Why ISO-approval of OOXML is not an option

by jlundstocholm 8. March 2008 02:35
Now that the BRM has been done for about a week, I can't help but think back on what has happened in the past 9 months - the BRM was a pretty big mile-stone. It has been a crazy time and a crazy process to be a part of ... especially since the way the world usually works has been turned upside-down. On one side we have Microsoft making the file format of their Microsoft Office Suite publically available, thus being "open", and on the other side we have the OSS-community yelling "We don't want it, since it is too much like the internal format of your Microsoft Office Suite".

One of the first major mile-stones was when the EU-Commission in 2004 asked Microsoft to submit the file format of the Microsoft Office product line to an international standards body. Now, when the EU-Commission asks you for something, it is generally really just a polite way to say: "You must" ... much like when a police officer wakes you up outside of a bar and says: "You really should go home now".

IDABC: Microsoft should consider the merits of submitting XML formats to an international standards body of their choice;

So Microsoft did what they were told - they submitted their file format to first ECMA and then ISO. They didn't start from scratch and make the mother of all generic file formats - they took the file format of their Microsoft Office Suite and made it publically available for everyone to use. Essentially they said: "This is what we use - now you can use it too".

I have often been accused of being too gullable by those opposing OOXML - especially those that don't trust Microsoft as far as they can throw them. Sadly, they just don't get it

I'm not advocating ISO-approval of OOXML because I trust Microsoft to do the right thing -  I am advocating ISO-approval of OOXML because we as society cannot afford the possibility of Microsoft not doing the right thing

Microsoft opponents should actually be the ones screaming "Microsoft, put OOXML in ISO - we don't trust you". Instead they say "Microsoft. we don't trust you - kep your file format to yourself". I'm sorry, but I don't understand this. Rick Jellife has advocated that all protocols, APIs and document formats of major players in a given industry should be made part of the public domain (Rick, I have been trying to find the blog-entry where you mentioned this, but unsuccessful. If you (or anyone selse) have it, please send it to me and I'll update this article) (update: I found it myself). I agressively second this notion. We should not only encourage ISO-approval OOXML (and other important file formats) - we should demand it. This is what the EU-Commission wisely did.  In contrast to the American way of letting the marked decide what to do (my American friends, please take note of this) - the EU-Commission said that it is totally unacceptable that the file format of the Office Suite with a 95% install base is out of reach of governments, NGOs, competing companies etc. I totally agree. We want it to be defined and maintained in a forum, where we have a say - and that forum is the ISO. Rob Weir is correct when he on Tim Bray's blog said "IMHO, this really isn't a question of whether OOXML should exist or not. OOXML is here, just like the binary formats before". But he shows a slight lack of understanding of the big picture in his next sentense where he says: "The question is whether OOXML should be given ISO standard status in addition to being an Ecma standard.".

Rob seems to be under the impression that ISO-approval is some kind of quality badge of honor that you can proudly carry around. First of all, I think we can all agree that ODF itself is a clear example that ISO-approval not necessarily implies quality, interoperability and clearness. Secondly, how the specification was made is not the first priority when talking ISO-approval. The first priority should be:

We need to take control of OOXML out of the hands of Microsoft and back into society as a whole

This was imho the focal point of Patrick Durusau's support of DIS 29500 approval. Amongst other things he said that

Patrick Durusau: The cost of rejection is that ordinary users, governments, smaller interests, all lose a seat at the table where the next version of the Office standard is being written

This is my point!

Let's talk ISO-approval first - then quality. This is a whole new approach of ISO-usage (at least within IT), where we as society demand proprietary formats, APIs and protocols to be put in ISO - because the costs to society of not doing so are simply too big. We should use ISO as a tool to gain greater insight and control of important parts of the IT infrastructure. We need it in ISO, since IS's members are countries and not companies. This is our turf!

Some might say "hey, Microsoft will never abide by the format put in ISO - they'll simply extend it". Well, we should demand something else of them. We should do as the Danish Government wisely chose last year: A procurement requirement saying that new software must support, in our case, ODF and OOXML. Stop talking about applications - start talking about file formats! The bottom line of the Danish decision is that if Microsoft Office doesn't follow the rules of OOXML, it will either not be bought or not upgraded to. Microsoft Office being Microsoft's #1 revenue stream - they will not be able to ignore this. So to enhance competition we need to do two things:

  1. Demand that e.g. a file format is put in ISO
  2. Demand that the applications conform to this format

 

That should be our focus - and not trashing and badmouthing the competing format. In his latest article, Patrick Durusau tells a story of an angry Russian pessant.

