The Standards Blog

A Standards Game for a Summer's Day

OpenDocument and OOXML
There is no question that all over the world the competing interests in the Open XML standardization process are going to use all tactics available to them within the rules.  -  Microsoft's Director of Corporate Standards Jason Matusow
 Those on both sides of the ODF vs. OOXML competition are always accusing each other of spinning and misrepresenting each other's actions and statements. It's fair, and even important, for both sides to call each other out on actual misrepresentations, since the public is rarely, if ever, going to have first-hand knowledge to rely on. But when one side calls the other out, how does the public know which one to believe?   That's where what historian's call "primary sources" come in – not second hand regurgitations and repackagings of what someone else said, but the words themselves that someone said or wrote, straight from the source, complete and unedited.   Right now, you're hearing all manner of second hand accounts of what's going on in Portugal, South Africa, Switzerland, and other places around the world as the Fast Track process for Ecma 376 (the specification built on the Microsoft Office Open XML, or OOXML, formats) winds to a climactic finish. But which side should you believe, when you can't be in the room to hear what was actually said, and by whom? Is one side really consistently making misrepresentations, or is that just FUD spinning by the other side?   Interestingly, I've often found that the farther afield you go from the center of the conflict between ODF and OOXML (and therefore the farther you are from public reporting and scrutiny), the less careful people become. As a result, in such places the public statements made more closely match what you hear second hand from the US and European bloggers, because the chance of a call out is less. But why believe me? After all, this blog post is about primary sources.   

Well, here's a chance for you to make your own judgment, based upon a primary source rather than a subjective call-out. That primary source is a statement posted by Microsoft SA (as in South Africa) at a PR site called MyPressportal, urging the South African National Body to vote "yes" on OOXML. The version below is complete and unaltered.

So here's the game mentioned in the title to this blog entry: you've all seen those pictures in the paper where you are supposed to look for the things that aren't "right" in the picture (why does the man have two different color socks? How come the car is missing one tire?)   If you are so inclined, read the statement below, and in the comments field tell us if you find anything that (how to say this delicately) doesn't sound quite "right," either because it is inaccurate or as a result of leaving out important facts. I won't offer my own thoughts, but I might follow this entry with another one in a few days, compositing the comments you offer, and perhaps providing a summary of my own.
 

Enjoy!

"Consumer Choice Essential" Says Microsoft
 
Submitted by Microsoft SA
Saturday, 04 August 2007
 
[Pressportal.co.za] Computer users worldwide know the frustration of trying to send a document to someone who works on an Apple mac or other operating system – incompatible file formats. An attempt by Microsoft and other contributors to resolve this is causing great controversy amongst the computer industry to the detriment of the consumer, claims Paulo Ferreira, representative of Microsoft South Africa. Microsoft has created a document format called Office OpenXML which can be read and edited by any other operating system as well as be used by anyone not using a Microsoft based computer. Microsoft and other industry organisations, is aiming, through the International Standards Authority (ISO) and the South African Bureau of Standards (SABS) to standardise this file format much like A4 paper has been standardised worldwide.

Other players in the IT industry are far from supportive of this Microsoft initiative. “The standardisation of the document format will increase consumer choice, Microsoft have relinquished control of the standard to the European Computer Manufacturers Association (ECMA)”, says Ferreira

ECMA is a well respected international standards organization. The standard, now ECMA OpenXML, was developed as part of a cross-industry/cross-organization collaboration that included Apple, Barclays Capital, BP, The British Library, Essilor, Intel, Microsoft, NextPage, Novell, Statoil, Toshiba, and the U.S. Library of Congress.

However, companies that rely heavily on IT consultancy fear losses should this standardised file format from the ECMA be approved. “Call-outs for file incompatibility issues would be greatly reduced, work downtime would be reduced and productivity would be increased”, says Ferreira.

Companies that are not in support of the standardisation of the ECMA OpenXml file format would appear to be supportive of the fragmentation of the industry; this in itself would inevitably lead to consumers moving away from their products due to incompatibility issues.

“We feel that when the SABS considers its vote for standardisation, its decision should be based solely on the technical merit of the file format. The fact that we have relinquished control of the standard goes to show that Microsoft’s intention is to promote consumer choice and to provide a continued competitive platform for all players in our industry”, ends Ferreira.

Contact Details:
Paulo Ferreira
Microsoft SA
011 361 8726
paulo.f@microsoft.com

Comments

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Computer users worldwide know the frustration of trying to send a document to someone who works on an Apple mac or other operating system – incompatible file formats.

