Passing the OpenXML standard over to ISO


I’ve been reading some pretty wild stuff lately in the blogosphere around OpenXML and its submission to ISO. If all the rumors and misinformation that’s out there is to be believed:

  • Microsoft has somehow found a way around the ISO fast track process, so that a vote on Open XML is due any day now
  • Open XML and ODF do the exact same thing (even though the spec for one encompasses about 10 times as much information as the other <g/>)

While I’d like to believe the former so that I could dedicate a larger percentage of my time focusing on building the next version of Office, that’s just not the case. We are just at the beginning of the ISO review process, and there is still a ways to go. I’ll describe this in greater detail below. And as for the latter, we all know that isn’t true. ODF and Open XML have very different design goals, and there is a value in having both. They meet very different customer requirements, which is a fact that IBM is really hoping you don’t pay attention to.

Choice is a good thing, and that’s what we are trying to promote. I can’t believe the pushback we’re seeing from IBM in particular around Open XML in ISO. They’d like you to believe they’re in favor of all open standards, but the way they’re behaving with all the hue and cry, it makes me wonder. I keep dying to ask IBM, “if you really think ODF is the best solution, why does it matter so much if Open XML also co-exists as an ISO standard?  What are you afraid of?”

I say we get both formats out there, and have ISO maintain them both so they are guaranteed to be available and maintained long term. This is a good thing because then customers and solution builders can decide for themselves what format meets their needs. OpenOffice is going to support Open XML thanks to Novell, and there will be a free add-on for Microsoft Office that allows it to support ODF.

Usually when you see people pushing really hard to ban something it’s out of fear, and unfortunately I think that’s what’s going on here. I’m starting to understand how artists and authors feel when they have fearful conservative groups try to ban their work. This is something in which I’ve dedicated the last several years of my life trying to get it right and I want it to be available to everyone. I’ve talked with enough of you to understand that there are still folks out there who don’t trust Microsoft. I hope that we can help change that view, but I know that it takes time, and old skepticisms die hard. That’s why I think the best thing is for developers to check out the documentation Ecma created, and the ODF documentation from OASIS, and decide for themselves what format best meets their needs. If that’s ODF, great. But  really look at the spec before making a decision; I think you’ll be impressed by the work that’s been done by the technical committee.

IBM has a lot of money in the game banking on ODF, and my guess is that there is a lot of fear on their side that if there are alternatives to ODF they will lose. Hopefully they haven’t painted themselves into a corner where they couldn’t adjust to customers asking for another format, but I have no clue. From my point of view it’s just a file format. If the file format allows you to serve your customers needs, then you’re in good shape. And if it doesn’t meet your customers’ needs, then they won’t use it. But trying to prevent choice is just foolish, because customers will go elsewhere when they’re not getting what they want.

So what’s really going on?

So what’s really going on? Well, let me give you a little background into the Fast Track process, and how all this works. I’m actually learning it for the first time myself from my colleagues at Ecma, who are the ones who submitted the formats for ISO consideration (Microsoft submitted the formats to Ecma back in 2005, but it was Ecma that just recently submitted them to ISO).

Processes like fast track exists so that ISO can farm the majority of the standardization work to separate standards organizations like Ecma. This way the work to generate and collaborate on the standard can be fully covered before it’s submitted to ISO for a final review. This allows ISO to spend more time focusing on whether or not there are contradictions or serious technical issues that should prevent it from being owned by ISO. This is very similar to what ODF went though. It wasn’t called fasttrack, but there was a very similar process that OASIS was able to use when they send ODF through ISO.

Contradictory period

This first month in the fast track process is the contradiction period, and the focus is to review the spec and see if there are any contradictions. A contradiction would exist if it turned out that approving Open XML would invalidate another standard. For example, if we had a technology for wireless communication, but in using that technology, it would interfere with folks using another already existing ISO standard, then we’d have a contradiction. OpenXML most likely won’t have any contradictions, because with file formats, two can very easily co-exist. Almost every office productivity application out there supports more than one format, which shows they can coexist. For example, ODF doesn’t prevent HTML from working, and the same is true for OpenXML and ODF. There is an open source project out there that does translation between the two formats that anyone can view.

After the contradictory period is over, then the technical review begins. So, there will still be at least another 5 months after the contradiction period for technical review, and only after that do the different national bodies submit their yes/no vote.

Why create a new format and standard?

As a bit of a background, the Open XML file formats exist because there was a strong customer demand for them. We wanted to increase the value of the documents the Office creates, and a key way to do that is by opening them up to allow other solutions to interact with them. There were no other file formats out there that could fully represent a Microsoft Office document, so we created our own. We always look around at other technologies to potentially use (like ZIP and XML), but as far as the full end to end solution there wasn’t anything (ODF even today is still in its infancy, and couldn’t do the job). When looking at ODF, you can see it doesn’t even define how to use spreadsheet formulas like =sum(A1:A4); or tables within a presentation. That’s an immediate non-starter. There was of course HTML, but we already tried that back in Office 2000. It an excellent format for certain types of documents, but not able to support the full set of features that our customers use for creating their documents. So we created our own format, because if we had tried to use any of the other options, our customers would have just ignored it and continued to use the old binary formats (and that doesn’t get us anywhere).