One evening, through a cold miserable rain, a hungry Russian peasant was walking home. A luminous being appeared in their path. "Please! If you will make one wish, it will free me from my prison!" The genie pointed to an oddly shaped lamp on the side of the path. "Wish for anything you want, food, power, wealth, ..., anything!" The peasant grunted, "I wish my neighbor's cow would die," as he pushed past the genie to continue home.

The strategy behind NOOXML strikes me as being quite similar to that of the Russian peasant. It seeks nothing that would benefit itself, no new product to sell to customers, no new service to serve as a revenue stream. It is simply a wish that "...my neighbors cow would die."

Come on, guys ... let's move on! Let's stop bitching about the file formats and their differences and let's start doing what we all love the most - building applications on top of them.

Smile

... which brings me back to the headline of this article:

ISO-approval of OOXML is not just an option - it really should be a requirement. 

Comments

3/9/2008 4:47:16 AM #

orlando

Let me repeat again this ... may be your passion is making you to lose focus on standardization process like this ( you worked before in standards Jesper? ).

In a couple of days, all the NBs around the world ( many of them sadly heavily influenced by Microsoft employees and partners ) will have to ask a simple question:

"Has DIS 29500 the technical merits to be fast-tracked as an ISO standard?"

End point.



orlando Argentina |

3/9/2008 7:52:12 AM #

hAl

@orlando
Has DIS 29500 the technical merits to be fast-tracked as an ISO standard?

OR rather they will have to ask this simple question:

Do we want the future most used office fileformats in the world to be an open ISO standard ?


hAl |

3/9/2008 6:37:38 PM #

jlundstocholm

Hi Orlando,

The funny thing is that if you look in the JTC1 directives and see the ways to vote and possible motivations for it, you are basically only allowed to dissaprove a DIS on factual, technical reasons. However you are perfectly correct that countries will likely vote on a number of different motivations. Maybe they prefer ODF, maybe they don't like Microsoft, maybe they don't think DIS 29500 was suitable for FT, maybe they think DIS 29500 is what the world has graved in wet dreams for God knows how many years, maybe they think two standards for document formats is really great in terms of development of them ... or mayby they will even abstain.

Smile

jlundstocholm Denmark |

3/11/2008 1:12:54 AM #

Doug Mahugh

Orlando, your concern about NBs being influenced by Microsoft employees and partners is rather amusing from my POV.  In the US, the fans of Disapprove have made lobbying calls on executive board members more often than they've contributed anything to technical committee discussions.  Speaking of, I want a "have you read 1 page?" sticker!

Doug Mahugh United States |

3/11/2008 1:26:54 AM #

jlundstocholm

Doug,

Feel free to use the graphics to make some yourself ... I promise I won't come after you with a CaD-notification (cease-and-desist) if you use it.

Smile

When I get mine from the printer's, I'll snailmail you a bunch of them (if the quality is good enough).

Ooh - and btw ... talking about bribes ... the flow of "assets" from Microsoft to delegates at the BRM is going sooo the wrong way here for me ... currently I am down 1 beer and a bunch of stickers!

(when reading noooxml.org I thought it'd been totally different ... I thought the idea was to have the flux go from Microsoft and not to Microsoft ... should we blame the weak US dollar ?)

jlundstocholm Denmark |

3/11/2008 12:28:24 PM #

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3/11/2008 1:35:12 PM #

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3/11/2008 3:14:44 PM #

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3/11/2008 6:26:28 PM #

Mike Brown

@Jesper,

>> Let's talk ISO-approval first - then quality.

Jesper, I had to re-read that sentence about four times to check that you really wrote it.  I mean, are you serious?  Standardisation comes first, then quality afterwards?

Okay, here's a scenario for you.  I own a company making car safety belts, and we're seeking ISO standardisation for our products.  Small problem at the moment: our safety belts are made out of tissue paper.  So, if you do hit the brakes too hard while you're wearing one, you'll break right through the safety belt, smash your head into the windscreen and sustain a bad injury; you might even die.

But I can still have an ISO standard at this point, can't I?   I mean, we can work on quality later on, right?

Cheers,

- Mike

Mike Brown Australia |

3/11/2008 6:36:16 PM #

jlundstocholm

Mike,

Jesper, I had to re-read that sentence about four times to check that you really wrote it. I mean, are you serious? Standardisation comes first, then quality afterwards?
Sometimes you have to take an argument a bit to the extreme to make a point - and this was one of them.

Smile

Please note that I am also not talking about all ISO-certifications - I am talking about the situations where the World decides to mandate ISO-approval of some standard, format etc.

I am sure you can find a ton of sentences in my text that, isolated, is nuts - but please look at the bigger picture when reading it.

jlundstocholm Denmark |

3/11/2008 7:44:30 PM #

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3/11/2008 8:13:10 PM #

Mike Brown

@Jesper

Yes, I used an extreme example, and deliberately so: those are the ones that tend to stick in people's minds!

