valid against the official schemas, with no wiggle room, too, but I these seem to be clearer,

  • participating properly in all the standards body for the standards it uses: W3C, ISO, ECMA, ODF, etc.

  • supporting standards that emerge from its competitors or from grassroots efforts, over the next few years (it would be challenging to define this tightly, probably requiring a maintained list of bottom-line technologies by the EU.)

At ISO (I mean ISO/IEC JTC1 SC34 WG4) the first set of corrections and amendments to OOXML (they are slightly different processes) are being finalized: these are limited to corrections that make good on the BRM-related decisions. The drafts I have seen go to several hundred pages, but there are only a few 'big' changes. (I expect I will have more to write on these later; I have quite mixed feelings about some of them at the moment.) It would be useful for the work of WG4, in my opinion, if there were some formalized encouragement from the EU towards Microsoft to continue engagement with the standards bodies.

An EU-maintained running list of standards, schemas, test suites, profiles and participation monitoring to be supported by MS, and the minimum acceptable level of support for these, seems to me to be the most satisfactory route for all concerned. Certainty is important, but establishing a mechanism by which this certainty can be extended to the incoming generation of standards seems an aspect to important to ignore.

The use of standards to provide disclosure of market-dominating technologies is novel (though can we say it is really unprecedented?) and will only be effective for market correction as part of a larger recipe.

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