The Open XML format was designed to fully represent all the features in the legacy base of Office documents. This is obviously a big pain when designing a new format, but one we had to take on. Believe me, most of us would have loved to have started from scratch, but in doing so we would risk creating a format that none of our customers would use. So we created the format and ensured that it could fully represent all the existing documents, while still allowing for innovation and extensibility going forward. Some feedback that we got primarily from governments was that they wanted to see these formats not just fully documented, but that the stewardship and maintenance of that documentation should be handed over to an international standards body. They wanted a guarantee that if Microsoft were to disappear tomorrow, or somehow change its mind on the formats, that wouldn’t affect the long term availability. They also wanted us to go through an international standards body because that would help provide some objective review of whether or not the formats were interoperable cross platform. So we worked with folks like Apple, Novell, Intel, British Library, Library of Congress, Barclay’s Capital, BP, StatOil, etc. to fully work through the spec and ensure it was properly documented and had nothing that would tie to into using another platform. The entire group signed off on this work back in October, and the Ecma general assembly approved it as a standard last month (with only one “no” vote coming from IBM). To give you an example of the type of folks we had working with us on this, the engineers from Novell are significant contributors to the OpenOffice project, so they obviously care a ton about getting a spec that can be used by others.

Why would people want to block access to OpenXML?

Obviously, a great way to guarantee the long term availability of OpenXML, and the confidence that it won’t change is for an organization like ISO to take ownership of the spec. We will always have people who are against what we’re going, and in this case that’s primarily being driven by IBM. They want to guarantee that their format (ODF) is the only one that ISO provides, which is driven by the strategy they’ve adopted for their products and more importantly their services.

I agree that the spec isn’t perfect in terms of a general lowest common denominator format. There are parts of the spec that are a bit of a pain due to backwards compatibility reasons, but those are primarily in very insignificant areas. And if it really is a problem, folks should remember that the Ecma work will continue to go on. We will start working on the next version of the spec soon, and one easy thing we can always do is add more information on what’s already there. The more exciting part for us is to work on the new features that should be added though. Remember, the ODF spec is far from complete as well. They are working around the clock to bring the ODF spec closer to alignment with OpenXML in terms of the full support for international documents, spreadsheet formulas, tables in presentations, etc. etc. etc.

-Brian

 

 

Comments (44)

  1. Doug Mahugh says:

    Do you remember the print ads for American Express that showed jockey Willie Shoemaker and NBA star Wilt

  2. There are many of us who do not work for IBM, and who even work closely with Microsoft, who still feel that the Open XML effort has been led astray in key ways.  There were many chances to rationalize the specs and make a better, more generic and more flexible standard.  I am sad that Microsoft chose to push this through in the current state, because many opportunities were missed to make this the standard you seem to think it is, and it could have been done without compromising the goal of 100% fidelity with current documents.

    Nonetheless, I am glad that Microsoft is moving in the direction of open XML specifications, whether or not they are ISO standards.  I am a bit confused by the Excel 2007 formats, since they seem to favor not the old formats, not the new Open XML formats, but another set of binary files packaged like Open XML.  Any clue what that is about, or why it was seen as necessary?

  3. Fernando says:

    >There are many of us who do not work for IBM, >and who even work closely with Microsoft, …

    This from Ben Langhinrichs, member of the OASIS ODF TC and long time IBM partner.

    >I am a bit confused by the Excel 2007 >formats, since they seem to favor not the old

    > formats, not the new Open XML formats,

    Don’t be confused. Open XML is the default format of Excel 2007.

  4. W^L+ says:

    It is nice to hear you talk about "choice," but if you really believed in choice, you would have implemented ODF as a built-in alternative format.

    Until you truly give the market that choice, this is just noise.

  5. Adam says:

    "Choice is a good thing, and that’s what we are trying to promote."

    Choice in *tools* is a good thing. Choice in standards is not.

    Who benefitted from having EBCDIC and ASCII around at the same time? (Aside possibly from IBM who were in charge of the EBCDIC "standard" and kept changing it. Hmmmm….)

    Go on, name 3 groups/organisations who benefitted from having two different incompatible standards for encoding the western alphabet and basic punctuation.

    Choice in tools, in applications that can process data that conforms to a standard, *they* are good things. From wordpad and notepad on windows, to cat, grep, sed, vi, sort, uniq, etc… on Unix, through programming languages that are stored in such formats, to XML, etc., etc., etc….

    These all benefit from having a *single* standard for storing text, ASCII, and now UNICODE (ideally, UTF-8, being backwards compatible and all).

    If you were writing a programming environment that had to deal with both ASCII and EBCDIC, you’ve got a whole heap of unnecessary extra work to do for no real benefit; neither character set could do enough more than the other to make supporting both really worth it, but if your customers had files in these different standards, you’d have to do all the work to support both anyway.

    If you *need* a programming environment, sure, having a choice of compilers, editors, etc… is really good. But if half of them only support the *other* text encoding standard, then your choice of tools is dramatically reduced. Once everyone decides on a *single* standard for storing their text files, which *all* editors and compilers can read, the number of tools you can choose from to get the job done probably goes up.

    So, go on. Name 3 organisations (not including IBM) who benefitted from having both ASCII and EBCDIC, and their associated incompatiblities and conversion requirements, around at the same time, and I’ll start to consider listening to you on how a choice of document formats is a good thing.

  6. Adam says:

    "When looking at ODF, you can see it doesn’t even define how to use spreadsheet formulas"

    And the fact that MOOXML didn’t *start* doing that until 3 months after OpenFormula was first submitted to OASIS, and 15 months after the first draft of OpenFormula was released wasn’t a problem for Microsoft?!?