As for picking an "isolated" example from your post, let me quote it again, only this time I'll also include the sentence that preceded it:

>> This is my point! Let's talk ISO-approval first - then quality.

(The italics are yours).

So, was this your point or wasn't it?

Cheers,

- Mike

Mike Brown Australia |

3/11/2008 8:25:41 PM #

jlundstocholm

Mike,

Well, I see you want to nit-pick what I wrote anyways, so here you go:

Notice the lack of "colon" after the words "This is my point". This is because I was referring back to Patrick Durusaus words:

"The cost of rejection is that ordinary users, governments, smaller interests, all lose a seat at the table where the next version of the Office standard is being written".

Do you want to have another go at it?

Smile

BTW: I do thank you for commenting on my blog ... comments are what we bloggers feed on ... without comments, no blogs.

jlundstocholm Denmark |

3/11/2008 8:49:02 PM #

Mike Brown

Lack of colon noted.  I think an entire new paragraph after "This is my point" would have made it that much clearer though.

To tackle your "real" point then...

Sorry, this argument makes no sense to me.  In fact, it contradicts itself.  Mr Durasau says that rejecting the standard would be at the cost of "a seat at the table where the next version of the Office standard is being written".  But if ISO rejects standardisation of OOXMl instead, then that argument is moot.  There *is* no "next version" of the "office standard" to fret about; there can't be, because there's never a first version of it, do you see?

Let me put it another way.  (Another extreme example, I'm afraid).  If you run away from the school bully, the chances are that he'll just keep following you.  Turn around and smack him in the mouth, however, and maybe he'll think twice about picking you on you again.  Microsoft is at the negotiating table now because it has received that "smack in the mouth"; i.e., ODF has ISO certification and OOXML was rejected for it (at the first time of asking, anyway).  I believe that Microsoft's current friendly disposition towards openness and standards is a direct result of that "smack".  Take it away and they'll revert to their previous closed behaviour before anybody can blink.

Cheers,

- Mike

Mike Brown Australia |

3/12/2008 12:00:39 AM #

jlundstocholm

Mike,

I have inserted a paragraph-break to enhance my point - thanks for pointing it out.

About OOXML dissapearing, well Rob Weir seems to dissagree with you. If OOXML fails it will not be an ISO-standard, but it will still be an ECMA-standard and it will still be the file format for the Microsoft Office Product line. Only difference is that we won't have a say in the future development there - not as countries, anyway, and this is actually quite important to me.

Please also note that I propose and suggest strong demands to comply with the format, should it get ISO-approval. Microsoft won't just be able to ignore it once "it's there".

jlundstocholm Denmark |

3/12/2008 7:41:07 AM #

Rado

I'd just like to point out that rejection of *fast-track* process doesn't mean OOXML is out of the game for good.
If that happens (which seem highly unlikely), Microsoft can still go trough standard process, which is quite a bit slower, but
at the end you end up with highly refined document.

I am the opponent of OOXML fast-track process, not the OOXML itself. And I do believe that most other FLOSS people agree with me.
It would be wrong to be against OOXML just because it is something made by Microsoft. However, going trough fast-track process in such a way is something I am very against of.

This is abuse of the fast-track process, as the proposal is simply way too immature to be fast-tracked.

I do believe that if Microsoft went trough "normal" ISO approval process, nobody would object to that. And, at the end, we all might benefit.

Rado Croatia |

3/12/2008 9:18:53 AM #

Mike Brown

@Jesper,

An Ecma stamp doesn't seem to count for too much out in the field though.  How many governments have mandated the use of Ecma-approved file formats only?  None that I know of.  ISO is the gold standard here.  Microsoft knows that, which is why it is doing everything in its power to get one at the earliest opportunity.

Sure, OOXML will carry on in some way if it fails at ISO.  As you say, it's the default format for Office 2007.  But it will be doomed in the long run.  ODF's ISO credentials, coupled with the fact that the office suites that implement it are available for free, will see its increased use in governments, and from there to businesses.  OOXML will become an irrelevance.

We "won't have a say in the future development" of OOXML in that case?  No, we won't.  But that won't matter (see above).


@Rado,

Agreed.  And it will interesting to see if Microsoft does resubmit via the "normal" track if it fails at fast track.

It takes years to go through the normal track though doesn't it?  And Microsoft can't afford for ODF to have those years to itself as the only ISO-approved document format.  It's really sh*t or bust for them this month.

