07.10.07

OpenXML is Really Funny (But It’s a Joke That Can Cost Lives)

Posted in ECMA, Formats, GNU/Linux, Intellectual Monopoly, Interoperability, ISO, Microsoft, Novell, Office Suites, Open XML, OpenDocument, Standard, Turbolinux, Videos at 11:35 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

As an addendum, yesterday we mentioned the latest OOXML slam from Rob Weir. To repeat what was said:

OOXML: The Formula for Failure

[...]

As I’ve shown, in the rush to write a 6,000 page standard in less than a year, Ecma dropped the ball. OOXML’s spreadsheet formula is worse than missing. It has incorrect formulas that, if implemented according to the standard may cause loss of life, property and capital. This standard is seriously messed up. And shame on all those who praised and continue to praise the OOXML formula specification without actually reading it.

Rob talked about some of the mind-blowing problems with the specifications. It is clear that working on a program without specifications for many years leads to non-elegant inelegant [Thanks, John] code, workarounds, inconsistencies, inaccuracies, and some ‘features’ that are intended to make different versions of the same software incompatible (to force upgrades and thereby elevate revenues). Writing (or rather “deriving”) specifications from 20 years of coding is no way to write a specification. It’s just a description of a program, with its bugs and deficiencies included.

An ongoing analysis of OOXML, to be carried out by a technical committee, will lead the way to a working group meeting. They can already see deficiencies. Read their observations carefully:

“OpenXML is designed to represent the existing corpus of documents faithfully, even if that means preserving idiosyncrasies that one might not choose given the luxury of starting from a clean slate. In the ODF design, compatibility with and preservation of existing Office documents were not goals. Each set of goals is valuable; sacrificing either at the expense of the other may not be in the best interest of users.” (p.6 Ecma Response)

As usual, the smart folks from OpenMalaysiaBlog have produced a fairly comprehensive and well-studied article. It demonstrates the serious problems which Rob refers to.

[OOXML:] Mathematically Incorrect

[...]

So when it comes to comparing MSOOXML and ODF v1.0 on the basis of the inclusion of “Formula Definitions”, it becomes clear that the anti-ODF folk have not much to shout about. In fact MSOOXML’s “Formula Definition” is deficient and inaccurate.

Can Novell (and particularly de Icaza) still praise OOXML? Can they truly recommend it, invest resources in it, and imply it is the way to go (or at least suggest it’s an acceptable specification)? This whole scenario is worrisome. Is this what Novell got paid over $300,000,000 to do (at least in part)? Whose side are they committed to? The Free software community, which supplied all the software? Or is it Microsoft, which has just betrayed Novell? Perhaps the Jim Allchin comment on “slaughtering Novell” should have served as a clue. Microsoft only embraces in order to weaken and destroy (not only ODF, but also Novell).

This debate about document formats continues. Simon Phipps of Sun Microsystems has published his own bits of advocacy in his professional Web log. He distinguishes between standards that serve companies and standards that serve the customer (that’s where preservation and portability, for example, play a significant role).

There are plenty of examples of a choice of “standards” in our lives (usually validated in some way by a vendor body), but I have yet to find one that actually leads to a benefit to the customer.

Yesterday we talked about some unfortunate news. TurboLinux’s involvement in this ‘scandal’ must now be taken into consideration. I have not read the press release at the time. The press release came from Redmond (not TurboLinux). There were hints there which expose Microsoft’s trick of shoving in proprietary formats through the desktop monopoly. TurboLinux has apparently been paying Microsoft for the right to play media files encoded using proprietary code. Novell was indirectly involved in something similar. This leads to Linux ‘taxation’. OOXML achieves exactly the same thing. That’s why it must be rejected. The world has already got a single, unified document standard.

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17 Comments

  1. Stephen said,

    July 11, 2007 at 3:41 am

    Gravatar

    Roy, you mentioned that Miguel and Novell “recommend” ODF. Where does this source come from? I’d be rather surprised if that were true. If this is in relation to Novell having an ODF filter, then that’s an entirely different matter and not an expression of support, rather interoperability. IMHO, one can be interoperable with crap specifications as well as good ones – this just happens to be a crap one.

  2. Francis said,

    July 11, 2007 at 4:38 am

    Gravatar

    Stephen,

    I think you mean s/ODF/OOXML/.

    Roy has got it mixed up though. Novell are huge supporters of ODF; they are part of the ODF alliance. See Novell statement on file formats for office applications.

    Unfortunately sites like this tend to pose interoperability with OOXML as something inherently evil, which is actually a little crazy (this is one of the most-needed things to ensure a proper migration to Linux). A couple of very vocal people (i.e. this website) go on about this, while other distributions very happily include all interoperability features that Novell introduce into OOo. A good example is
    OpenOffice.org support for Excel VBA
    .

    Kind of similar to the really quite comical statements made on this site about Mono. Despite what you think, Roy, your statements on Mono and interoperability are unsubstantiated and are anything but representative of the community (or do you want me to start naming all the distributions that are grateful to have such code? Hint: this includes the distribution you use).

  3. John Drinkwater said,

    July 11, 2007 at 5:45 am

    Gravatar

    Roy, s/non-elegant/inelegant/g

    Stephen, you meant Miguel “recommends” OOXML? Of course he does, he thinks open-source (but not free) implementations of Microsoft standards are the way to go. Read his blog.

  4. John Drinkwater said,

    July 11, 2007 at 5:58 am

    Gravatar

    Interoperability with OOXML is inherently evil: As soon as OpenOffice has full support for OOXML, where is the incentive (for typical users without this brought to their attention) to use the ODF standard? We just give ourselves another few decades under the thumb of a dictator.
    All the work on ODF has been for a fully documented, freely implementable, internationised document format. You cannot tell me the same for OOXML.

  5. Francis Giannaros said,

    July 11, 2007 at 6:13 am

    Gravatar

    John,

    * the statement was that Novell and Miguel recommend OOXML, which is patently false.
    * Interesting. I read his blog too, I’ve never seen that. Please point to a specific blog post where OOXML is recommended over ODF or retract your statement. I promise you that you won’t find any such statement.
    * you do know that Mono is free software, right? See http://www.mono-project.com/FAQ:_Licensing

  6. Francis Giannaros said,

    July 11, 2007 at 6:26 am

    Gravatar

    No, there is a huge incentive for Interoperability with it, and all distributions want this as well. I’m sorry but there’s absolutely no way one of my friends are going to switch to Linux when they’re not completely sure that they can send their documents to others and ensure that it appears appropriately. In the real world we have to make the migration for users from Windows as easy as possible, and we should do this within the bounds of keeping our freedom. OOo and all the code it will contain is completely free software.

    ODF will still always be the default on OOo and all Novell/SUSE products. As ODF increases in popularity use OOXML can be completely phased out. Let me repeat: _no-one_ in Novell is pushing for OOXML; they’re part of the ODF alliance. Novell have just (again) taken it on themselves to implement a very much needed selection of features that we all want.

    You don’t want particular things in OOo? I’m sorry, but millions of others do. And as always, those who code decide.

  7. Shane Coyle said,

    July 11, 2007 at 6:27 am

    Gravatar

    Francis, you do know that Novell made a patent deal with Microsoft that covers all previous infractions before the deal by both parties, then Novell agreed to pay MS royalties going forward for a promise not to pursue their supposed patent rights – including Mono patents, right?

    But, I can’t say I recall Miguel or Novell mentioning a preference for OOXML, just the desire to read and write it. I mean, ODF is still default in Novell OOO, right? (Francis just answered that while I was typing, see above)

    The problem with OOXML compatibility is it’s impossible, the standard is absurd and relies on proprietary information and features for full implementation.

  8. Roy Schestowitz said,

    July 11, 2007 at 7:20 am

    Gravatar

    @ John: I fixed it as you suggested. I typically write my posts quite fast, so grammatical issues and typos will remain.

    @ Stephen:after writing that sentence (I typically write in a single quick pass) I had second thoughts, so I added in brackets “or [Novell] at least suggest it’s an acceptable specification”. I realised at the time that what I had typed went a bit over the line.

    @ Francis: I know people who like Mono and do not fear it. Often I just feel like it’s a case of blissful ignorance. They don’t realise that they rely on patented technology that could one day have a real cost (not necessarily just monetary). Just look how Red Hat escapes MP3 and recall the lawsuit filed against Microsoft.

  9. Roy Schestowitz said,

    July 11, 2007 at 8:25 am

    Gravatar

    I have just come across this new article and I could help posting a link to it here:

    http://www.wictorwilen.se/Post/Does-the-size-matter.aspx

    Look! Pro-Microsoft Web site uses de Icaza’s arguments to defend the ‘monopoly enabler’ and fight ODF.

    Not surprising at all…

  10. Stephen said,

    July 11, 2007 at 8:35 am

    Gravatar

    Thanks for the corrections! The web site you’ve referenced quotes Miguel, but on reading his blog entry I can’t derive any specific comments he makes as a recommendation (or endorsement) of OOXML, and it looks more like a technical comparison with merits and detractions for both ODF and OOXML.

    A previous poster hits the nail on the head in saying that users of Microsoft products will not move until there is full interoperability. And this goes beyond mere office formats, which are a start, but we need…

    - MS Project
    - MS Visio
    - Adobe

    Oh, hang on – Novell did this survey years ago ;-)

    The reality, right now is that F/OSS equivalents don’t exist (and don’t sell Planner and Dia here, please, you know what I mean!)

  11. Francis said,

    July 11, 2007 at 10:02 am

    Gravatar

    Shane,

    > Francis, you do know that Novell made a patent deal with Microsoft that covers all previous infractions before the deal by both parties, then Novell agreed to pay MS royalties going forward for a promise not to pursue their supposed patent rights – including Mono patents, right?

    Great! Now let me see any evidence. You know just as well as I do that there is no general agreement to not sue each company. Microsoft can still sue Novell for patent infringement, and Novell can still sue Microsoft.

    Curious that you bring Mono in, since I hope you know that mono is specifically a community project. I mean, there are even Mono patents on the OIN list; yes, the OIN which Novell is a founding member of. Nice of them, isn’t it?

    > The problem with OOXML compatibility is it’s impossible, the standard is absurd and relies on proprietary information and features for full implementation.

    Why exactly do you have a problem with Novell implementing interoperability features, then? You know that OOo will always be under a free software license.

    Roy,

    Even if you had any weight in which to back up your argument, it’s a little arrogant from you again to suppose that all popular community distributions have got things with mono patents and that all distributions (Fedora, openSUSE, Ubuntu, Debian, etc) are in a state of “ignorant bliss” by including mono. Anyway, the reason isn’t because people like being in ignorant bliss, but because they can all read FAQs.

    The link you provided shows Miguel criticizing a technical shortcoming (as he sees it) of ODF. What exactly is your problem with that? Miguel is one of the most respected developers in open source, and if you think developers shouldn’t voice any technical problems (valid or not) with free software then you’re probably hanging around in the wrong community.

  12. shane coyle said,

    July 11, 2007 at 12:05 pm

    Gravatar

    Francis, you need to read more of my posts, buddy. They are here.

    Anyhow, here is the evidence of Novell’s patent deal with Microsoft.

    Enjoy.

  13. Sebastiaan Veld said,

    July 12, 2007 at 4:04 pm

    Gravatar

    Yes there is a deal, but in the deal between Novell and MS they agree not to sue eachother’s customers over possible patent problems, but Novell and MS still can sue eachother.

    Novell denies there are any patents violated. Tough MS migh have wanted this patent ‘protection’ part in the whole package deal with Novell, that makes patent violation itself in Linux and other software not true.

  14. Miguel de Icaza said,

    July 12, 2007 at 7:16 pm

    Gravatar

    Folks,

    To the commenter above: I have never recommended OOXML, not once. You guys can not make an argument without making some shit up to prove your point.

    My actual discussion on OOXML and ODF is here:
    http://tirania.org/blog/archive/2007/Jan-30.html

    Not once have I advocated the use of OOXML over ODF. All I have tried to do is to stand against the FUD that people have engaged against OOXML.

    I believe that we -the open source community- can take the high road and not use FUD to promote our agenda. I do not believe in using fear tactics against others to prove my point.

    I advocate the support for OOXML in our products, but that does not mean that I favor it over ODF. On my hard disk I have a few hundred ODF documents, and I count 2 OOXML files (one is a test file, another a powerpoint presentation).

    Miguel

  15. Roy Schestowitz said,

    July 12, 2007 at 7:48 pm

    Gravatar

    Miguel,

    According to what you say, we were right all along. A day ago I wrote this to clarify:

    http://boycottnovell.com/wp-admin/post.php?action=edit&post=981

    That is exactly what I believed. Nothing has changed. If anything, you have just confirmed my suspicions.

    1. You support the decision to support OOXML format in OpenOffice.org. I wonder how Simon Phipps feels about it.
    2. You argue that OOXML is an acceptable spec.
  16. Sebastiaan Veld said,

    July 13, 2007 at 11:12 am

    Gravatar

    @Roy

    So, actually why do -you- have a problem supporting OOXML in OpenOffice? OpenOffice does already support all kinds of document formats, reading and writing (including all MS formats) for interoperatbility reasons. Adding just another one to that does not seem to be such a big deal to me. Also this comes a plug-in, if -you- do not want it, don’t install it.

  17. Roy Schestowitz said,

    July 13, 2007 at 6:05 pm

    Gravatar

    @ Sebastiaan: it is the same old debate about chicken and egg in the context of formats or drivers (binary/open source). Besides, OpenDocument was (and still is) doing brilliantly when Novell made made a deal with Microsoft. Support for OOXML was not needed and it is still not needed. Countries other than the United States happily embrace truly open formats.

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