- Microsoft are the heart of this problem. If they had intended to truly allow the operating system or word processing application to be irrelevant to the document format, then they would have standardised and published .doc, .xls and .pps at least 10 years ago.
- The fact this occurred has helped them gain the office and windows monopoly that we see to do so in fact, rather than it being a problem, they in fact have profited by it.

An attempt by Microsoft and other contributors to resolve this is causing great controversy amongst the computer industry to the detriment of the consumer, claims Paulo Ferreira, representative of Microsoft South Africa.

- Certainly have to agree, it has caused controversy and is to the detriment of the consumer.
- Their solution is not a resolution but a mechanism to further muddy the waters, potentially cause the standards process to fall into disrepute and attempt to shoe horn a proprietary file format into the guise of a worldwide standard.
- In fact, if they wished to resolve it they could have swung their rather heavy weight behind an existing ISO office standard - ODF.

Microsoft has created a document format called Office OpenXML which can be read and edited by any other operating system as well as be used by anyone not using a Microsoft based computer.

- Take with a pinch of salt on that one. From my reading the translators that have been developed still do not do the job well enough to support this assertion.
- It is not Microsoft's intention to allow OpenXML to work on anything other than Microsoft Office. Otherwise, people might no longer wish to buy it.
- There is a difference between "open" as in can read a specification and "open" as in can legally and technically implement that specification.
- If that is the case then Microsoft should demonstrate fully working word processing and spreadsheet applications that can read and edit and OpenXML file in a sucessful manner.

Microsoft and other industry organisations, is aiming, through the International Standards Authority (ISO) and the South African Bureau of Standards (SABS) to standardise this file format much like A4 paper has been standardised worldwide.

- Except in the United States where you guys seem to use this standard called "Letter"?
- This is a good example of the frustration caused by the existence of 2 standards where 1 would clearly do. Unless one purposely changes the defaults of an application (such as Microsoft Word), "Letter" seems to always be the preferred paper size. If lucky the printer detects the "wrong" size and substitutes A4. If unlucky then one has to visit the printer and press and override button to perform this substitution. Given the printer can be in the next room or corridor then this becomes just a little irksome!

Other players in the IT industry are far from supportive of this Microsoft initiative. “The standardisation of the document format will increase consumer choice, Microsoft have relinquished control of the standard to the European Computer Manufacturers Association (ECMA)”, says Ferreira


- How does the proliferation of file formats increase consumer choice? There is one standard for the Compact Disc and I can guarantee that when I buy a CD conforming to that standard, I will be able to play it on my hifi, my car stereo, my computer, my Dad's stereo, my Dad's computer ...
- I require one universal standard and many applications that implement that standard so that I can choose the one I prefer based on my personal preference and not the whim or a multination company.
- Just think of a world where you have to buy a different CD for your hifi, your car stereo etc... What a waste of resources!

ECMA is a well respected international standards organization. The standard, now ECMA OpenXML, was developed as part of a cross-industry/cross-organization collaboration that included Apple, Barclays Capital, BP, The British Library, Essilor, Intel, Microsoft, NextPage, Novell, Statoil, Toshiba, and the U.S. Library of Congress.

- All of that maybe true but the remit of ECMA was to merely ensure a specification was produced for a standard compatible with Microsoft Office 2007 OpenXML.

However, companies that rely heavily on IT consultancy fear losses should this standardised file format from the ECMA be approved. “Call-outs for file incompatibility issues would be greatly reduced, work downtime would be reduced and productivity would be increased”, says Ferreira.


- What has OpenXML have to do with IT consultancy?
- If Microsoft are so keen on their file format, why can they not debunk any of the criticism (on a technical level) that has been levelled against it?
- Why would file incompatibility callouts be reduced? They main competitor apparently to Office 2007 is Office 2003, 2002, 2000, 97 ... They would still be incompatible with OpenXML as they cannot read it (yet)?

Companies that are not in support of the standardisation of the ECMA OpenXml file format would appear to be supportive of the fragmentation of the industry; this in itself would inevitably lead to consumers moving away from their products due to incompatibility issues.

- Companies not is support are in fact in an alliance behind a standard that is truly a standard and can be implemented cross-platform without any legal or technical limitations.
- Surely, if other standards gain traction then it is in the best interests of a software company to allow loading/saving of as many standard file formats as possible. For instance when I load Photoshop or the Gimp, I dont have to worry whether my jpg from my camera will open correctly.
- Similarly, if I want to go HD in a year, I will probably ensure I buy an HD player that supports both BlueRay and HD-DVD.
- Again, when I bought a DVD writer for my computer I bought the product that wrote DVD-R-, DVD-R+, DVD-RW, DVD-RAM so as to ensure I had such flexibility. People do not want to be limited to something a company believes they should be limited to.
 