They also have a major Catch-22 problem if they were to produce a true, quality spec: OOXML's raison d'etre is that it reproduces legacy MS Office documents with full fidelity, including all the quirks and bugs and proprietary stuff that the latter contain.  I believe that your "highly refined document" that's been thoroughly reviewed (as ODF was), will have had a lot of that Office-specific stuff kicked out of it.  (We've already seen some of that happening towards the end of the fast track process, with Ecma promising to implement ISO date formats etc).

At the end of such a process, I think we'd end up with something that's so close to ODF as to be indistinguishable from it.  So, Microsoft's entire raison d-etre for OOXML actually disappears!  

Cheers,

- Mike









Mike Brown Australia |

3/12/2008 10:59:47 PM #

hAl

I do believe that if Microsoft went trough "normal" ISO approval process, nobody would object to that

Normal ISO approval proces is to create a standard from within ISO. That standardization process is not appropriate for a format already in use in the real world. Fasttrack is specially designed as a proces for formats that come out of the marketplace. The spec is not inmature as many many companies have already implemented Office Open XML.
That opponents of the standard call it inmature does not mean it really is.
What is true is that the quality of the specification and also the wording of the specification was mayby not up to the level that you normally expect from an ISO created specification. However this is quite normal for fasttrack specifications that have originated in a less formal standards environment. In most fasttracking procedures that does not cause much problems because it is them quite normal that the format will be improved during the fasttrack and in the later the maintenance phases.
However in this case where there is competative interest certain companies it seems that this draft is held to a different standard and that just correcting the found problems is not enough.
A lot of issues were made about essentially changing part of the format which is not normal in fasttracking where you take the spec as is and improve on quality and not in changing functionality. Issues for instancelike  demanding feature for compatibility with ODF are completly new for this kind of standardisation proces.

So I am not sure if it is the process that is failing or the way certain organisations are approaching this particular format requiring a level of change that fasttracking was never ment to be for.

I have seen issues even requiring most of the OOXML XML tag naming to be redone. That is something that is a totally ludacrous demand in a fasttracking procedure. And also not nescesary for a standard that has its base in the marketplace.
A fasttracking standard does not have to be perfect but has to be workable and useable in the marketplace and as such OOXML is already proving itself.

hAl |

3/13/2008 12:38:04 AM #

Ian Easson

Mike, to add to what hAl said,

The anti-OOXML folks tried to exploit the lack of knowledge about the ISO standards process to put out the false story that Microsoft had used its corporate influence to get the standard "fast-tracked", i.e., processed in a time much shorter than it would have been otherwise or shorter than all other proposed ISO standards.  This false information was very widely spread in blogs by IBM and the whole set of anti-OOXML zealots.

Many people who don't know ISO terminology or who are willing to believe anything bad they hear about Microsoft, upon hearing this phrase, assumed it to be true.  You may have been one of them.  Or, you might have come to this incorrect conclusion all on your own, just based on the wording.

However, as hAl pointed out, it is just a standard ISO terminology to refer to pre-existing industry standards (as opposed to ones developed by the ISO itself).  Obviously, a standard developed in-house from scratch by ISO is going to take longer to create than the time to consider one which has already been created and has gone through an independent standards process (in this case, the OOXML standard, which went through ECMA).  Thus, compared to in-house ISO standards, all external ones are "fast-tracked".

Ian Easson Canada |

3/13/2008 3:20:09 AM #

jlundstocholm

Mike,

How many governments have mandated the use of Ecma-approved file formats only? None that I know of.
Actually, the Danish Government has mandated using either ODF 1.0 or OOXML (ECMA-376).

I basically agree that the two document formats will eventually come close to each other - but we are talking at least 5-10 years down the line - and I actually think it will be ODF that will come closer to OOXML than vice versa. And no matter how much you doubt it - OOXML is today a far more richer document formats than ODF. It is simply not possible to swap these two - at least not yet.

Smile

jlundstocholm Denmark |

3/13/2008 3:35:59 AM #

Ian Easson

Mike,

I would guess that the use of mandated file formats by governments has had its day.  It got started a couple of years ago, by the ODF folks, in an attempt to cut off OOXML from consideration (restrict choice).

In the last 6 months ot so, there were about half a dozen US states that had been looking at this question as a result of hard ODF lobbying.  When they looked at the question in more detail, they all backed off.

The one US state that had previously limited document formats (to ODF and to the then-proprietary PDF), Massachusets, opened up to OOXML after a year-long review that showed ODF failed to live up to its propaganda.

Ian Easson Canada |

3/13/2008 3:54:32 AM #

Ian Easson

Jesper,

I think you may be wrong about the two formats growing closer over the next 5 to 10 years.  Perhaps if OOXML stands still, ODF can catch up to it over that time.  But, if OOXML passes the ISO vote in a few weeks, there will then be an accepted way of maintaining and improving it (likely the ECMA offer).  