    Pot. Kettle. Black.

  7. jones206@hotmail.com says:

    Adam,

    You are making the mistake is assuming that the OpenXML and ODF formats are some super simple format and using an analogy of formats that only cover basic punctuation, etc.

    How about examples that are a bit more analogous? For instance, which image format should we all universally use? Who do you want making that decision? Should IBM start lobbying ISO to punt all but one of the ISO image formats?

    How about HTML? Should ODF replace HTML, RTF, DocBook?

    I think there are plenty examples of formats out there that to an outsider look like they accomplish the same thing. Many of those formats are ISO standards as well.

    I have no clue what you mean with OpenFormula. It isn’t even done yet.

    And the whole: "Pot. Kettle. Black." thing has got to end. It’s so overused now it’s like fingernails on a chalkboard for me. Let’s all take the first step in ending the use of this supposed smackdown. :-)

    W^L+

    Have you seen how many formats we support in Office? There are tons of them. There was absolutely no customer demand for ODF until about a year or so ago. That demand came from some governments, but at that point it was way too late to try and build a brand new file format into Office. Instead we supported an add-in project and when that’s complete any Office user can download that add-in for free and open/save ODF files.

    Ben

    As Fernando pointed out, the OpenXML format is the default format for Excel 2007.

    -Brian

  8. Christopher says:

    I don’t think people are against the OOXML standard being accepted by the ISO per se; they’re against the lack of openness within the proposed standard itself.  The spec should make it feasible for an outside organisation to create a full implementation of the entire standard.

    e.g. Why can’t the OOXML spec list the transforms required for converting markup tagged "footnoteLayoutLikeWW8" into non-legacy form?

  9. I’m at a conference,so I just got back to read this.  I need to clear a couple of things up.  First, I am not, as stated above, a member of the OASIS ODF TC.  While I guess it is technically correct to say I am a "long time IBM partner", it would also be correct to say that I am a "long time Microsoft partner", although not quite as long.  In addition, the best selling product my company has is a coexistence tool that helps many people migrate from IBM technologies to Microsoft technologies (and helps many others to use both comfortably together).  I work extensively with Microsoft in a variety of ways.  I am a zealot about many things, but my interest in ODF, Open XML and file formats is purely interest in my own opportunities and possibilities for business.

    All that said, I apologize if I was mistaken about the Excel fomats in 2007.  I was reading documentation on the Microsoft website about different file extensions, and I was surprised that there seemed to be four new formats for Excel, and it sounded like there was a promotion of the .xslb (I think that is right) format, but I have not had a chance to use Office 2007 ye, so I don’t know what is said there.  I didn’t mean to start a rumor or malign anybody, but I was just confused.  Why are there binary packaged formats?  Do they provide better performance for some situations, or is there some other purpose?  Again, I am not trying to challenge the decision, but just understand it better.

  10. Fernando says:

    Ben,

    You are surely allowed to have your bias and welcome to forward IBM’s talking points. But please stop characterizing yourself as a neutral party – not with your strong business relationship with IBM, and not with your membership at the ODF Alliance (sorry, got the TC aspect wrong).

    A simple google query for "xlsb" should give you tons of information about the Excel 12 binary format (the first result is a very detailed blog post from the Excel team, posted last July). There is no promotion of the binary format whatsoever, and it is really unfortunate that you choose to echo the FUD posted by Rob Weir. At least now it is clear to everyone where you are coming from.

  11. Francis says:

    ISO levies hefty fees for access to its standards. This is an impediment to small developers and curious end users. I take it the same thing will happen with OpenXML.

    It would be great if Microsoft or some party besides ECMA could also host a copy of the format (even if only the TC45 version.) This would make the spec cheaper, easier to find, and also provide security in case something to the ECMA web site.

  12. Adam says:

    "For instance, which image format should we all universally use?"

    Ummm…I think the world’s pretty much decided on PNG for lossless bitmap graphics, JPG for lossy bitmap graphics and SVG for vector graphics.

    It used to be GIF for lossless bitmaps, but after about 20 years we needed more colours and better alpha blending.

    Note that only JPEG is an ISO standard here. ISO doesn’t have to certify a standard to make it useful, or agreed upon by the majority of players in a market.

    "Who do you want making that decision?"

    The market. Standardise after multiple implementations have been shown to be workable. It worked for most of the internet protocols; the IETF generally wouldn’t put anything on a standards track until there were two separate, interoperable implementations of something. See OpenOffice, KOffice, Gnome Office, Google Docs and Spreadsheets, etc for ODF support.

    How many available implementations are there of MOOXML again? One? (Does a time-limited beta count?)

    "Should IBM start lobbying ISO to punt all but one of the ISO image formats?"

    Not sure. What are the ISO image formats other than JPG?

    And besides, that’s a mischaracterisation – I’d say that IBM (and, in fact, most ISO members, including Microsoft) should lobby against *new* image formats that overlap with existing ISO image formats. I don’t believe anyone suggested removing *existing* ISO standards until now – this is entirely about not creating unnecessary *new* standards.

    "How about HTML? Should ODF replace HTML, RTF, DocBook?"

