10.31.07

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Germany Leans Towards ODF, GNOME Receives Public Correction

Posted in ECMA, Europe, Formats, GNOME, GNU/Linux, Microsoft, Mono, Office Suites, Open XML, OpenDocument, Standard at 4:31 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

On issues that were overlooked, but mustn’t

There is some good early scoop over at Heise.de. If you care about document formats, then you’d better check it out.

Mr. Yadava declared ODF to be a way out of the current file format chaos that went hand-in-hand with a high risk of data loss. In other parts of India too there is no longer any way around the Open Document Format. “We no longer accept Word documents,” Yatindra Singh, a judge at the High Court in Allahabad, declared. These were not easy to convert into ODF-compatible files, he stated.

“The reason is the rising tension between myself and some GNOME/Mono people (not just SUSE/Novell anymore).”Many more valuable arguments and facts can be found in this article. They help demonstrate the fact that ODF is the way to go, whereas proprietary formats, such as OOXML (yes, XML does not make anything necessarily open), do not belong in governments. If you look for further information on OOXML and ODF, also consider this collection of good articles from Andy Updegrove. They should hopefully sum up this debate reasonably well.

The main reason for writing this post is not the news from Germany, no matter how encouraging that may seem. The main prorpose of this quick post is the rising tension between myself and some GNOME/Mono people (not just SUSE/Novell anymore). While I’m receiving messages about how much of “an idiot” I am for presenting facts and analysis in this Web site, I thought the following discussion, which also includes minor corrections and opposing views, would be worth sharing. It would also be fair by those who voice opposition.

I’ll refer to good arguments that are made by GNOME in this case, but they can be at times be generalised to overlap with Novell and Mono. I’m omitting most references and links in order to save time.

I’ve been getting some flak from a very senior GNOME developer, Jeff Waugh, so there are a few things which require corrections and clarification. I did this before when he convinced me that we had made accidental mistakes (inaccuracies or misinterpretations).

The first complaint refers to the fact that we put together argument without consulting to more sources and asking further questions to bring balance or definite, objective truth. As an example, Jeff begs to differ on our phrases which say that the GNOME Foundation has a controversial stance on OOXML. He says that Boycott Novell suggests this without reservation although this is not truly the case.

There are two issues at hand here. First, we may have been incorrect when it comes to the stance of GNOME as a whole. The reference I was relying on is the open letter that reached Slashdot shortly after we had cited it. I do always try to cite sources when I make arguments and I still opine that any stance which supports OOXML is controversial. OOXML itself is controversial for a million and one reasons.

Secondly, this is a case of disagreement, not necessarily a case of being right or wrong. I firmly believe and have stubbornly argued that many countries are moving to ODF, so there is no reason to take the tactless route of the OpenDocument Alliance (ODF snobbery) instead of instilling confidence in people’s minds as far as ODF goes. ODF needs momentum. OOXML is its enemy, not its complement. Harmonisation is unlikely here because Microsoft wants to render ODF irrelevant, redundant, and scarcely-used. To be fair, ODF has similar goals that go in the reverse direction, which eliminates vendor lock-in.

Moving on to another point, we made an inaccurate assertion when the following sentence was used: “The GNOME team is, sadly enough, helping the Microsoft agenda. It’s an agenda of lock-in — a digital dark age.” There was a poor generalisation here and I should have typed down something that excludes GNOME as a whole and only addresses those that support OOXML (Miguel de Icaza, for example, loves it) and those that promote the use of Mono at the expense of other (and better) ways.

Referring to a discussion we’ve had before, Jeff compared Mono to other technologies that make use of or mimic Microsoft technologies. As examples he listed Samba’s implementation of SMB/CIFS and Wine’s implementation of Win32. He also referred to “OpenOffice.org, Abiword, Gnumeric, KOffice, and plenty of other Open Source projects implement the binary Microsoft formats.” He wanted to know if that was wrong and whether it was “helping the Microsoft agenda,” as we had argued in a different context. My answer would be “no” because OOXML is not yet approved and it is not mature in terms of market presence. It can be stopped before it reaches a critical mass and the many recent governments’ migration to ODF is proof of this.

With regard to Gnumeric, Jeff wanted to clarify something which is very important.

Jody implemented the beginnings of OOXML support for Gnumeric. You should at least attempt to portray reality, instead of suggesting that “GNOME” in general has OOXML as part of its agenda. That’s simply not the case, and a basic understanding of the operation of Free Software projects would make that pretty obvious.

I apologise if I incorrectly assumed that GNOME/Gnumeric as a whole had given some signs acceptance towards and for OOXML. I saw similar signs in KOffice, for what it’s worth, and Gary Edwards agreed on this issue in my long communications with him. Some other projects, not just GNOME, appear to be testing some waters elsewhere, albeit not defecting (‘changing teams’) completely. In anyevent, the issue which involves OOXML can and should be separated from the risky generalisation that points to GNOME. My bad, Jeff.