In that case, the following improvements spring to mind:
- Macros
- OOXML Formats for other Office applications (Publisher, Visio, Project, OneNote, Access, etc.)
- Standardized extensions (using the schema extension mechanism already defined)

So, I suspect that OOXML may undergo a rapid growth over the next few years.  If that is so, I really doubt ODF could keep up.

Ian Easson Canada |

3/13/2008 6:38:25 AM #

jlundstocholm

Ian,

well - the whole point with competing/complementary standards is that there will be a mutual pressure on functionality from each. I agree that OOXML has a "head start" on ODF and that the activity in ODF TC seems rather low at the moment, but I sincerely hope they'll pick up the speed and try to catch on.

I think we need both standards in ISO. The case of ODF clearly shows the need to provide a positive pressure on development of the document formats. ODF has been the "ISO monopoly" for the last couple of years, and since their ISO-stamp basically makes the document format sell itself - at least to governments - they have had the luxury of being able to spend their time fighting OOXML instead of improving their own format.

jlundstocholm Denmark |

3/13/2008 7:46:15 AM #

Ian Easson

Jesper,

I don't disagree with your latest comment about the need for competitive pressure.

I just suspect that ODF will not be able to provide much of it over the coming years.  

Ian Easson Canada |

3/13/2008 3:04:09 PM #

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3/14/2008 8:58:01 AM #

Rob Brown

Hi Jesper,

An interesting point there - you said "...if you look in the JTC1 directives and see the ways to vote and possible motivations for it, you are basically only allowed to dissaprove a DIS on factual, technical reasons".

In the FAQ for the DIS-29500 BRM (http://www.jtc1sc34.org/repository/0932.htm), point 6.7 says:
-quote-
What criteria may NBs use in deciding whether (or not) to switch their votes?
    No constraints are placed upon the criteria NBs may use for deciding their voting position.
-end quote-

"Vote" is not defined in the context of that point, but section 6 is about post-BRM voting so I'm assuming that it's about NB's final votes for approving or disapproving DIS-29500.

Can you please be more specific about the JTC1 directives which provide guidelines for voting on final approval?

Thanks,

Rob Brown New Zealand |

3/14/2008 4:56:46 PM #

jlundstocholm

Hi Rob,

Thanks for your comment - but your understanding of the vote in September 2007 and the BRM is slightly off, so let me clarify it a bit (also my own statement)

When the "normal" DIS-vote was carried out in September, the national bodies could basically vote whatever they wanted, but a "dissaprove" shall be accompanied by a list of technical comments.

isotc.iso.org/.../Jtc1_Directives.pdf

( http://www.tinyurl.dk/3250 )

In the JTC1 directives on page 114 is says for vote on a DIS:

__ We approve the technical content of the draft
  ___ as presented
  ___ with comments (editorial or other) appended

__ We disapprove for the technical reasons stated
   The reasons for our disapproval are the following (use a separate page as
   annex, if necessary)
   ___ Acceptance of specified technical modifications will change our vote to
   approval

___ We abstain

That being said, countries are going to vote on basis of whatever they want - regardless of the directives.

Smile

But when it comes to the post BRM final status, no actual vote is performed, and there will be no possibility to add comments. So the national bodies are not going to vote, per se, but they have the possibility to change their vote.

(I just learned that yesterday at a meeting at the Danish national body)

I hope this answers your question - otherwise please add another comment.

jlundstocholm Denmark |

3/15/2008 2:56:55 PM #

phil

I love the MS marketing people talking to each other here..

The spec is not inmature as many many companies have already implemented Office Open XML.

You do make me laugh! No, really! Ho ho ho ho!

phil Brazil |

3/15/2008 9:18:49 PM #

jlundstocholm

Hi phil,

Thanks for your comment. When you talk about "MS marketing people" I assume you are referring to Mike Brown and Rob Brown, right?

jlundstocholm Denmark |

3/16/2008 12:10:03 AM #

phil

Hello!

Thanks for your response.

I was referring to Hai and Ian E., and their comical conversation above. Do they post from the same IP?

If you two are still tracking this chat, would you be so kind as to elaborate on the following statement:

"The spec is not inmature as many many companies have already implemented Office Open XML."

Ho ho ho ho!

How many is many many? 1? Would that be my favourite software
monopolist?

You, Mr. blog owner, also made me cringe with above phrase-

"Let's talk ISO-approval first - then quality."

I know you've already responded to other critical voices; nonetheless, I would like to express my utter astonishment at this argument as a culmination of your train of thought as a whole.

I want a standard to be formalised once its perfect. Until then MS can go and pay ecma or whoever to conduct an "independent" or closed or open process with or without public feedback to make it workable. We don't want a VISTA-type joke of a standard!

