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IBM threatens to leave standards bodies

IBM threatens to leave standards bodies

IBM would like to see loopholes that allow dominant companies to abuse standards processes closed.IBM is threatening to leave organizations that set standards for software interoperability because of concerns that their processes are not always fair.

IBM's guidelines were formulated from recommendations from a six-week, Web-based consultation held in May and June. It involved more than 70 experts who discussed how the creation of standards could be improved. Updegrove also participated.

IBM's guidelines are based on its belief that open standards increase the range of software products that are interchangeable. Standards prevent one software vendor from capturing a large part of a market by locking users into a proprietary format and limiting their ability to easily switch to another product.

Microsoft has long been accused of dominating the market for office productivity programs due to its use of closed file formats. Microsoft changed course, however, and submitted its OOXML format to become an international standard, which means other vendors could implement OOXML in their products.

But OOXML was criticized for being unnecessarily complex. Also, Microsoft was accused of pressuring countries to support the standard, which left companies such as IBM fuming. IBM is a long-time backer of ODF.

IBM's new guidelines are intended to pressure organizations such as the ISO and ECMA, an industry-led standards organization, into rethinking their procedures.

That change is not likely to come soon, since IT standards are just a small part of what ISO does, Updegrove said. It sets standards ranging from specifications for fertilizers to clothing sizes to pharmaceuticals.

But IBM is a big player and participates in more national standards bodies and organizations that perhaps any other tech company, Updegrove said.

Even if IBM made good on its threat, withdrawing from a standards body wouldn't cause one to fall apart, Updegrove said. IBM would also suffer, he said.

"If they decided to drop out of ECMA, that kicks away from them that ability to push its favored standard through the system," Updegrove said.

Representatives from the ISO and ECMA could not immediately be reached for comment.


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