C’World’s ODF/OOXML Trifecta: A Gamble by MS, Gutierrez Shares More, and only a Few CIO’s Say “Maybe” to ODF

Last Friday I thought I could sneak a few days of backcountry hiking in over a weekend without neglecting the news and my site too badly.  But as soon as I was able to connect my laptop again late today, I learned how wrong I could be. So here goes with my effort to catch up.


The first item that broke over the weekend was the not wholly unanticipated news that ISO/IEC Joint Technical Committee 1 (JTC1) has approved ECMA 376 (a/k/a the format formerly known as Microsoft OOXML) to progress into the five month second phase of the Fast Track process. That story appears to have been first reported by Eric Lai, at ComputerWorld. And the second and third stories that I've noticed (so far) are by Carol Sliwa, also of ComputerWorld. In the first, Carol once again interviews Louis Gutierrez, the former Massachusetts CIO. And in the second, she reports on a poll of CIO's in which she asked whether they would consider implementing ODF.


Both of these journalists have provided excellent coverage to the ODF/OOXML story. It always pays to pay special attention when they have something to say, because each has provided some of the most carefully researched stories. Lately, Eric has been first to break several stories, while Carol went to the trouble last summer of filing the Massachusetts' equivalent of Freedom of Information Act requests that uncovered the real facts regarding Microsoft's lobbying (and more) in Massachusetts.  And in the "welcome back" department, PJ at Groklaw (who has also followed ODF and OOXML tirelessly) weighs in with her own insights on several of these stories here.


I'll take a look at Eric's story first, and see if I can provide any additional context. Eric reports that Lisa Rajchel, of ISO's JTC1, made the announcement Saturday in an email that OOXML would proceed on schedule, despite the unusual level of commentary received from qualified ISO/IEC members, many of whom had objected to the brief time (30 days) allowed to digest the over 6,000 page specification.

It is not surprising that OOXML will advance to the next phase of the process, but one could wonder whether Microsoft is being smart or foolish in pressing forward at full speed in the ISO/IEC process (Eric titled his piece, “Microsoft guns OpenXML onto fast track”). On the one hand, if it is successful, it will be able to confront ODF in as little as five months with an initial indication that OOXML will, in fact, achieve parity on the global standards stage (final, full approval will take additional time, but will be a foregone conclusion after the initial up or down vote). But on the other, if Microsoft insists that the process proceed in the minimum time available, there is the potential for some countries to vote no in protest, or at minimum to abstain. I haven’t gone back to check the rules, but according to Eric’s article, “For a proposed standard to be approved by the ISO, no more than one-third of JTC-1, or 10 countries, can vote against it.   Meanwhile, no more than one quarter of ISO’s 157 members that cast their vote — non-JTC-1 member countries may abstain — can vote against it.”


By pressing forward, Microsoft has squandered an opportunity to resolve some of the objections leveled against OOXML (the Ecma response rebuts all objections, rather than resolves them). Had it desired to do so, some (although certainly not all) of the reservations and contradictions raised might have been resolved rather than negated. In effect, Microsoft is rolling the dice that it will be able to push OOXML through, notwithstanding any objections to the contrary.


Is that a wise bet? Perhaps not. As I reported a few weeks ago, at least one country has already said “Enough!” That country is South Africa, which on February 2 requested a discussion at an upcoming ISO/IEC meeting of what it saw as a disturbing trend, stating in part as follows:

South Africa is concerned about what seems to be a growing number of standards submitted under the PAS process that, although publically [sic] available, do not seem to have any measure of regional or even national consensus…As result of this, South Africa will tend to vote negatively on all future PAS submissions to JTC 1 where they have not been [vetted by an appropriate ICO committee]….This will be a change from our previous tendency to ‘abstain’ where we had no direct knowledge of the submission. 

If in fact OOXML fails to pass on a first vote, it will be great blow to Microsoft’s efforts to shore up its Office hegemony. If it does pass, of course, its bet will pay off, and it will have played its hand wisely indeed.


Meanwhile, at this year’s ComputerWorld Premier 100 IT Leaders Conference last week, Carol Sliwa interviewed Louis Gutierrez, asking him for further details regarding his tenure as Massachusetts CIO from February to November of last year.       You should read Carol’s complete interview, which includes Louis’ career-long favorable, but in the Massachusetts’ breach negative, comments about Microsoft, as well as his other insights. For this entry, I’ll simply include an excerpt that highlights the integrity of someone that I admired from first to last during his tenure as CIO: 

Do you have any regrets about resigning when you did? There are things I regret and things I don’t regret. Last year was about, in a way, me using my reputation to defend the agency. And the last act of that was using my reputation and resignation to publicly highlight the funding shortfall issue. So I don’t regret having done that, because I do think the issue needed highlighting. In all candor, it is painful for any CIO to resign, much less resign publicly, and that’s the cost of the choices. But I would make the same choices.  

Louis was one of for panelists in a conference aptly titled “Defining Moments in IT Leadership,” about which you can read more here.

In a story datelined Monday and titled, Microsoft’s Office Dominance is in no immediate peril, Carol begins:


The governments of Massachusetts, Belgium and Hong Kong are game to try the Open Document Format for Office Applications. But in corporations from Honolulu to Los Angeles to Cincinnati, there’s scant usage and little planning for it….But Computerworld polls of IT managers suggest that Microsoft’s stranglehold on the office applications market isn’t in any imminent danger.


At last week’s Premier 100 IT Leaders Conference in Palm Desert, Calif., a whopping 88% of 210 respondents to an electronic poll indicated they either hadn’t considered an alternative to Office or had done so only casually.


Is that surprising? I wouldn’t think so, given that most CIOs would not have heard of ODF a hear and a half ago. ODF is still a relative newborn, having been adopted by OASIS less than two years ago, and by ISO/IEC on a preliminary basis only last May. Had the same poll been taken in Europe, I expect that the number of considerati would have been more than double, and in the third world, far higher. Early adopters are more likely to hail from those extremely large markets rather than the Fortune 100. And in the future, interest may rise in those ranks as well. Consider the following, for example, from the same article:


The desktop plans at The Procter & Gamble Co., one of the bellwethers among large IT buyers, illustrate why ODF is struggling in the private sector. The Cincinnati-based consumer goods giant employs 140,000 people, and, because of its size, finds it difficult to make dramatic changes, said Filippo Passerini, P&G’s global services officer and CIO.

This year, P&G will roll out the time-tested Office 2003 across the company, not the new Office 2007. Although Passerini said that he remains open-minded about the potential of ODF, he noted that P&G will continue to use Office’s default formats for now.

“If in two, three, five years, there is a significant opportunity to do something different, we’ll see when the time comes,” Passerini said.

Needless to say, a decision to upgrade to a four year old version of Office could be considered to fall at the, shall we say, conservative end of the spectrum. 

I expect that I’ll run into even more news I’ve missed as I try and catch up, but meantime, my hat’s off to ComputerWorld for some good reporting, as well as for including ODF on the roster of topics to explore at their conference last week. 

For further blog entries on ODF and OOXML, click here

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Comments (14)

  1. I have been utterly appalled to find the extent of lobbying which took place in Mass. and appears to carry on at the ISO. I sometimes wonder how many threats or briberies are involved because there is a lot of money at stake — a cash cow which accounts for 60% of the profits in that Department/Division. I have assembled a list of references which show occasions where lobbying and extortion is known to have taken place:

    From the previous CIO, Peter Quinn: “Almost to a person, to anybody involved or who knows about the ODF issue, they attributed the story to Microsoft, right, wrong or otherwise. Senator Pacheco may be a bully but I do not believe he is disingenious and would stoop to such a tactic. Senator Pacheco and Secretary Galvin’s office remain very heavily influenced by the Microsoft money and its lobbyist machine, as witnessed by their playbook and words, in my opinion… I believe that the ODF decision will stand. I believe MS will continue to do anything and everything it can to stop it. And I know my seat wasn’t even empty and they (MS) took another shot at the title, to no avail. This horse is out of the barn and I see no way for it to go back in. Remember, all we are asking for was and is for Microsoft to commit to open and the standards process; so everyone looks really bad if the plug gets pulled at this juncture.”


    Also from your Web site:

    MA Governor-Elect Names MS Anti-ODF Lobbyist to Technology Advisory Group

    The Sorry State of Massachusetts

    Here is some more interesting material:

    Microsoft offers schools in Mass. free software (to stop ODF adoption)

    Microsoft playing three card monte with XML conversion

    Microsoft plays Massachusetts Senate card

    Politics and tech companies: follow the money

    Report Says Nonprofits Sold Influence to Abramoff

    Open Source Foes In Bed With Abramoff

    EU official joins consultancy serving Microsoft

    US ambassador to the EU was former Microsoft lobbyist

    US politicians go to bat for Microsoft

    Changing the Report, After the Vote

    http://othellomaster.com >> GPL-licensed 3-D Othello
    http://iuron.com >> proposing an Open Source, non-profit search engine
    Open Sourc

    • That is quite a list, isn’t it?  There has been much more scrutiny,  interviewing, and actual investigation in Massachusetts – as well as public statements by two CIOs resigning in protest – but almost no news as yet from Minnesota (the first state to file a pro-open formats bill), or Texas, the next, or most recently California.  It will be interesting to learn what pressures are applied, and by whom, in each of these states in the month ahead.  So far, I’ve heard nothing.

        –  Andy

    • I like your list of links.  However, I would caution against using the term "extortion", as that is a legal term.  Us non-lawyers can get in real trouble by using such terms.  Instead, replace it with "undue influence."

      I believe that the process in TX and CA, where the legislative bills give the state IT agency some decision-making power, are likely to suffer more undue influence and outright pressure from the monopoly-extension (that is, sales, licensing, and lobbying) teams out of Redmond than Minnesota’s bills, which write the decision directly into law.  On the other hand, I’d expect MN to face the most pressure before ratification of the bill, since MSFT does not get another chance to change things if it passes.

      I would urge residents of these four states to keep a close watch on their state governments during this time.


  2. Although I always bet wrong, I’m thinking that Microsoft is just saying ‘to hell with it’ and pushing it through to get it over with. Perhaps they have a different strategy for their next version of Office and by 2009 when the next upgrade comes out, MS-OOXML will be yet another unadmitted mistake in Microsoft’s history. None of their Live strategies, for example, involve interaction with the MS-OOXML format. It is merely dragged down into the mud by its numerous proprietary interdependencies to survive… as a standard.

    If for no other reasons, ODF’s cost and simplicity (compared to MS-OOXML) provide great leverage for luring external developers.

    Microsoft’s monopoly advantage to this point was greatly aided by its distribution through its OS. A sound course would be to admit the failure of MS-OOXML (as an ISO standard) and work to participate in the ODF 2.0 update.

    • Zaine, I think that Windows used to support Office, but I think Office is the reason most people are buying Windows these days.  Office is vulnerable here, and that could lead to market-share losses in Windows.  Don’t think that MSFT does not understand the stakes.  See my post for a more full description of what they fear.


    • I have read speculations that MS will put their employees on each and every voting committee. That way, most of the NB’s will be unable to reach consensus.
      (Sorry, lost the link, but it was a comment to another article)

      How can we trust a voting procedure done by people who will be sacked if they vote against MSOOXML?

      Moreover, the government representatives in the NB’s might look to what happened to Peter Quinn and don’t dare to vote against MSOOXML.

      All in all, how can ISO be helped to reach a rational decision under this level of political manipulations and these threats?


    • If ODF is so simple than why hasn’t anyone mange to implement it fully yet almost two years after standardisation.

      How could any government even consider using a standard that even the companies that worked on creating it have still failed to implement fully.

      Of course companies choose their Office prodcuts based on the application. Any remotely intelligent CIO will know that the binary format of MS Office will remain supported for at least ten more years to come. Why would anyone bother to even look at an inmature new standard like ODF in the next three ofr 4 years. Only very simple minded CIO’s would consider ODF a benifit at this time as it does not extra productivity. However MS Office 2007 might create extra productivity which is much more interesting for a CIO to consider then a new format with possible costly conversion/migrations attached to it.


      • It has nothing to do with "complexity" (Consider 6000+ for MSOffice XML versus how many for ODF?) or lack of maturity.

        It has more to do with time to market on the applications supporting it.

        And ONE application?  You’ve not been paying attention or you’re shilling for Microsoft…


        StarOffice (Commercially supported OpenOffice from Sun- it’s more than just OpenOffice…)
        IBM Workplace (In Beta…)
        MobileOffice (Symbian…)
        Google Docs
        Google Spreadsheets



        In reality , the list goes on and on, including content management systems, etc.

        What’s available for MS Office XML?  Only what MS provided so far.  I don’t think there’s any 3rd party software.  So, using YOUR reasoning, why
        should we be accepting THEIR standard any more than ODF?  After all, there’s really only ONE product suite using it.

      • Not of these applications you mention fully implements ODF (let alone flawlessly).

        Not even OOo or KOffice.

        Nor do these applications you mention produce fully interoperable documents. And it is likely to get worse when the formula’s are released because their syntax is much more likely to be interpretable.


      • I’m willing to assume that you are correct that there is no 100% compliant implementation of ODF currently.  However, I am even more sure that there is no 100% compliant implementation of ECMA 376 (MSOOXML) either. So on that basis, no preference can be made either way.  And to discuss the ability of Microsoft Word 2007, presumably the application which which has made the greatest effort toward ECMA 376 support, to create interoperable documents is difficult when there are no/few other programs which can read the format.

        Assuming the parent poster is the same as the great-grandparent poster, I can see a good argument for staying with an older, better understood, and fairly well supported binary .doc format over the next few years.  However, that conservative decision says nothing about their leanings in terms of XML based document formats.

        The great-grandparent post also makes the argument, I believe completely unintentionally, that the choice of Office Productivity Software should be based on features ("MS Office 2007 might create extra productivity") and not on file formats ("…the binary format of MS Office will remain supported for at least ten more years…", "Why would anyone bother to even look at an inmature [sic] new standard … in the next three ofr [sic] 4 years. [sic]") .  In this, I agree.  My choice of Office Productivity Software should not dictate the file format such that it precludes my future choices or others’ choices.

        I know I shouldn’t feed trolls, but dissecting arguments which try to make you think one thing without actually saying it or even supporting it (and sometimes actually saying the opposite) is fun sometimes.


  3. Seriously, what else then lobbying is going on by IBM, Sun , Groklaw and even this blog trying to oppose OOXML.

    Does anybody seriously believe that Kenia suddenly becomes a standards champion and submits the longest contradictions review.

    I wonder if it was written by IBM or just payed for…

    • I always wonder whether it’s the same anonymous reader, or just a common way of thinking, that leads someone leaving a comment to state that the viewpoint they don’t share must have been paid for.  I assume the latter, given that the same statement pops up regardless of topic.  But hey – who knows?  Maybe it’s just someone’s hobby.

      Is there lobbying going on by both sides?  Of course.  From what I’m told, though, its closer to self-interested education than to heavy-handed pressure on one side, and closer to the opposite on the other.  That’s not too surprising, even from a cynical point of view, if one side only has something to gain, but the other side has something critical to lose.

      But I’m also told that there are many national bodies that are (a) genuinely offended by how this is being pushed through, and (b) actually interested in open formats, and interested in seeing a good result.

      So for those that are interested in the information, that’s what I’ve been told by multiple sources.  For those that (a) aren’t interested in information and have already made up their minds, or (b) assume that what doesn’t agree with their views must have been "written by IBM or just payed [sic] for," then this probably isn’t the best blog to read.

        –  Andy

      • I’m sure you like seeing the uninitiated go and make fallacious arguments…  🙂

Comments are closed.