“We feel that when the SABS considers its vote for standardisation, its decision should be based solely on the technical merit of the file format.

- Well in that case, why is this statement talking about IT consultancy losses?
- Technical merit is the sword of Damocles hanging over OOXML's head.

The fact that we have relinquished control of the standard goes to show that Microsoft’s intention is to promote consumer choice and to provide a continued competitive platform for all players in our industry”, ends Ferreira.

- Microsoft have not relinquished control of the standard as they implement it and as such can dictate on a de facto basis whether black lines now will at some point be displayed in pink.
- Microsoft do not "control" the css standard yet produce a web browser that has major problems with it. As such, rather than Microsoft fixing the browser, developers must work around those problems in order to display web pages correctly.
- The siging up to an existing standard is the way to promote consumer choice.
- OR
- The creation of a standard that is truly compatible, can truly be implemented on other platforms by anyone, can truly save/load documents the same way that Photoshop and The Gimp can load/save jpeg files and they look exactly the same before and afterwards. If this was the case then it is up to me, the consumer, to choose my office application on a level technical playing field.

My 2 cents.

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Microsoft has created a document format called Office OpenXML which can be read and edited by any other operating system as well as be used by anyone not using a Microsoft based computer.

Why the present tense? Show me a working implementation other than Microsoft Office 2007.
The possibility of ever being able to implement this statement is presently in dispute.
The above sentence comes immediately after this text

Computer users worldwide know the frustration of trying to send a document to someone who works on an Apple mac or other operating system – incompatible file formats. An attempt by Microsoft and other contributors to resolve this is causing great controversy amongst the computer industry to the detriment of the consumer, claims Paulo Ferreira, representative of Microsoft South Africa.

This implies the controversy hinders Microsoft ability to solve the stated problem. The actual controversy is that the proposed solution will not solve the stated problem and opponents are demanding a real solution instead.


Microsoft have relinquished control of the standard to the European Computer Manufacturers Association (ECMA)”, says Ferreira

This is not what the ECMA technical committee charter says. ECMA has to standardize something compatible with Microsoft's product as implemented by Microsoft. This leaves very little to ECMA to control.


The standard, now ECMA OpenXML, was developed as part of a cross-industry/cross-organization collaboration that included Apple, Barclays Capital, BP, The British Library, Essilor, Intel, Microsoft, NextPage, Novell, Statoil, Toshiba, and the U.S. Library of Congress.

Please define developed and collaboration. When the charter requires the standard to stick to an pre-existing product implementation, what kind of development and collaboration is being left to ECMA?


However, companies that rely heavily on IT consultancy fear losses should this standardised file format from the ECMA be approved. “Call-outs for file incompatibility issues would be greatly reduced, work downtime would be reduced and productivity would be increased”, says Ferreira.

Companies that are not in support of the standardisation of the ECMA OpenXml file format would appear to be supportive of the fragmentation of the industry; this in itself would inevitably lead to consumers moving away from their products due to incompatibility issues.

“We feel that when the SABS considers its vote for standardisation, its decision should be based solely on the technical merit of the file format. The fact that we have relinquished control of the standard goes to show that Microsoft’s intention is to promote consumer choice and to provide a continued competitive platform for all players in our industry”, ends Ferreira.

As someone once said (Wolfgang Pauli?) this isn't right, this isn't even wrong. We are no longer looking at the little detail that doesn't fit here. We are looking at an alternate reality where black is white and up is down.

Back to planet earth, the opponents to OOXML seek to fix the very problems Ferreira is accusing them of causing. They are backing a format ODF that is already approved by ISO, is implemented by multiple vendors on multiple platforms, and does deliver the benefits Ferreira attributes to OOXML right now.  The creation of yet another standard is the industry fragmentation. Finally Microsoft has a multi-billion dollar business to lose if their control over the file formats go away. They are in no position to cast aspersions on the financial interests of the OOXML proponents.

Microsoft has created a document format called Office OpenXML which can be read and edited by any other operating system as well as be used by anyone not using a Microsoft based computer.

Why the present tense?


