Stefano Bortolotti, italy, was the 40,000th person to sign the petition.
Forty thousand people took the time to read the petition, sign it, and confirm their signature.
Microsoft has argued - on blogs and in Wikipedia edit wars - that the opposition to OOXML was orchestrated by IBM and its commercial allies. It's spent huge amounts of money, and invested considerable influence, in trying to get OOXML voted even when it was clear that the proposal was immature and even dangerous. When confronted by proof of its blatantly unethical behaviour - such as busing in supporters to carry the vote - it has argued that this is just like "voter registration". When asked to explain areas like its patent licenses, it has raised heavy curtains of confusion to ensure no-one could dig up the truth in time.
It's these antics that enraged ordinary people and brought them into the debate. Make no mistake: this has been incredibly expensive for everyone involved. There have been by my count almost a hundred people working, near full time, around the world, and this is just from the FFII's point of view. Multiply that by ten and you get a global estimate. These people are not professional lobbyists, they volunteer their time, work incredible hours, and it's not for financial reward. It's just to try to make things right. It would be lovely if we did get paid for this work, but sadly that's not how the world works.
Personally, I'm absolutely furious with Microsoft. It's nothing to do with their products, which they are welcome to make and sell as is any firm in a free market. It's not a crusade or an anti-Microsoft thing. What makes me mad as heck is their refusal to respect the rules, to play fair in the digital society. They seem determined to cheat, not as a last resort, but as a strategy. It is not great marketing - is their stuff really so bad they can't sell it like everyone else? Perhaps so.
Cheaters need to be punished, otherwise society stops working. If Microsoft succeed in pushing OOXML through ISO, they assault the very notion of a standard. Without good standards, our industry is crippled. So Microsoft is wiling to cripple an entire industry for its own selfish short-term gain. It's not even sensible: like all of us, Microsoft makes more money from open standards (email, http, tcp) than from closed ones.
How do we punish Microsoft, and why is this even our job as a community?
The big, big problem with anti-trust cases is patents. Patents make a mockery of anti-trust: collusion that would result in 20 years in jail becomes perfectly legal when you throw a single patent into the mix. Software patents allow firms like Microsoft to legally create monopolies, and there is nothing the state can do about that without disrupting the whole patent system.
When we look at the OOXML event, we see certain things - a lousy standard, a bullying monopolist, a weak ISO process, an angry community. But look a little deeper, and there are two big things that are emerging:
- The importance of collective action in reasserting order when bullies lie and bribe and corrupt their way through the standards processes.
- The importance of software patents for these bullies to maintain their monopolies, immune from anti-trust proceedings.
The FFII, my organisation, is special for two reasons. First, we're experienced in organising collective action like <NO>OOXML. We know how to help people organise themselves and respond professionally and accurately. It's horribly difficult, no question about it, and we burn out like mayflies. But the FFII has earned its right to be respected, and feared, as an organisation capable of defending civil society from the bullies. Second, we don't just focus on open standards. We're not about free software, we're not focussed on single issues. Instead we go deeper, and focus on copyright, regulation, legislation, standards, and, vitally, software patents. We've been called a "wiki organisation": anyone can join and make significant contributions.
Microsoft have not done themselves any favours over the last months. We've seen requests to open new FFII chapters in Latin America, Africa, and Asia. FFII activists have established great relationships with business, ODF and OpenOffice groups, free software campaigners, national boards, and ministries.
The OOXML event is not over yet, and it's unfortunately just the first of a series. Microsoft won't back down, even though it seems clear they should learn their lesson and try to save some face. They will see any defeat at the ISO level as a reason to improve their strategy and try again. Did they not spend enough? Raise the budgets. Did they not get members in place early enough? Move them now. Did they miss some countries? Send someone there immediately.
We make the choice: respond, or back-down. Defend our rights and freedoms, collectively, or live with the consequences. Organise and prepare for the next round, or be swept aside as irrelevant background noise. 40,000 is either a huge number, or it's very, very small. We decide.
Many of you are asking yourselves, "how can I help?" My answer is "get involved in a national FFII chapter, and if there is not one, start it." If you need any help, email me at ph at imatix dot com.