Fun with Standards

I just came across a marvelous page that runs through “Dirty Tricks” that Microsoft has done with various technical standards. It’s a long list, and a fascinating one, from both historical and technical perspectives.

If you’ve been around the computing industry a few years, many of the examples will be familiar. But a few may surprise you. Personally, I hadn’t really been following how Microsoft was pushing its new XML-based OOXML Office document format against the perfectly good existing standard (ISO Open Document Format). For me, this battle is purely academic; I wouldn’t ‘upgrade’ to Office 2007 even with a gun to my head. But it does rankle that something this important should be subject to such self-serving squabbles.

Another gruesome little tale is how Microsoft has nearly obliterated the OpenGL standard for 3D graphics. As someone who closely follows gaming, I’ve always appreciated the virtues of Microsoft’s DirectX in that area. It’s a great system for realtime graphics, something that OpenGL doesn’t really tackle. But I always took Microsoft at its word, that OpenGL would continue to be available in parallel, for those applications in which it excels. Not so, according to the Dirty Tricks page — and Vista is apparently the last nail in the coffin, since the entire UI is now based on DirectX, making it tougher than ever to squeeze in an OpenGL engine.

The site makes no secret of its bias, so by all means take its pronouncements with a grain of salt. But also take a moment or two to follow some of the many links, and see what the fuss is about. Whether you side with Microsoft or agin’ ’em, you’ll come away with a deeper appreciation for the whole standardization process.

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