    Why should it? HTML is for hypertext. DocBook is for documentation. ODF is for representing word processing documents, spreadsheets, etc…

    What is MOOXML for? Oh yeah – word processing documents, spreadsheets, etc…

    Notice how most people are arguing against (and how ISO has part of it’s charter forbidding) *unnecessary overlap*

    Also notice how one of the standards is *ugly*. 6 times bigger than the other, requires implementations to implement bugs (1900 leap year, yes, I know MS has reasons, but it’s still ugly), doesn’t re-use any existing technology standards, hasn’t seen significant input or changes by more than one vendor in order to help multiple implementations, requires implementations to include behaviour which it does not specify and for which documentation has been withdrawn for the purposes of creating alternate implementations (see http://www.robweir.com/blog/2007/01/foolish-inconsistency.html), etc., etc., etc…..

    "And the whole: "Pot. Kettle. Black." thing has got to end."

    Fine. Stop disparaging the works of others when comparing them to MSs work, when MSs work has been *at least* as deficient in the area you’re talking about.

    You want to complain about some of ODFs shortcomings while talking up MOOXML? Sure! About how it doesn’t do X? Great – I’m sure the community appreciates the pointer on what it needs to get a grip on next!

    But, if you don’t want the PKB accusation, don’t complain about how unsuitable ODF is for something when MOOXML is even worse at it. Pick something *they’re* worse at than MS.

    Still, my original point remains. If, as you claim, "Choice is a good thing", name 3 organisations that benefitted from the choice of having ASCII and EBCDIC around at the same time. (Excepting any that were "in charge" of either format).

    If you are unable to do so, I fail to see how you can make the unqualified statement that "Choice is a good thing."

    "Choice is a good thing" is not a fact. Repeatedly asserting that it is so does not make it so. The best it can be called is a theory. I have pointed out that, not so long ago, there were demonstrable interoperability problems caused by a choice in file formats, providing at least one data point showing that "Choice is a good thing" is *not* always so.

    As you point out, ASCII and EBCDIC are "super simple" formats – supporting both of them would have been incomparably easier than supporting both ODF and MOOXML will be. Given those problems, for such "super simple" formats, can you imagine how much bigger the problems of supporting both ODF and MOOXML might be?

    So, please, name just 3 little organisations for whom having ASCII and EBCDIC and their associated incompatibilities was a benefit; for whom such choice was "a good thing".

    Come on, I’m not asking you to show that the majority of organisations benefitted from having incompatible file formats (which would really be needed to support the claim that choice is good), I’m just asking for 3. Just 3.

    Either that, or stop going on about how choice in office document formats is a good thing.

  13. jones206@hotmail.com says:

    Adam, are you for real? I’m serious… are you really trying to have a serious discussion here or is this more of an attempt at a smear job?

    I don’t think you have a good understanding of what goes into an office document format. For instance, what’s one of the most important parts of a spreadsheet? The formulas. Spreadsheets are used to model large datasets and come up with results. Formulas are used for that, so formulas are one of the key pieces of the interoperability of a spreadsheet. ODF doesn’t define how formulas work. That’s a HUGE problem. They still haven’t submitted the openFormula spec for approval. It’s just a draft.

    When ODF was submitted to ISO, there was only one code base that could read and write the format. You mention google docs as an example, yet only in the past month did they provide true ODF text support (they were using an earlier version of OpenOffice’s format before that).  Even today there are no two applications that can properly share ODF files. The rendering problems are bad (for example, on the OpenOffice newsgroups they talk about rendering problems between KOffice and OpenOffice).

    Corel has said they will have OpenXML support sometime this spring; Office for the Mac (which is a seperate code base) will have OpenXML support later this year; Gnumeric already has OpenXML support; Microsoft Office obviously has OpenXML support; MindMap has OpenXML support; Novell is going to have OpenXML support ported into OpenOffice in the next few months; and given that Apple was one of the most active members of the Ecma TC, they’ll probably have some OpenXML support soon.

    I don’t understand how you can dismiss the image format analogy and then go back to ASCII and EBCDIC as examples of how choice is a bad thing. Just doing a really quick search, the following are ISO standards: PHIGS; JPEG (ISO/IEC 15444:2004); PNG (ISO/IEC 15948:2004); CGI (ISO/IEC 9636:1991); and that’s just looking at the ISO site for a couple minutes.

    As you said, the *INDUSTRY* has slowly evolved into picking ideal image formats. That was not something decided by governments, or IBM lobbying within ISO. I am asking that the same thing happen with office file formats. Don’t have government make the decisions. Allow them both to be available as standards, and then allow the *industry* to decide.

    And to quickly clarify what I meant by the whole "Pot. Kettle. Black." thing. I was just saying that’s a super lame and overused way of calling someone a hypocrite. I don’t mind if you call me a hypocrite, but if you want to do it in a creative cute kind of way, there’s got to be something better than the "Pot. Kettle. Black." approach. It’s up there were "muahahah" and "M$FT" :-)

    -Brian

  14. Sam Hiser says:

    Brian-

    The arguments you use to impune IBM can be reworded to impune Microsoft. I’m embarassed for you.

    The difference between Microsost’s and IBM’s formats is that Microsoft’s are not open.

    Everyone has a pecuniary or some non-obvious interest here. Microsoft’s however are being managed with extraordinary bad taste and sociopathic leanings.

    Format standard "choice" is such bad grammar that it’s idiotic. Application choice is the issue (as if you need this explained). You guys are so bad.  

  15. Dave S. says:

    All,

    PHIGS (Programmer’s Hierarchical Interactive Graphics System) is not an image format but a 3D rendering format.

    CGI (Computer Graphics Interfacing) is also not an image format.

