Matthew Aslett talks to Jason Matusow, Microsoft’s director of corporate standards, about the company’s changing approach to interoperability, and its attempts to have its Open XML formats ratified as an ISO standard.
Q How would you define Microsoft's approach to interoperability?
A About a year ago Microsoft began rethinking its approach to interoperability. A number of customers were talking to us about interoperability from a number of areas and not just Open XML; web services integration for example, and management. What became clear is that there is no uniform view of what interoperability is. It really boils down to being about connecting people, data and diverse systems. Microsoft took the position that we need to deliver interoperability by design, in our products, when documenting interfaces, in our work with the community and the way in which we collaborate with others. The third way we think about delivering interoperability is access and how we deliver technology for others to use. The final one is standards; Open XML, web services. So it is a question of how we build up a tapestry of elements to deliver interoperability.
Q What does this mean in practice?
A What we have delivered is the Interoperability Customer Executive Council, which brings together CIOs and executives from customers twice a year to tell us places they would like to see Microsoft improve on interoperability. Then we established the Open XML Translator Project to prove interoperability with ODF. The next step was the Open Specification Promise and the promise not to assert claims, to which we have added the VHD and SenderID specifications. Then there was the launch of the Interoperability Vendor Alliance, which includes over 25 members, with Red Hat the latest to join. Then in November there was our deal with Novell and the interoperability focus on virtualisation of SUSE Linux on Windows and Windows on SUSE Linux, as well as management.
Q There appears to have been considerable opposition to Open XML being approved as an ISO standard. What is the next stage?
A The first thing to say is that Microsoft has a great deal of respect for the ISO process, but it is a very long process. The next five months will be spent in the technology validation process. Of the 19 submissions, some are very supportive of XML and the process, some are neutral, and some had legitimate concerns that were raised.
Q Microsoft has rejected calls in the past to open up on document formats and standardise. What was the big trigger that changed your minds?
A The document format work has come about over a long period of time. It was a reasonable and rational step to take with the Open XML formats.
Q But would it not be fair to say that without ODF and without Massachusetts demanding open standards, Microsoft would not have gone down this route?
A We are students of our customers and the community. I would not say ODF was the driver, but conversations with customers, of which Massachusetts was just one, put a very fine point on this.
Q As ODF is already an ISO standard, would it not have just been easier for everyone if Microsoft implemented native support for that?
A At the time we were building the current product there just was not the demand for it. What people were asking for was not ODF but PDF. We built native PDF support into Office but Adobe told us they did not want us to do it that way, so we will do that via a translator. Those who were pushing ODF from a commercial perspective, they were the ones pushing for that. From a government perspective it was really a matter of being respectful of the ISO standard. They were saying to us if we receive a requirement to use the ISO standard we will want to do that. The decision to do the translator was a matter of transparency [avoiding the potential of Microsoft being accused of manipulating the standard]. You want the transparency as well as the discipline of professional development.