That's how Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT ) killed Netscape many moons ago. Embrace this newfangled "Web browser" market with a new product. Extend the existing Web standards with proprietary technologies like ActiveX. Extinguish the competition by denying them access to those fancy new features. When it works, this is a great way to build and maintain wide, alligator-filled business moats.
It seems to me that Mr. Softy is up to his old tricks again. The target this time is the OpenDocument standard, a free and open alternative to Microsoft's own Office formats for text documents, spreadsheets, presentations, and more. The standard's biggest proponent so far is Sun Microsystems (Nasdaq: JAVA ) and its StarOffice/OpenOffice software packages, but other alternatives like Google (Nasdaq: GOOG ) Documents, IBM's (NYSE: IBM ) Lotus Symphony, and Corel (Nasdaq: CREL ) WordPerfect come with ODF support, too.
With such widespread support for the upstart format, you might expect the leading office suite to simply let you load and save documents like any of the other software packages might. After all, Office itself has been around for decades, and we should expect it to support pretty much any wrinkle and quirk that the ODF working group could come up with. But it's not that simple.
Instead, Microsoft has put up a Web site full of "implementation notes" for this new feature, which will be added in a service pack for Office 2007. Office will write "additional data" into its files, and there are "implementation variances" from the published, open standard -- all according to a set of "implementation decisions." We’ll have to wait on the specifics, but this sounds eerily reminiscent of IE-versus-Netscape to me.
The difference here is that Netscape was a corporation, too, with secrets to keep and proprietary dreams of its own. The ODF format is an XML-based standard, supported by a proper working group and by countless open-source programmers around the world. This time, any attempt to introduce incompatible new features into the new technology will just be met by near-instant upgrades to the standard itself, and the other guys will soon have similar features of their own.
Open standards have grown up a lot since the 1990s, Redmond. I think you can forget about the "extinguish" part of your old strategy. By extension, your Office monopoly is coming to an end -- not tomorrow, but certainly in our lifetime.
Further signs of the apocalypse in Redmond: