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Rebuttal to Rob Weir on a So-called ‘OpenDocument Format Civil War’

Posted in Formats, IBM, Interoperability, ISO, Linspire, Microsoft, Novell, Office Suites, Open XML, OpenDocument, Standard, SUN, Xandros at 9:15 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

When a series of handshakes and exchanges of money leave the ‘little guy’ behind

Rob Weir of IBM has just posted a lengthy reply to concerns raised by Marbux and Gary Edwards (OpenDocument Foundation). There is so much to be said to not only complement but also correct Rob’s assessment, but here we shall only refer to the parts which are associated with Novell and the other relationships Microsoft has formed in order to combat ODF adoption and make ODF a second-class citizen. Rob says:

This comment manages to avoid confronting a heap of contrary facts. Microsoft supports the open source ODF Translator project on SourceForge. Sun has made their own ODF Plugin 1.1 for MS Office available for download. And Novell, along with helping with the Microsoft effort, has integrated that translator into their version of OpenOffice and has also started work on more powerful, next-generation support for OOXML. So these three companies are seeking to “limit ODF interoperability and usefulness”?

“Novell is guilty too because it accepted a lot of money to stifle — along with Microsoft — ODF adoption.”Yes, Rob, they are in sense (excluding Sun). Jump back to 2006 when ODF had tremendous attraction. Then, come to witness how Novell’s so-called endorsement (which was paid for), followed by more bought support from 3 other Linux companies (involving patent-tied extortion) changed some dynamics in the game. Come to realise that Microsoft is throwing its money all over the place to protect OOXML, which it claims is all about its financial interests. We are talking about tens of $billions here. it’s not about the consumer’s needs, but about Microsoft’s revenue.

Novell is guilty too because it accepted a lot of money to stifle — along with Microsoft — ODF adoption. The same applies to Linspire and Xandros. Let’s not even get started wiith that comment from a Novell VP about OOXML being a “superb standard.”. Never mind the fraudulent activity that fuels OOXML support… and let’s not forget how Microsoft has pressured people out of their jobs for ‘daring’ to support ODF and serve the needs of the citizens. This type of behavior possibly continues to this date.

Then, Rob says:

They sure have a clever way of disguising their intent. To the ordinary bystander, writing conversion and translation code to allow documents to be shared between OpenOffice and MS Office, would be seen as a pro-interoperability statement. But thanks to the OpenDocument Foundation’s in-depth sleuthing, we now know that the opposite is true. Not!

Microsoft was invited to properly support the international standard. Instead, it chose to ‘buy’ support for another route which leaves us in the same mess that ODF was intended to resolve. One single universal format is needed. It is needed. Until the proprietary one becomes deprecated, there is no chance whatsoever of achieving interoperability. Rob knows this. He even stressed this before. So why are so-called converters and manipulation in the ISO perceived as a route that can somehow be embraced? Time warp back to 2006… we were never supposed to be in this situation in the first place. It is exactly the same story when it comes to the Web and Samba. We wrote about this just hours ago and included examples. To an extent, the same goes for SOA and a variety of other attempted hijacks.

Rob proceeds:

Although I have serious doubts as to long-term technical feasibility of some of these endeavors, they do have the advantage of showing real, running code working with real, running applications. They may not claim 100% fidelity, but this is first-generation work and will undoubtedly improve. But they have an important advantage over the Foundation’s DaVinci Plugin in that these other efforts demonstrably exist. Given a choice, I’ll always take an open source version of partial fidelity convertor, with a reasonable architecture, over one that claims 100% fidelity, but that I can’t see or touch.

Stephane could probably say a lot more about the fidelity of such converters. We could probably say a lot more about licensing and patent mess that are involved. This is by no means a solution and it was never intended to end up like this. It seems like a very half-blinded view on this issue. And that’s just exactly the vista Microsoft wished people to have on this issue. Why be so easily fooled?

In a comment, I’ve expressed some more general thoughts about Rob’s item as a whole.

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  1. Rob Weir said,

    October 8, 2007 at 12:08 pm


    Hi Roy, Thanks for the rebuttal. I could always use a new butt.

    (Just kidding)

    From what I can tell, Novell is not simple. There are certainly elements within that seem to lust after Microsoft’s approval, but there are others who appear to be genuinely interested in creating a competitive, open source alternative to MS Office. I think there is room to both criticize the wisdom of some of the deals that have been made, while also encouraging those whose actions and statements are more enlightened.

    As with any company of non-trivial size, there are going to be different factions inside, pulling in different directions. What may appear as a uniform voice and long-term strategy may actually be the result of a clash of ideas, reaction to short term conditions and financial constraints. This is how I look at any company, whether Novell, Microsoft, Adobe or IBM for that matter. Is the public voice a consensus, or an uneasy, unstable balance of power that will change tomorrow? It is often hard to tell.