    JPEG and PNG are 2D image formats, offering significantly different advantages, predominantly on whether the data is noisy or not. PNG (PNG’s Not GIF)  was pushed into the world because of pressure on a number of people and organizations over a software patent. The holders allowed a number of agencies to become dependent before  making an issue of it. http://www.libpng.org/pub/png/

    As for Office image formats, I recently did an experiment, pasting (insert/picture) image graphics of various formats into Microsoft Word and found they were all re-rendered into a soft-edged mess, which made MS Word unsuitable for the generation of certain web-pages some users mistakenly thought it might be useful for.

    At least there was no big red X.

    Dave S.

  16. Fernando,

    I am part of the ODF Alliance because I believe ODF is a good idea.  Thinking ODF is a good idea does not inherently mean I think OPEN XML is a bad idea, although you might get that sense from the almost religious fervor on both sides.  I think that Open XML is a great move forward for Microsoft, and I am in the process of evaluating whether to build products that use it, but I think it has some serious, and unnecessary, flaws that will both make it harder to work with and less universal that it could have been.

    My posts have not just been about flaws in Open XML, but also flaws in the handling of the process, and the subsequent smearing of ODF that Microsoft engaged in long before ODF supporters started smearing Open XML back.  Honestly, the behavior on both sides verges on abhorrent.

    But bad behavior by supporters should not dissuade us, or there would be no football or soccer clubs left.  At the end of the day, we need to make technical judgements. Mine is that Open XML has serious and avoidable flaws that will make product development, sharing of information and application support more difficult that can be said of ODF.  Therefore, I support ODF as a standard and not Open XML.  Making that decision does not tell anybody anything about me except that I have indeed made that decision.  It does not even tell them whether as a software vendor, I will support Open XML or not, which is a business decision somewhat separate from the technical judgement.  After all, I have worked with HTML for years without feeling that it is a perfect format.

    Saying that anyone who has come down on one side of a technical decision is biased simply leads to more name calling and hysteria.  I am a somewhat impartial party in that I am both a Microsoft and IBM partner, and I get rather more leads for business from my Microsoft contacts than from my IBM contacts, although I have more and longer term IBM contacts than the other way around.  Just because I have landed on one side of this issue does not make me partial, it makes me a person with judgement.

    Anyway, enough of this incessant back and forth.  I have actual work to do.

    – Ben

  17. grauenwolf says:

    > Mine is that Open XML has serious and avoidable flaws that will make product development, sharing of information and application support more difficult that can be said of ODF.

    Um, excuse me? From where I sit, it is impossible to create an OpenOffice compatible spread sheet program using the ODF spec. Open XML may have flaws, but at least it is workable.

    > Therefore, I support ODF as a standard and not Open XML.

    If I could prove to an neutral group of experts that ODF is in fact harder to implement than Open XML, would you lobby to have ODF dropped as a standard?

    J.

  18. Sinleeh says:

    Oh dear me. I thought I smell something burning a few weeks ago and now we have it: It is no longer a beauty contest between ODF and OOXML, the fun part, but dengerated into IBM vs Microsoft.

    One is big supporter of ODF, another OOXML. Both will do everything and anything to promote their standards. Both have a lot of stake in the success of their choosen standards. Knowing that Business Ethics is different from Software Engineering Ethnics, I think although we are firmly within Business Ethics, we are all failing the Engineering Ethics by allowing such petty quarrel.

    ODF supporters might have step up their campaign recently. But as Brian point up, it is the results of OOXML submission to ISO. Big deal. This is only to be expected. Furthermore, this is not unlike lobbying effort every big companies do everyday.

    The decision on whether to accept OOXML as fast track submission does not lie with OOXML supporter nor detractor. It lies with National voting bodies. It is not unlike courtroom situation where it is time for the jury to deliberate. Both sides will pump information to the voting bodies. In the end, it will be the voting bodies to decide what is the next action, based on ISO’s rules and regulations. Unlike a courtroom jury, we can trust that those voting bodies are at least capable of understanding the issue.

  19. hAl says:

    This whole argument is truly pathetic.

    There are two new verey immature format specs for Office formats and people are screaming over the validity of the format they are supporting or not.

    Both formats still have serious flaws in them.

    I have tried to create some compatible stuff with either format but to be honest the only way to do that is to use the application you want to be compatible with Like OOo or MS Office and create an example document first.

    A lot of work still has to be done for these standards to be anywhere near a quality standard. However the current anti-ooxml campaign by IBM certainly bothers me.

    They seem to have a team dedicated people trying to find every little flaw in a standard that they do’n t seem intet to use themselfs purely out of an effort to prevent it getting an ISO approval whilst what they should be doing is putting all that effort and money into finding faults in the format they are supporting and suggesting improvements on those issues.

    If the intent ever was to create a single standard for Office document then should never have started out using a format created by Sun/OOo which is incompatible with most current documents and with the features of the most installed Office application. That basis alone created a divide even at the instance of the ODF formats creation.

    I hope both formats will improve a lot in the next 3 to 4 years. I have little doubt that OOXML will make it as a standard as well because the need for a compatible format is here now.

    ODF is more a format for the future in which we might see the formats converge more towards each other as each will probalby slowly adapt to use each other stong points and slowly depreceate the weaker points.

    I would say to both Micrsoft and especially to IBM to stop whining about the flaws in each others favorite formats and start to improve your own.

