Blogger: Guy Creese
Five days ago Ars Technica issued its view of the Burton Group ODF/OOXML report and made it clear that they disagreed with its findings, going with the headline, "Analyst group slams ODF, downplays Microsoft ISO abuses."
We've had some questions from Burton Group clients and others about the article, so I thought it would be worthwhile to go through where we agree, where we disagree, where Ars Technica mischaracterizes what we said, and where it's wrong.
First, a point on which we agree:
- Microsoft's Large Market Share Will Have an Impact: Ars Technica states, "Statistically, the large market share of Microsoft's office suite will likely ensure that OOXML becomes the industry de facto standard...." We agree. As we state at the beginning of the Analysis section, "... many enterprises are not that caught up in the standards debate; they just want to use what works for their needs. Microsoft Office 2007 defaults to storing documents in OOXML format, so, by migrating to Office 2007, many companies will let Microsoft make the decision for them."
Areas where we disagree:
- Microsoft Doesn't Want to Foster Interoperability: Ars Technica states, "...the veracity of Microsoft's stated intentions to foster interoperability shouldn't be accepted at face value." It's a fact that Microsoft has historically used proprietary file formats and capabilities to gain market advantage over competitors. However, this attitude is dysfunctional in today's more standards-centric world, and we believe that Microsoft--ever the hard-nosed realist--recognizes that. Microsoft has changed its stripes in the past when it made business sense to do so. In the early 1990's it was not partner-friendly, somewhat similar to Apple's go it alone strategy; in the late 1990's it realized that expanding the partner ecosystem would in the long run make it more money, and so it built a large partner network. While Microsoft is not as ODF-friendly as Ars Techica would like it to be, it is definitely getting away from a proprietary lock-out strategy. Mary Jo Foley noted in her blog on January 17th that, "Microsoft is going to put the binary-format documentation on the Web; make a binary-to-OOXML conversion tool available as an open-source license on SourceForge; and make the documentation available under its Open Specification Promise (which is basically MicroSpeak for a pact not to sue)."
- Microsoft Is Consistently Gaming the Standards Process: Ars Technica says, "...there is unequivocal evidence that Microsoft bought votes for OOXML in Sweden and there are compelling allegations that the company has done so in other countries." We noted the Swedish episode in the report, but disagree on the question of degree. The Ars Technica headline, "Microsoft ISO abuses," gives the impression that they are systemic and widespread; we think they are isolated instances. What viewpoint you take probably depends on the story playing in the back of your mind. We think Microsoft is too much of a hard-headed realist to jeopardize votes and market perception by packing the court; others figure Microsoft is just plain evil and has been effective at hiding its nefarious activities. Same set of facts, two different interpretations.
- Sun Is Unfairly Attacked: Ars Technica said, "...the report aggressively attacks Sun with allegations that are completely speculative and unsubstantiated." Multiple interviewees in the ODF camp told us that it was virtually impossible to get anything into ODF in the early days if it wasn't also in OpenOffice.org: that despite all the talk about ODF being open, it was apparently a case of a vendor pushing its own agenda--the same charge that is typically leveled at Microsoft.
Areas where Ars Technica mischaracterized what we said:
- No Mention That ODF and OOXML Will Eventually Give Way to Standards Supporting Hyperlinked Documents: This was probably the most important point we made within the report, and one which Ars Technica neglected to mention. As we note at the beginning of the Analysis section, "Software as a service (SaaS) productivity applications are bringing mashups and dynamic web-based documents into the enterprise, challenging the long-held idea that a document must be monolithic and static. Over the next decade, standards being put forth by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) may ultimately dominate the document standards domain...."
- Google Apps Report Was a "Scathing Condemnation": Ars Technica says, "...Burton Group issued a report with a scathing condemnation of Google's enterprise productivity suite...." True, we advised our enterprise clients not to adopt it yet, as it was lacking in areas such as role-based administration and records management. However, I wouldn't characterize this paragraph within the report as a "scathing condemnation": "Because the solution is weak compared to best-of-breed point solutions, it will not displace many already installed applications. However, it will appeal to organizations that are comfortable with the SaaS delivery model and are looking for basic features and nothing more, as well as organizations making their first steps in trying out ECM
and collaboration solutions. In addition, it will serve as a collaboration add-on to Microsoft Office, which is how Google uses it internally." Interestingly, the adoption curve has played out as we called it--large enterprises have stood on the sidelines, with a few of them trying it out in departments, while some SMBs looking for a low-priced alternative to Microsoft Office have adopted it.
Areas where Ars Technica is wrong:
- Burton Group Makes Money Installing SharePoint: Ars Technica says, "Burton Group earns revenue from consulting on enterprise collaboration software installs (think SharePoint) and likely has its own agenda." While Burton Group has a consulting arm, it helps clients draw out a strategic IT roadmap, based on the client's environment and preferred architecture. We do not install software for clients. We do work for Java-centric clients; we do work for Microsoft-centric clients. True--we do have an agenda, which is to advise clients on what would be best for them in a vendor-neutral way. Given that 30% of the client calls into our Collaboration and Content Strategies practice have to do with SharePoint 2007, it would be foolhardy for us to ignore and not write about what Microsoft is doing in this space. However, SharePoint 2007 does not do everything well--the blog and wiki support is pretty dismal, and don't even think of using it for digital asset management--and we tell clients that.