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[ossig] On the Art (?) of Disinformation: telling the Big Lie
Interesting read, and I'll go on a limb and say that Malaysia is no
This blog entry is a rarity for me: an exegesis on the deliberate
disinformation spread by a single vendor. I generally avoid a piece
like this for two reasons: first, every vendor has its own PR agenda,
with the differences being a matter of degree between the egregious and
the merely disingenuous. More importantly, there is a risk when
focusing on a single vendor of decreasing one's reputation for
objectivity, despite the fact that one may certainly focus on the
statements of a single source and fairly find them to be both inaccurate
What persuaded me to take up the cudgels in this case was a quote I read
earlier this week in eWeek, and then spotted again Bob Sutor's blog
"You can achieve interoperability in a number of ways," said
[Microsoft's] Robertson. Among them: joint collaboration
agreements, technology licensing and interoperability pacts.
The reason this statement caught my eye was that Scott Edwards (also of
Microsoft) had used virtually the exact same words at a NIST workshop
that I spoke at a month or so ago, offering such methods as valid
alternatives to "open standards." My reaction then, as now, is that
such means can in no way represent equivalent alternatives to open
standards, although they might offer an avenue to a single vendor, or to
a cadre of vendors, to control a marketplace to their own advantage.
When you hear something once, it can be off-hand remark, but when you
hear it twice, it's clear that it's a corporate talking point. And when
it comes from the General Manager for Standards of a dominant vendor, it
Still and all, and to be fair, Roberson's statement is accurate in a
technical sense, although when used in certain contexts (such as the
NIST workshop) it can be misleading to an audience that isn't
knowledgeable about standards.
Contrast the quote above, however, with the following statement by Jason
Matusow, Microsoft's Director of Standard's Affairs:
There are hundreds of industry-specific XML schemas used right
now by industries spanning health care, real estate, insurance,
finance and others. ODF is yet another XML-based format in the
market....The ODF format is limited to the features and
performance of OpenOffice and StarOffice and would not satisfy
most of our Microsoft Office customers today.
As I noted yesterday, Jason knows that there are multiple other products
that support ODF, such as IBM's Workplace Managed Client and KDE's
KOffice suite, and that ODF is not just an industry-specific schema.
Which makes it a knowing and deliberate misstatement of fact. Or, as
Sun's Tim Bray more elegantly styled it, "egregious bullshit" (to which
he added, "In your dreams, Jason").
Here's another example of the same, this time taken from Microsoft's FAQ
on it's submission of its XML Open to Ecma:
Q. Why is Microsoft offering a new standard, rather than simply
supporting the file format for the Open Office product
(sometimes called ODF)?
A. Sun submitted the OpenOffice formats to a small committee in
the OASIS organization. The record shows that there were almost
no material changes to the OpenOffice specification from the
time it was submitted to the time it was approved by the working
group at OASIS. Sun timed the release of the OpenDocument
standard in conjunction with the OpenOffice 2.0 release. The
OASIS committee did not focus on the requirements, constraints,
and experiences of Microsoft customers.
I debunked that one in detail back on December 13 of last year. Every
characterization, and most of the facts, are untrue.
And then, of course, there is the comment letter submitted by
Microsoft's Alan Yates to the Massachusetts Information Technology
Division regarding ODF back in August of last year, which included a
statement that "every state agency, department, city, county and school
district would face enormous document and/or application conversion
costs" - a breathtaking and knowingly false statement made clearly for
public consumption, given that the ITD's own plan called for only the
Executive Agencies to use ODF compliant software, and for
internal purposes only. And that is only a single example of the
mischief afoot in this letter.
All of these statements share a common characteristic: each is a
blatant misstatement of fact, and it is that which I find to be so
offensive. True, there isn't a vendor alive that isn't guilty of spin,
and spin has a heritage that goes back to time immemorial. But we
generally recognize spin for what it is when we read it, and can
discount the exaggerations accordingly. The Big Lie (which is what each
of these statement is) has a more shameful geneology, however, and a
more insidious and cynical intent.
The secret of the Big Lie, according to one definition, is to tell:
[A] lie so "colossal" that no one would believe anyone "could
have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously". The
first documented use of the phrase "big lie" is in the
corresponding passage: "in the big lie there is always a certain
force of credibility."
The offense of the Big Lie on the personal level is its assumption that,
"I can lie to you and you won't catch me." Taken to the marketplace,
and included in letters to government agencies, the effect is
pernicious. As a result, exposing the Big Lies is both important and
necessary - and hence the reason for blog entries such as this.
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