The document format can be read anywhere. Documents written using that format can only be read on Windows! (and maybe next year on Macs)

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Several things wrong with that press release:
  • Title talks about _desirability_ of consumers having a choice of DIFFERENT things, but the first sentence of body of the article then talks about the _frustration_ of using different things that use incompatible file formats. Surely it's either desireable or it's frustrating. How can it be both at the same time to have a choice of incompatible file formats?
  • First paragraph - "An attempt by Microsoft and 'others' - this is presented as if Microsoft was the initiator of the drive to have standardised file formats for all office productivity applications on all OSes. The already-approved ODF file format was the attempt to do this, and it has already been approved by the ISO. There are ALREADY several implementations of this ISO standard by several office productivity suites on several platforms. The format that Microsoft is, err...,  promoting through the standardisation process only has the one implementation - that by Microsoft - and only on the one platform (Windows) and only natively in one version of MS Office. Currently it is not even possible to open files in Microsoft's new format using MS Office on the Apple MacIntosh. Microsoft has a long track record of deliberately using incompatible file formats even for different releases of the same application on the same platform. If the promoter of Microsoft's new file format has not even made it usable with MS Office on the Apple MacIntosh platform - that is, with any CURRENT version of the SAME office productivity suite -  why should we believe those files will be openable using any new release of any other office productivity suite on any other platform?
  • Second paragraph - the whole point of standardisation is to enable a "consumer choice" of products that all implement the same standard. Having multiple standards for file formats of office productivity applications does not serve the goal of having all office productivity suites able to interoperate by reading and rendering all files presented to it in an identical way to that done by any other office productivity suite. A _file format_ is not a thing of consumer choice. A standardised file format is _required_ in order for manufacturers/developers to offer consumers a choice of products that all implement the same standard. Such a standard already exists.
  • Third paragraph - ECMA is NOT a "well respected international standards organisation". It is an organisation that exists to promote the interests of its members.
  • Fourth paragraph - What on earth does "IT consultancy fees" have to do with a person receiving a file in a format that does not work on that person's platform of choice? This paragraph is simply nonsense.
  • Fifth paragraph - This paragraph effectively says you are _breaking up_ the Office Productivity Suite industry if you do not promote the idea of having _multiple_ standards for office productivity file formats. This would produce a situation of multiple Office Productivity suites not being able to open the same files with the same end result. Again, the whole point of having a single standard is to enable the choice of multiple Office Productivity Suites that can all talk coherently to each other and produce the same result.
  • Final paragraph - Technical merits of this file format? It has already been pointed out multiple times that this proposed standard does not itself follow already published standards.

How about that - not one single paragraph without a major distortion of the known facts, or without some factual anomaly when compared with the reality of currently available Office Productivity suites.

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I've found the problem!

" Other players in the IT industry are far from supportive of this Microsoft initiative."

Clearly it has wide support from the IT industry, particularly from integrators who have struggled with the binary formats. At this week's Open Publish 2007 conference for example, it was the first time in more than a decade in which there wasn't three or four papers on how to try to integrate word into an XML/SGML system; suddenly it is not a particular problem. And clearly there are enough supporters in the IT industry to rock up to standards bodies and consternate anti-Open XML people.

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Nice to see you here again.  You didn't answer any of the comments though, or express an opinion on whether you thought the press release was straight ahead or not. 

Would you personally vouch for the accuracy and completeness of everything in this pres release?  If not, and as a knowledgeable source in your own right, which parts make you uneasy?

  -  Andy

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Correction, Mr Ferreira: Microsoft has created a document format called *Pseudo* Open Office XML (POOXML) since the document format was created by a single entity: Microsoft, to perpetuate the current incompatibility of file formats. Accordingly, the current frustration that users are experiencing in their exchange of file formats is precisely due to that single entity, Microsoft, controlling the document file format specification and not sharing the details of the same eith those office suites implemented on Linux or Mac operating systems.

<p>

With reason other players in the IT industry are extremely unsupportive of Microsoft's POOXML. Permitting a single entity to control the document specification will exacerbate the current frustration that user have experienced by not being able to share a current Microsoft specified file format document to an Linux user, or as Mr. Ferreira also mentioned, Apple computer user. POOXML, if accepted by ISO, will allow Microsoft to maintain control of the document specification at the expense of the frustration that users of non Microsoft office suites will experience. Evidently, users of Microsoft's own office suite will also experience that frustration due to their inability to share their documents with users of other operating systems.

<p>

Accordingly, Microsoft's aim with POOXML is to limit customer choice in their selection of operating system and alternative office suites –that stands in sharp contrast to Mr. Ferreira's assertions that POOXML will provide freedom of choice.

<p>

The ISO should not accept ECMA's submission of POOXML; if accepted, ISO would relieve Microsoft from from its accountability to its customers and the IT industry for its predatory and proprietary control of the current document specifications that have introduced incompatibility in the exchange of file formats.

<p>

Needless to remark, the inability for users to share their own data is the direct result of your organization's anticompetitive practices, Mr. Ferreira. Why should the ISO impose on the consumers worldwide a penalty for exercising their freedom of choice and selecting other than Microsoft's products???