The ISO process was neither public nor open, unless you say open to industry tampering.. The irregularities.. the BRM didnt even permit discussion of the issues..

"And no matter how much you doubt it - OOXML is today a far more richer document formats than ODF."

If there are thousands of pages and thousands of problems its not a standard. This is reminiscent of VHS versus BETAMAX, with one rubbish betamax entering the market late. "ISO monopoly of ODF" is just laughable, considering betamax is being exclusively sponsored by one company, whilst ODF has been implemented by industry heavyweights and newcomers.

If you say "richer", I assume you're referring to the legacy implementations of date formats from windows 3.1 and binary dumps for the prehistorical/rubbish .doc?

I do get emotional. As a translator in industry, I am confronted with different office document formats every day. Luckily, the .doc implementation on my Openoffice is rather good, so I can even open 90s-Office-files that post-2000 MS-products cannot open properly. It even opened the last RUBBISH xml implementation from MS!

Rest assured that O2007XML will NOT stand and that the voice of reason shall prevail. Even if this particular battle is lost, the monopolist cannot win against free/libre software on this front.

Best regards,

Phil

phil Brazil |

3/16/2008 2:58:09 AM #

jlundstocholm

Hi phil,

No - Ian and hAl do not post from same IP and the subnets from which they are posting are not registered by the same organisation (nor country).

About my post - I think you are missing the silver lining here. My point is that we should not thank Microsoft for opening up their formats, nor should we bow in silent prayer to the chorus of 1000 angels singing Hallejuja because Microsoft has opened their formats. We should have demanded this from the beginning! We should have said, that it is 1112% unacceptable for the file format of the Office application with a 95% install base to be out of the hands of governments etc.

Please note that in 2004 the software landscape was totally different from now - concepts like "OSS" and "Open Standard" did not carry as much weight as they do today and e.g. the OASIS TC had just been established a year before. The software world was "proprietary" and dominated by corporate "monooliths" in a way that is very different from today's software world. Therefore the EU requirement for Microsoft was actually pretty novell in spirit.

Basically there were two ways to make Microsoft open up.

Option one was to have them release their internal Microsoft Office document format. This would likely have resulted in a format specification in much worse shape than the one submitted by ECMA (remember that the specification grew by a few thousand pages during the ECMA review). This approach would still mean that Microsoft would have absolute control of the format.

Option two was to have Microsoft submit the internal document format of their Office Application to an international standards body. This would mean that the document format would be in control of not Microsoft but the countries participating in ISO.

This has really nothing to do with ODF and Microsoft Office being able to export documents to ODF. This has to do with being in control of the default/internal document format of the #1 (in terms of install base) Office productivity suite in the world. No matter how much you wish for it, there is no way that ODF will ever be the internal document format for Microsoft Office - just as OOXML will likely never be the internal document format for OpenOffice.org, Lotus Symphony or iWorks.

This just has to do with wrestling control of OOXML out of the hands of Microsoft.

You could naturally argue that ECMA was just fine for this and there is no reason for Microsoft to have ISO-approval of OOXML to achieve openness - and you are quite right in this. I actually think Microsoft would have been quite happy with having OOXML in "just" ECMA and not ISO. The problem for "me" here (as a member of the Danish standardisation commitee) is that ECMA does not give formal control to countries - just as OASIS doesn't either. So I'd much prefer to have OOXML in ISO. The problem for Microsoft with having OOXML in ECMA was, that the FOSS-community managed to convince so many decision-makers in governments etc that the ISO-approval was the only one that mattered and that "openness" could only mean one thing: ISO-standard. So I don't think "you guys" gave Microsoft any choice in this - they had to submit their document format to ISO to preserve their market position. To me, it was the FOSS-community (spear-headed by IBM) that forced Microsoft/ECMA to submit OOXML to ISO and not Microsoft wanting it themselves.

jlundstocholm Denmark |

3/16/2008 7:10:42 AM #

allen

"No matter how much you wish for it, there is no way that ODF will ever be the internal document format for Microsoft Office - just as OOXML will likely never be the internal document format for OpenOffice.org, Lotus Symphony or iWorks."

Nonsense. Have ODF as the single ISO standard, and then have governments mandate usage of that single ISO standard in order to facilitate both competition and long-term access, and you will have Microsoft fully implementing it within Office in no time (and not as a bug-ridden add-on).

As time goes on (sooner rather than later), once MS no longer has anything to *gain* financially by using "doc" or "docx", they will implement ODF fully as their internal format too. All the fairy-tales about OOXML being "richer" will disappear before you can blink an eye.

allen United States |

3/16/2008 8:25:40 AM #

jlundstocholm

Hi allen,

Well, the basis for your argument is that we're better off with just one ISO-standard for document formats - but I don't necessarily agree with this. If the "document format war" has shown us anything, it is that lack of competition within document formats is not good. It is now almost three years since OASIS-approval of ODF and virtually nothing aside of editorial changes has happened. Please take a look at the latest draft of ODF (1.2) and tell me where the signs of 3 years of development of the document format are?

