CyberTech Rambler

June 3, 2008

Was there a war? Take two

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 10:57 am

This post can be seen as the continuation of the discussion of this blog post. It was triggered by Patrick Durusau contention that there was no file format war at all.

For a war to happen, I think it should meet two criteria. [Oh dear! I am setting up straw men to knock them down later] One: There must be two parties prepared to fight each other. Otherwise, it would simply be a walkover. Take the war in Kosovo in late 1990s as an example. Was there a civil war? Yes, since both sides were fighting. However, if you ask the question did NATO fought a war in Kosovo, I am sure everyone will say No. It was a walkover as there was no opposition.

Second, the fighting must be intense. In a real war this means literally killing the opposition to achieve one’s aim. Both sides pulling all the tricks available is a plus to support this arguments. A bonus must be given if the tactic used is unlawful. (I must stress that I do not support any unlawful action.) In a standard war or other more civilised pursues, we don’t engage in killing opposition. We can and human history shows that we did (and I am sad to say, still do), but normally, we say there is a war when two parties engaged in often heated arguments on a topic.

Was there two parties fighting? Yes. Ironically, Durusau’s posting is the proof. So, I knock down my first straw man.

Do we see heated arguments on OOXML standardization?  While I am one who engaged in it, one man does not make an army. Search on the net will show you that we anti-OOXML people are active and often engaged in heated argument. But an argument cannot be heated unless the other party shoot back. Moreover, proof unethical behaviour from either side would be nice.

We heard rumour of unethical tactics before. Durusau’s post brought out at least another, i.e., from OpenMalaysiaBlog. OpenMalaysiaBlog alleged that Microsoft Malaysia is involved in a campaign to smear two persons. It produces a letter from Microsoft Malaysia and two printout of OpenMalaysiaBlog postings with hand written annotations (more later).

I think the letter is more than sufficient to prove the point that while publicly Microsoft says it welcomes ODF and did not oppose it. It did in private. The fact that one part is prepared to mount this type of “covert” operation is definitely help me bring down my second strawman. However it is still not conclusive.

I am reluctant to accept the two printout of OpenMalaysiaBlog postings with hand written annotations as the conclusive proof that Microsoft engage in unethical behaviour. Please understand that I do not doubt the author is sincere and did NOT misrepresent the truth. However it is easy to print out a webpage and anyone can write the annotation to anything. I don’t doubt the author’s sincerity. But  I cannot verify the handwriting as from someone working for Microsoft myself for the simple reason that I don’t know him/her.

The smear campaign is not an isolated incident as it is repeated in a lot of place. Phatak suffers it in India. Again, like the OpenMalaysiaBlog, we have only one side of the story. Moreover, They are all private communications from an individual. Everyone has its own prejudice and it is possible, although unlikely, that the authors are coloured by their prejudice. May be they are just sensitive souls.

OK. These means I had cut half way through my second strawman legs and stopped there. Why only “half way through the legs”? There are a lot of circumstantial evidence that I had presented here, but not enough to convict. So, what we need is an independent party account of an event. Do I have it? Let’s see. How about this letter from Standard New Zealand?  BAMMMMM…. I just decapitated my second strawman… with an hammer to the neck.

Now that I had knocked down both my straw men. Was there a war? I think so. Am I objective in saying there is a war? It is up to you to decide.



  1. The phrase “standards war” is already a well-known concept. It is not something that Durusau or you or I can define merely based on the word “standard” and the word “war”. But combining these two words together means something definite to economists, and they have written about it for years. There is no assumption is mischief or foul play in a standards way. There is merely the need for two standards (and not necessarily formal standards) vying for the same space.

    When you read the theory and history of standards wars it is quite interesting. In some ways it is the more complicated version of the tech adoption cycle. In the traditional analysis you have a new technology trying to penetrate an existing market. You then get the typical pattern of enthusiasts, risk takers, early adopters, and then mainstream adoption and finally conservatives and laggers. There is a lot written up on the dynamics of this pattern, including how to identify early adopters, what motivates them, the importance of reference accounts, how to “cross the chasm”, etc.

    A standards war takes that adoption pattern and adds an additional dimension — the competition for the underlying standards. Although Microsoft likes to say this is not a war, it really is a three-way standards war: legacy binary formats versus OOXML versus ODF. Even if ODF did not exist, Microsoft would still have a fight on its hands trying to get everyone to switch over to OOXML, a battle that they would not necessarily win. Even if Microsoft is not pushing the legacy formats as a standard, it still has strong inertial influence.

    Comment by Rob Weir — June 3, 2008 @ 1:32 pm | Reply

  2. […] you to Rob Weir for reminding me that I got the meaning of “Standard War” wrong in a comment to my previous post. When I heard the terms standard war, I read it as confrontation between two […]

    Pingback by Oops…What is a “standard war” « CyberTech Rambler — June 4, 2008 @ 4:41 pm | Reply

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