  20. W^L+ says:

    "Have you seen how many formats we support in Office? There are tons of them. There was absolutely no customer demand for ODF until about a year or so ago."

    And you are saying that customer demand is not a reason to go ahead and add full-peer ODF support? Is interoperability that much of a threat?

  21. Dave S. says:

    "Usually when you see people pushing really hard to ban something it’s out of fear, and unfortunately I think that’s what’s going on here."

    That’s what I thought when I saw the campaign against ODF in Massachussets.

    I, for one, want a really simple standard. One that has a few, key features. One that any idiot programmer can gin up a parser for. Not one that takes 6000 pages to hit the high points.

    It should just work – not provide high cost implementation jobs requiring teams of hard working, highly paid programmers. Why? I don’t want my documents held hostage. Ever.

  22. hAl says:

    @Dave

    I advise you to go with plain text.

    simple indeed.

    Current office functionality is extensive and complex.

    Even ODF is 800 pages not including all the reused standard that are also included in it and it isn’t even really finished yet. Allthough I’ll guess they will present the Openformula standard as a separate entity so that it does not count to the official size of ODF either.

  23. r3m0t says:

    Dave: Use XHTML or HTML with CSS.

    "We always look around at other technologies to potentially use (like ZIP and XML)"

    And XLinks, SVG, MathML? No, all of these things are re-invented in the specification. XLinks -> a new format for linking to other documents in the archive; SVG -> VML; MathML -> a different formula format (section 7.1)

    "The Open XML format was designed to fully represent all the features in the legacy base of Office documents. This is obviously a big pain when designing a new format, but one we had to take on."

    No. This format, apart from the features introduced in Office 2007 such as Data Bars, is merely a translation of the existing file format into an XML structure. That is why it looks so strange (a comparison posted on Groklaw shows this) and why it has features like clip art borders (which is fixed to a certain list of 200 hard-coded pictures, instead of allowing an arbitrary picture) and "useWord2002TableStyleRules".

  24. David says:

    OK, I’m just coming in here, and I stopped reading after the flames started, but here’s my take for what it’s worth:

    Microsoft does not like "open". This is a simple fact and one that has been well documented. It has always been a proprietary company that uses technical measures to lock out competition and lock in users. It creates features in its products that are designed solely to facilitate the purchasing of other products in their line. If you disagree with these statements, even as an MS employee, I have to ask where you’ve been all these years. Seriously…and be honest with yourself.

    It’s clear from following this whole mess that OOXML was developed only as a way to get people to stop thinking about ODF, and not as a way to "facilitate interoperability" with other competing products. I mean, you have the one product that accounts for almost all of your profits, why would you want to make a format people could easily convert to one that doesn’t require it? It seems quite cut and dry from a business perspective. Stop trying to make this some kind of technical argument. It’s quite clear to everyone what’s going on.

    Oh yeah, and I’m not an IBM employee either…just a regular IT guy (in an all MS shop no less). I know you think everyone who is against you must work for your competitors.

  25. Fran Firman says:

    I have had a read over these comments and on a few of the other days too. I have only just come across this blog, and find it interesting.

    But so far I have yet to find out, that if I was writting an application to load or save in to the format OOXML, how I am meant to display things like "useWord2002TableStyleRules".

    Where am I meant to get the information to disaply the Table styles (?) correctly?

    Thanks for your time.

    Fran

  26. Gareth Horton says:

    It seems to me like all this noise is just irrelevant. The spec is there and the current release of Office creates and reads instance documents.  Live with it and move on. Fix bugs as they are reported.

    If you like ODF, then use it, if you like OpenXML, then use that.

    As developers, we were able to very easily implement OpenXML Spreadsheet reading and writing, based on the specs – no help from Microsoft.

    Compare that to the effort of reading and writing BIFF8.

    What do you people want?  Blood, entrails?

    It would be nice if Brian could be left alone to focus this blog on the technical issues of OpenXML, without having to constantly deal with this religious warfare.

    Gareth

  27. Res Ipsa Loquitur says:

    "It seems to me like all this noise is just irrelevant. The spec is there and the current release of Office creates and reads instance documents.  Live with it and move on. Fix bugs as they are reported."

    The problems withteh spec are being reported and ignored as Microsoft rams through a ‘competing standard’ (almost an oxymoron) that does not contain enough information for anyone to implement it outside of Microsoft. A third-party cannot implement a standard that contains secrets and unannoted vague references such as "Word2002TableStyleRules" without ever, anywhere defining them.

    As someone else said "MOOXML is not a standard–its a DNA sequence"

    We all (including Brian) know what Microsft is up to. Judge Jackson called them on this back in his 1999 judgment and little has changed:

    "386. For Microsoft, a key to maintaining and reinforcing the applications barrier to entry has been preserving the difficulty of porting applications from Windows to other platforms, and vice versa."

  28. Ed says:

    First, Ethics are Ethics.  If something isn’t ethical to do as an individual, it’s not ethical for a business to do it either, it’s not ethical for an individual in a business to direct anyone to do it, and it’s not ethical to receive money for having allowed it to be done.

    Second, hAl is spot on – both formats need a lot of work.  My impression is that ODF mostly has gaps in coverage – it simply doesn’t address areas that need to be addressed at all.  MOOXML, on the other hand, has many places where it explicitly doesn’t cover things that it has to cover, especially given the patent pledge.  (The patent pledge allows people to use all of the patents referenced in the MOOXML spec; it doesn’t cover any patents that are necessary to support those things that MOOXML doesn’t explicitly cover.)

    Third, in my opinion, Microsoft has a fundamental ethical problem here: OpenOffice was an established name when they came up with the name ‘Office Open XML’.  Specifically, the name of their chief competitor’s product.  When I say chief competitor, I’m not talking market share, but market potential – almost all potential Word Perfect customers already use Word Perfect, for example.  OpenOffice, KOffice, and others in the ODF family are the only ones poised to really eat Microsoft’s lunch (and I realize that when Word Perfect gets ODF support, it’ll be added to that list.)  Of all of these, OpenOffice is leading the charge – they’ve had the most influence in ODF, since the OASIS process started with their file format.  Every ODF hole is implicitly ‘do what OpenOffice does’.  Naming the Microsoft alternative "Office Open" or "OfficeOpen" (not sure whether Microsoft refers to it with a space) is a very blatant attempt to create market confusion.  I don’t know if OpenOffice has a trademark, but if they had one, it seems to me it would be a very open and shut trademark infringement.  Even if they don’t have a trademark, how can anyone still working at Microsoft since that move look themselves in the mirror in the morning and say to themselves, "I’m a good person."?

    For purposes of disclosure: I’m not an IBM employee, partner, or customer, although my employer is an IBM customer.  I’m not a Microsoft employee, partner, or customer, although my employer is a Microsoft customer.  I personally feel that both companies should be ashamed of themselves.  I was encouraged by the IBM anti-trust investigation, and especially encouraged by IBM’s response to the same, so I do at least have some respect for IBM.  I was initially encouraged by the Microsoft anti-trust investigation.

  29. Eduardo says:

    Groklaw has a document being submitted to ISO that presents objections to OOXML:

    http://www.groklaw.net/article.php?story=20070123071154671

  30. Dave S. says:

    I was impressed in finding out that a (the?) Gareth works for a company that has a long history of developing Microsoft compatible products. It’s possible there was a clean slate development, but it is more likely that familiarity with the product was a significant help to easy implementation.

    If I got it correctly the company has been handling some level of Excel interoperability without depending on XML.

    As to suggestions about text files – I found it very easy to -read- the formulas that 1-2-3 wrote out to text (ASCII) files. It did not require a decoder ring. No ZIP. Nada. No such experience with Excel. Excel was much harder to audit.

    "Extensive and complex." Much like the labyrinthian tax code – crafted to prevent understanding it.  

    Tops on my list of stupid functionality is animated characters in Word. There’s got to be at least some market demand for characters that appear, on screen, to sparkle. It’s a huge sales driver and on every IT checklist.

    Seriously, "sparkly characters" is part of the estimated billions of otherwise forgetable documents that are potentially preserved in all their festooned glory, apparently solely by MOOXML.

    Life is complicated. Formats should not be.

    "99% of the time, Text is good enough."

  31. Dave S. says:

    I was impressed in finding out that a (the?) Gareth works for a company that has a long history of developing Microsoft compatible products. It’s possible there was a clean slate development, but it is more likely that familiarity with the product was a significant help to easy implementation.

    If I got it correctly the company has been handling some level of Excel interoperability without depending on XML.

    As to suggestions about text files – I found it very easy to -read- the formulas that 1-2-3 wrote out to text (ASCII) files. It did not require a decoder ring. No ZIP. Nada. No such experience with Excel. Excel was much harder to audit.

    "Extensive and complex." Much like the labyrinthian tax code – crafted to prevent understanding it.  

    Tops on my list of stupid functionality is animated characters in Word. There’s got to be at least some market demand for characters that appear, on screen, to sparkle. It’s a huge sales driver and on every IT checklist.

    Seriously, "sparkly characters" is part of the estimated billions of otherwise forgetable documents that are potentially preserved in all their festooned glory, apparently solely by MOOXML.

    Life is complicated. Formats should not be.

    "99% of the time, Text is good enough."

  32. orcmid says:

    A while back I suggested that 2007 was going to be an interesting year.

    I thought the challenges of coming up with application-specific conformance profiles and qualification of products would be the great challenge for actually instituting document standards in civil administration: Massachusetts, the EUC, and elsewhere.

    I figured that the effort to achieve practical, genuine interchange and preservation use (ODF and/or OOX), along with the efforts to have conversions working as well as possible between the two incompatible document models, was going to be enlightening, troublesome, and ultimately one of the most important set of lessons that we could gain in this area.

    I had no idea that we would instead have a firestorm about ISO procedures and everyone’s different ideas about what "contradiction" means in ISO procedures.  Especially considering the aloof approach by which ODF percolated through a simple though time-consuming non-technical ratification process with no fuss from anyone.

    I’ve never seen anything like this.  It is unbelievable.  There are people who should be ashamed of themselves, and only a few of them seem to be at Microsoft.

    And to answer Alan’s question about the conflict that is raised by standards bodies relying on sales of standards for revenue.  ECMA has an arrangement where they continue to provide their standards, and they do so without fee.  They are free to download.  The same thing happens with ODF, where you can still get the OASIS version on-line.  You can even obtain the complete ECMA set on a CD which seems to be updated once or twise per year.

  33. orcmid says:

    It was Francis, not Alan, who questioned the expense of ISO standards.  Sorry.  I’m not too worried about the ECMA site disappearing, and there are obviously many others who could provide copies if ECMA needed to be restored for some reason.