By having both OOXML and ODF in ISO I think both document formats will benefit of it. Well, at least OOXML will - for some bizar reason ODF and the development and maintenance of it is outside of the realms of ISO.

Smile

jlundstocholm Denmark |

3/16/2008 9:36:53 AM #

Rob Brown

Hi Jesper et al,

I love it. First Gray Knowlton is suggesting that I might be a Don Christie* wannabe, now you're confusing me with a Microsoft Marketroid**! I just want to be me!

I just can't agree with your argument that getting ISO standardisation will take control of OOXML out of Microsoft's hands. First, there's the maintenance proposal, which uses the newly-minted ISO rule about allowing nominated bodies to control standards, to place control of OOXML with ECMA (and, by extension, Microsoft). Will we really have a meaningful "seat at that table"?

Then there's the OSP which covers only items which are fully described in the OOXML spec, not those which are "merely referenced". There are a lot of issues which are "merely referenced"!.

I'm sure you realise that very little of Microsoft's current "open" attitude is based on a desire to enable interoperability for the customer's benefit. There have been two real watershed events that have brought Microsoft to this position:

1) The ISO standardisation of ODF, and subsequent lobbying to get it mandated by Government (eg. Massachusetts). Political game or not, this opened a lot of people's eyes to the possibility of an alternative to Microsoft lock-in.
2) The EU Commission's "suggestion" that Microsoft submit its document formats for standardisation, made in the context of the biggest corporate fine ever handed out by the EU.

When the EU made specific demands requiring Microsoft to provide technical documentation on its network protocols, the company dragged its feet for two years, and still did not comply. www.news.com/.../2100-1014_3-6048432.html

Debating history is never particularly rewarding, but please bear with me. I have a point to make, and it is this: Microsoft is "open" only when it has absolute, unmovable business compulsion, with no wiggle-room at all. The process for OOXML (and especially the future maintenance plan) give Microsoft far too much leeway for game-playing.

I'd suggest that ODF has been slow to develop precisely because it has been ignored by Microsoft. Nothing like a 95% market share, however ill-gotten, to make people concentrate on you! And I do truly believe that if ODF were the only ISO document format then:

* Microsoft could (and would) make Office work with it in very short time.
* ODF would receive the attention and energy required to fill any perceived gaps.

Nothing about opposition to OOXML is "anti-competition". ODF does not lock anyone out. OOXML may not either, but it gives Microsoft a mechanism to always be a step ahead of the competition.

Finally, please read Rob Weir's posts about technical shortcomings in OOXML. You can ignore his bias and concentrate purely on the facts he presents, and they are pretty powerful. "The disharmony of OOXML" is a real eye-opener.

Kind regards,
Rob Brown.

* Don Christie is President of the New Zealand Open Source Society. I think Gray's insinuation was based purely on geography.
**Yes, I realise that you weren't serious about that.

Rob Brown New Zealand |

3/16/2008 10:08:04 AM #

jlundstocholm

Hi Rob,

Just a quick word (it's getting late here in Copenhagen)

About maintenance: I hear strong feelings amongst the national bodies that a deal with ECMA that implies/enforces stronger ISO-control of maintenance will be negociated upon submission of OOXML should it get approved. This is, afair, on the agenda of the SC34-meeting in Oslo next month. There has been great resent towards OASIS and the way they handled maintenance of ODF (by getting ISO-approval and almost immediately releasing a v.1.1 outside of the ISO system) so SC34/JTC1 will likely demand more control. I also predict that SC34 will establish a WG4 exclusively about document markup and maintenance/development of OOXML will fit nicely in this group.

About Microsoft's desire to open up: I totally agree that Microsoft didn't "open up" by themselves - they opened up due to a demand from their customers, here the governments around the world. But I don't see this as any reason for denying OOXML-approval. It's not as if IBM, ORACLE etc went the ODF-way because they "live and breath Open Source" - they had been trying for years to make a dent in the Microsoft Office monopoly with their own proprietary formats and protocols ... but it didn't work. They finally did the right thing - got together and created a common document format and made the specification public ... but it wasn't their first go at it.

About Rob's blog: the problem with Rob's blog is that he cherry-picks his arguments and consistently reports the one side that benefits him and IBM. On top of that he moderates his blog so aggressively that comments from e.g. me are blocked. I'm sorry, but I've stopped regarding Rob's blog as a source of relevant information ... and if you look at the comments, it's really all about padding themselves on their backs claiming intellectual superiority and chanting how incompetent and evil Microsoft is. To be honest, I'd take comp.os.linux.advocacy any day.