    So, although I think that Microsoft’s motivations in the interoperability space are less than genuine, I think Novell has taken the uneasy, ideologically impure route of working with the beast to extract as much technical info on MS file formats as they can. Time will tell whether Microsoft has taken advantage of Novell,or whether Novell has taken advantage of Microsoft in this matter. Maybe a bit of both?

    Certainly you are correct in scrutinizing the patent side of the conversion work. If this just becomes a back door way to push Microsoft IP into OpenOffice and Linux via Mono then I will not be pleased.

    In any case, Novell is engaged in interoperability and getting their hands dirty, working on both the standards side of it as well, both in the OASIS ODF TC as well as the ODF Adoption TC. Compare this to the OpenDocument Foundation, which has taken an openly hostile stance on ODF, and has promised to fight against adoption of ODF 1.2 in ISO. So, for today at least, Novell is not my foremost worry.



  2. Roy Schestowitz said,

    October 8, 2007 at 1:04 pm


    Time will tell whether Microsoft has taken advantage of Novell,or whether Novell has taken advantage of Microsoft in this matter. Maybe a bit of both?

    I believe that the imbalance in payments speaks volumes, not just in Novell’s case. To Microsoft — this is slush funds. It achieved a lot by pulling Novell into this deal. See http://boycottnovell.com/2007/08/20/proxy-map/ .

    Certainly you are correct in scrutinizing the patent side of the conversion work. If this just becomes a back door way to push Microsoft IP into OpenOffice and Linux via Mono then I will not be pleased.

    I also fear that Novell’s forking of OOo is related to this, Simon Phipps said that it was more of a competitive issue, not a community issue. I suggest that you read:


    I firmly believe that Novell will build a version OOo which only Novell can use. Moonlight is a similar story because it cannot be packaged with anything other than SUSE.


    There is a lot more information that we could share, but hopefully these pointers, along with the cross references therein, serve a need.

    Thank you for your time, Rob.

  3. Serenitude said,

    October 8, 2007 at 1:29 pm


    In an interesting aside to another piece linked to in the article, I initially trusted Open Source, and then found Linux, through my positive experience with Open Office for Windows. I wonder how many others this is true for?

    On OOo and Moonlight, hasn’t Novell also said that any user of any distro will be free to download and use them? Although it’s a packaging lockout (and therefore anti-open-source by nature), individual users will still be able to use these packages, if I read the announcements correctly.

  4. Roy Schestowitz said,

    October 8, 2007 at 2:13 pm


    These packages need to be downloaded via Novell, which is death to the idea of decentralisation (there are proprietary bits too, whose dissemination Microsoft can track via Novell).

    Additionally, Novell would probably claim that only its own customers have ‘protection’ for Mono — however meaningful that may actually be.


  5. Robuka Kenderle said,

    October 9, 2007 at 8:46 pm


    Good stuff as always.

    >Microsoft is throwing its money all over the place to >protect OOXML,

    I was reading up on the european court case and the involvement of my new heroes Allison and Trigdell, the two guys from FSF europe and the italians lawyer and found out that Microsoft paid 3.8 BILLION dollars to buy out Sun, Real Networks and other companies so they would drop the case until all that was left was the Samba crew and european Free Software foudation. Instead of running roughshod over them, the Microsoft lawyers got their butts handed to them by developers in court.

    Microsoft has money to burn and there are always people willing to be bought (hi Novell), so it is no surprise that they are throwing money at OOXML problem.

    The Grateful Dead singer wrote:
    > I think Novell has taken the uneasy, ideologically impure > route of working with the beast to extract as much
    > technical info on MS file formats as they can.

    THAT is the VERY reason why I am extremely wary of a trojan horse unless Novell developers are planning to gouge their own eyes afterwards.
    I dont think I have to explain the concept of cleanroom implementations when applied to software development and the dangers this collaboration entails not for Novell but for all of us who Novell could care less about (Im one of those hobbyist referred to in the extortion deal they signed)

    BTW, interoperability is a red herring used by Microsoft to promote their deals. We all know that interoperability problems are mainly a one way street. Open source code is,.. well,.. open. The other code isnt.
    I hate when we parrot the line about making interoperability work as if the problem is from our side.

  6. chemicalscum said,

    October 9, 2007 at 8:59 pm


    Moonlight Packages can mounted on servers outside the US to avoid legal threats the same way as for DeCSS and ffmpeg. It stinks but it is a work around and distributions can find ways of pointing to the repositories.

  7. JP said,

    October 10, 2007 at 2:29 am


    I am more concerned about The OpenDocument Foundation having been bought out by Microsoft. It is a obvious target for Microsoft’s machinations. Why is is being allowed to use the OpenDocument trade mark?

  8. Bruce said,

    October 11, 2007 at 10:53 am


    I wouldn’t take what anyone says as unbiased. Sun would like to reduce critiques of OOo to a problem of corporate rivalries. But I don’t think that’s the whole story, and that the calls for reform are bigger than that.

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