  34. G Fernandes says:

    [QUOTE]

    Choice is a good thing, and that’s what we are trying to promote. I can’t believe the pushback we’re seeing from IBM in particular around Open XML in ISO.

    [/QUOTE]

    Sorry? Did I hear the word "choice" there? Why then is there no way to save as ODF in Microsoft Office? What? There’s a plugin? Why isn’t that installed as part of the "auto-updates" that Windows routinely uses to update it’s (in)security and other OS components?

    And why did Microsoft drag it’s feet in releasing Microsoft Windows 95 OEM to the IBM PC division? Was it because IBM was offering the consumer a "choice" in OS?

    God forbid the possibility of OS/2 becoming more popular than Whine-doze eh?

    Well you did well then in promoting MS(tm)Choice.

    And you’re doing great in promoting MS(tm)Choice again I see.

    Of course you’re all for "choice" – as long as it’s MS(tm)Choice.

  35. orcmid says:

    Eduardo, Groklaw doesn’t get to submit anything to ISO.  ISO is a federation of standards organizations, and those members are the ones that vote.  Those members, such as ANSI in the United States, have review processes by which they gather information and formulate their vote on a proposal.  In the ISO "faq" it is put this way (http://www.iso.org/iso/en/aboutiso/introduction/index.html#twenty):

    "Many members have public review procedures for making draft standards known and available to interested parties and to the general public. The ISO members then take account of any feedback they receive in formulating their position on the draft standard. If the voting is in favour, the document, with eventual modifications, is circulated to the ISO members as a Final Draft International Standard (FDIS). If that vote is positive, the document is then published as an International Standard."

    Groklaw’s material might be used as part of such a review, after careful vetting, but it won’t show up at ISO directly.

    I’m not sure what the current sudden-death inferno is about.  It appears that this is a special stage that precedes a five month concerted technical review (called the enquiry stage) by the member organizations, but I can’t find the particular place where it is covered in ISO and ISO/IEC JTC1 procedures.  It could be part of what’s called the PAS procedure, but I am not at all clear about that.  Brian and, better yet, Microsoft’s Jason Matusow, could provide some insight.

    One thing about the procedure stands out though.  If there is not a strong concensus, 2/3 is enough and no votes that are not accompanied by technical reasons (ideally with statements about remedies that would cure the no vote) are not counted.  There could be a lot of abstentions, too.  Only the votes of certain members really matter, but I haven’t dug into what the distinction is and I don’t trust my memory about that (if I ever knew).

  36. Eduardo says:

    Correction accepted.

  37. Eduardo says:

    Correction accepted.

  38. Che Guavara says:

    Microsoft is an illegal monopoly.

    Wake up People!

    Viva la Revelution!

  39. Marbux says:

    Fernando said:

    <blockquote>This from Ben Langhinrichs, member of the OASIS ODF TC and long time IBM partner.

    >I am a bit confused by the Excel 2007 >formats, since they seem to favor not the old

    > formats, not the new Open XML formats,

    Don’t be confused. Open XML is the default format of Excel 2007.</blockquote>

    Fernando adds only two elements to the conversation here. Both are recognized logical fallacies. In the first, Fernando argues that Langhinrichs has associations with OpenDocument and IBM. His implication is that Langhinrichs’ input should be ignored because of bias. This is a classical example of the fallacious <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ad_hominem"><em>ad hominem attack.</em></a> It is a fallacy because it avoids rather than addresses the merits of Langhinrichs’ statement.

    Fernando’s second fallacy is to quote part of a sentence by Langhinrichs in order to mischaracterize Langhinrichs’ question. Fernando then proceeds to rebut the mischaracterization with a point that is wholly irrelevant to Langhinrichs actual question. This is a common variant of the fallacious <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Straw_man">straw man argument.</a> It is a fallacy for the same reason stated above for the <em>ad hominem</em> attack.

    Mr. Langhinrichs’ question was actually about the new Excel binary formats enclosed in a Zip container. The question is highly relevant to the discussion because the new Excel binary formats are not specified in the Ecma 376 standard; the practical effect is that Microsoft Excel will be required to read and write to those formats; and those who do not pay to use Excel 2007 will be unable to work with documents received in that format even if their spreadsheet application supports Ecma 376. That directly undercuts the value of Ecma 376 as an "open" standard.

    It was a fair question and deserved a far better answer than two logical fallacies. I note that Brian Jones chose to follow one of those logical fallacies rather than forthrightly answering Mr. Langhinrichs’ very good question. Principled discussion is not fostered by such illogical tactics.

  40. Fernando says:

    Hi Marbux,

    "Fernando argues that Langhinrichs has associations with OpenDocument and IBM. His implication is that Langhinrichs’ input should be ignored because of bias."

    No. My point is that Ben is not a neutral party as he likes to claim.

    "Fernando then proceeds to rebut the mischaracterization with a point that is wholly irrelevant to Langhinrichs actual question."

    How is that? Ben said that Excel 2007 was *favoring* the binary format over OpenXML. The simple fact that the default format for Excel is OpenXML proves it wrong. If there is a favored format by Microsoft, it is OpenXML.

    This "Excel favors binary format" FUD attempt was so lame that I don’t think any further answer is needed.

  41. Doug Mahugh says:

    It’s been quite a year for those who have been blogging about the Open XML file formats. Here’s a look

  42. It&#39;s been quite a year for those who have been blogging about the Open XML file formats. Here&#39;s