:o)

jlundstocholm Denmark |

3/16/2008 6:55:50 PM #

Rob Brown

Hi Jesper,

Ah, beautiful Copenhagen. I've been there a couple of times, last time was when the bridge to Malmo was nearly built (sorry I can't do proper umlauts etc)... I'm very keen to get back there!

You comment about pressure being applied at the SC34 plenary, to make the OOXML maintenance less Microsoft driven; you also comment about dissatisfaction with the OASIS handling of ODF. Would a worthwhile alternative solution be to get that pressure applied to ISO/OASIS to make the ODF maintenance better, for example by guaranteeing Microsoft a seat on the committee (should they in fact want it)?

You said above that "no matter how much you wish for it, there is no way that ODF will ever be the internal document format for Microsoft Office". Well, there are certainly large barriers in the way of that, but if the OOXML fast-track fails and the ODF maintenance were made more Microsoft-friendly, I do believe it would be possible.

I don't believe in "good" corporations and "bad" corporations as such- I'm certainly not envisioning IBM riding up on a white horse to save me from evil Microsoft! But the situation we are in now - where a 95% market share has been achieved through illegal means as well as delivery of good products, is in need of re-balancing to allow for fair competition and the benefits that will flow from that to consumers.

And please don't interpret the last paragraph as "forcing ODF on Microsoft would be a fitting punishment for their naughtiness". I simply want a single document standard that everyone works to improve, and I think that technically the best starting point is ODF. I know you disagree with me about the best starting point, and I think you believe that broad vendor co-operation on a document format is an unattainable pipe dream, but we do agree on the ultimate need for interoperability. Having competing standards is going to lead to a lot of extra implementation work which is great for software engineers, but ultimately hits customers in the pocket.

I'm currently digging around trying to find information on how the SC34 plenary meetings work... I'm sure I'll come back to you with questions about it! Thanks for the time you've given me already.

Rob Brown New Zealand |

3/16/2008 8:39:00 PM #

jlundstocholm

Hi Rob,

You can see the draft agenda for the Oslo plenary here: www.itscj.ipsj.or.jp/sc34/open/0976draft-rev2.htm

(I'll respond to your comment in general later today)

Smile

jlundstocholm Denmark |

3/17/2008 5:42:55 AM #

Ian Easson

Hi Phil,

Just to set the record straight:
- I do not have now and have never had any relationship with Microsoft (this sounds like the Anti-American hearings of 1950, in which everyone and their dog had to appear before the US Senate and pledge publically that " I am not nor have I ever been a member of the Communist party"!)
- I don't have a clue who hAl is

It's pretty immature of you to impute someone's employment from the fact that they don't agree with you.

Ian Easson Canada |

3/17/2008 12:08:59 PM #

Rob Brown

Hi Jesper,

Reading Rob Weir's and Stephane Rodriguez' blogs has made me pretty negative about the technical quality of OOXML, so I've decided to download a trial version of MS Office 2007 and try doing some things with it that I've done with ODF. If you're interested, I'll let you know how it goes.

But I do have to say: why are the tags so @#$^$& cryptic? I gather it's to do with "performance", which I can't believe because surely unzipping and finite-vocabulary parsing are way faster these days than hard disk access... I may well be a bit ignorant about the scope of the parsing task, given that the most complex parser that I've ever written was for around 200 tokens ;-P

Thanks for the plenary agenda, very interesting.

Rob Brown New Zealand |

3/17/2008 10:14:13 PM #

Ian Easson

Rob,

There was an extremely extensive discussion on the terse tags and their (positive) impact on performance, in Brian Jones' blog about 9-12 months ago.  The discussion included benchmarking.
You should look up that discussion.  It should answer your questions.

Ian Easson Canada |

3/18/2008 4:46:09 AM #

Rob Brown

Hi Ian,

Thanks for the pointer. I assume you mean blogs.msdn.com/.../599096.aspx; as I said I'm not very experienced with complex parsers so I'll take Brian's word for it. There are also some other posts about performance aspects that I'll be interested to read.

Unfortunately the trymicrosoftoffice.com site seems a bit broken so I haven't been able to download a trial of MS Office to play around with OOXML. I may even have to (gasp!) stump up some cash for it.

By the way Mr. Easson, I think it's relevant to ask: are you, or have you ever been, a member of the Communist party? And what about your dog? Wink

Rob Brown New Zealand |

3/19/2008 12:08:43 AM #

Ian Easson

Hi Rob,

Actually, I'm a cat person.

Ian Easson Canada |

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