<p>

Please, Mr. Ferreira, give some respect to your own (and would be) customers –if not to us, the Linux and OS/2 users. POOXML, if accepted by ISO, will maintain the current incompatibility issues that you described; it will frustrate users and will diminish productivity and efficiency –will introduce downtime-- unless all users migrate to using Microsoft's products, which is the hidden aim of POOXML. That, Mr. Ferreira, is antithetical to freedom of choice for consumers and contradicts your assertion elsewhere in your blog.

<p>

Contrarily, said Humpty-Dumpty, Mr. Ferreira, companies that do not support POOXML, and that includes Metztli Information Technology, are in favor of an vendor agnostic document specification as has already been defined in Truly Open Document Format (ODF), the mature ISO standard that your organization is trying to usurp with POOXML.

<p>

ODF has already several free and commercial vendor implementations. On the other hand, POOXML can only claim a single vendor implementation of the full 6000+ pages of specification: Microsoft. Consequently, please, please, Mr. Ferreira explain how is POOXML going to avoid user frustration if only a single vendor is able to provide an implementation, while others, that you claim to purportedly support POOXML, simply provide an imperfect plugin due to the complexity of and potential Intellectual Property (IP) issues that your organization is so fond of using in its Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt tactics?

<p>

Mr. Ferreira, Microsoft is fully able to implement *natively* the already mature ODF ISO standard in its products. The specification is freely available and, unlike POOXML, Microsoft or any other entity that truly wishes to alleviate their customers collaboration frustrations, does not have to worry about IP issues.

<p>

Further, the specification is implementable by any technically proficient interested entity, large and small, since it is not 6000+ pages that only your organization, Microsoft, can fully implement. By making POOXML specification so complex to implement, Microsoft has not in effect relinquished control of the specification. consequently, Microsoft's intention is to limit customer choice and to impose Microsoft's applications and operating systems on the consumers.

<p>

Finally, Mr. Ferreira, it is not only “companies that rely heavily on IT consultancy” --Microsoft's favorite scapegoat-- that oppose POOXML. It is also the small organizations, like Metztli Information Technology in California, that advocate open standards inherent in Open Source Software (OSS) as a way to spare the customer the frustration that proprietary closed-source organizations like Microsoft have introduced with their control and self-serving specification formats like POOXML.

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Microsoft will look at the whole process through its coloured prism, so will all the rest of the world, including me.

Let's face it. PR release are probably the most biased communication in this world. Its intention is to provide one party's, the issuing party, view. Hence, I am not surprised by the biasness.

What I object to is not the biasness, but the selective truth and fact hiding. Two serious omissions. First Microsoft choose not to describe how it actually "surrender" the format to ECMA.  The charter of TC45 ECMA does not inspire confidence but did the reverse, confirming that Microsoft have the final say. Second, SABS stated preference to vote NO in ISO fast track matter by default, rather than abstain. This means that there is a chance that it choose not to consider give any consideration to this issue at all, given the pressure it felt from both side of the game.

It is easy to put out PR. The important factor is now widely this PR release is pickup by the media. It is still to fresh to evaluate the impact. Need to google it a few days later to assess the piece of propaganda.

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Have you seen this article    http://blogs.zdnet.com/BTL/?page_id=2259  an interview of Jan van den Beld, the Secretarie General of Ecma International?
I love this bit "Microsoft’s formats and the Open Docment Format are not exactly same thing. They’re just alternative approaches to the same problem"  Which goes to explain why they should both be standards????? They do the same thing but differently. I thought that would mean there would only need to be one standard but I guess I am wrong???
They also talk about how they don't think about licensing issues "I have never thought so deeply about it (how the permission of multiple standards encourages patent wars).  In a way yes, of course, there are hardly any subjects in hi-tech where no patents are involved."
That's some one else's problem.

David

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I've seen many good comments already, but there is one that I have not seen that I thought would be worth pointing out. At no point is the existence of ODF acknowledged. This is important because the initial set-up, a driving reason why OOXML should be accepted, is that it creates a universal format that will eliminate file format incompatibility problems. I believe that eliminating file format incompatibility problems is a good cause. However, there already exists an ISO certified file format which would/does do this: ODF. Ignoring ODF is ignoring the already existing solution to the problem that they claim OOXML is trying to solve. Thus a(nother) solution is not needed, and the argument for OOXML disappears. I find the argument here somewhat amusing, in that usually the argument is not for a universal format (because of above), but for legacy format support. It is interesting to see the argument for a universal format being made, but then having it used not as a reason to support that which exists, but to create something else new. --Trollsfire