The attacks on our reporting style continues, which led to further disagreements. Several days ago I said that some people consider this site controversial. One of our readers responded to say that this was not the case as we do indeed present the truth. This was one among the comments that truly mean a lot to me personally, but I try to keep my character and my feelings off this site entirely. Let’s make this the exception.

I beg to differ on some issues that Jeff has raised with regards to the site’s reputation and presentation. It is important to clarify that we actually do research on various topics and then present our interpretation. We analyse an interesting (yet somewhat complex) situation, so there is room for errors and misinterpretation. A lot of guessing and speculation is involved because there is no other way. None of this is based on press releases that are informative, factual, but sometimes biased and promotional.

The core of this Web site is essentially a cross-linked blog with external sources and comments that fuel further discussions. We are here to explore some issues of interest — issues that are tightly interwined. The level of coverage this site offers cannot be equated to that of articles, which is why I am hereby posting a clarification and offer corrections that reflect on things Jeff has told me. We can correct and annul things that we have made guesses about, some of which are incorrect and some of which miss another crucial point ofview. Some of Jeff’s points are very valid indeed and it was important to bring up his perspective.

Further, according to Jeff, with reference to GNOME:

How is keeping Microsoft on their toes in their own working group in ECMA “supporting OOXML”? The open letter was a knee-jerk reaction based on very little information, and without the benefit of any contact with folks from GNOME. The guy made a bunch of assumptions. I’m participating in the thread on odf-discuss (an “Open Document Fellowship” list) if you want more fodder from someone who is actually involved:

http://lists.opendocumentfellowship.com/pipermail/odf-discuss/2007-October/thread.html (down the bottom)

I couldn’t help but notice other people who take part in the discussions as well, e.g. here.

Some of the arguments tend to be a case of going around in circles. It is truly a case of chicken-and-egg (support and adoption for two competing format, one of which is an international standard).

Jeff insists that OOXML is still going to be implemented for GNOME users to have, despite the growing adoption of ODF. I don’t believe it’s the right route to take. He rightly add, however, that “wrestling better docs out of Microsoft is a great thing to do. Participating on the ECMA working group is not “support for OOXML””.

Consider this a disclosure that presents the other side of the story. You can judge for yourselves what is right and what is wrong. Let’s just carry on presenting some findings and let the readers decide.

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11 Comments

  1. Stephane Rodriguez said,

    October 31, 2007 at 2:57 pm

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    I find it hard to believe what this Gnome guy is saying.

    Gnome is supposed to be an open source non-profit org, right? How come they join ECMA, an org which does not disclose the meeting minutes? How is that open source compatible?

    Here is an interesting bit about Jody Goldberg/Novell/Gnome/ECMA. He managed to get Microsoft to add Excel formulas in ECMA 376. 300 pages. In fact those pages are not actual formula specifications, that’s just Excel’s user online help. Great achievement!

    (to be accurate, Microsoft has not done just a copy/paste of their online help, they had to remove some references to American centric stuff so that it smelled better, but it’s still irrelevant stuff for ISO purposes).

    I think people confuse two things when it comes to support Microsoft Office XML formats. (I don’t use “OOXML” as an acronym because there is no Microsoft suggested in the acronym, even though those formats are actually brought by and for Microsoft, therefore it’s 100% Microsoft stuff period).

    There is no way people implementing Office stuff can afford not implement Microsoft formats. Due to their market forces, those file formats are appearing on clients, and are being used.

    But the big difference is that a vendor can implement this format (part of it only by the way, because there’s plenty of undocumented tricks, plus all the stuff not in ECMA 376 that is not covered by the royalty-free right to implement) just as an import format. Doing so in the engine, you have hopes for interoperating with other stuff.

    But going as far as :
    - helping Microsoft resolve ISO comments (which is what a ton of non-Microsoft people seem to be doing right now…)
    - mimic Office 2007
    - suport Microsoft Office XML formats at the application level

    is either stupid, or plain paid Microsoft work.

  2. Roy Schestowitz said,

    October 31, 2007 at 8:58 pm

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    - suport Microsoft Office XML formats at the application level

    is either stupid, or plain paid Microsoft work. [emphasis mine]

    http://boycottnovell.com/2006/11/17/i-thought-novell-said-there-were-no-infractions/

    The relative sizes of the payments should tell you who had to be convinced.

    This is an old tactic. Use an excuse to make a payment, be it an exchange of things, or taxation, or “charities”. It’s a diversion strategy.

    Additionally,recall the possibilities of paying intermediate (middleman) parties, such as BayStar (SCO), acquiring by proxy (Microsoft-Citrix-XenSource), or controlling by proxy (Microsoft-Novell-GPL(v3)).

  3. Jeff Waugh said,

    November 6, 2007 at 10:52 pm

    Gravatar

    The simple thing I’ve raised in my emails to you is that if you’re making comments about organisations and people, and you want your website and analysis to be regarded as highly as more conventional news sites, it is in your best interests to actively pursue input from the stakeholders in the topics you write about.

    You have an even easier time than most: You’re writing about Open Source, so you have amazingly open access to the communities involved!

    Every now and then I come back to this site to find another article making accusations about GNOME, but no record of any contact between you and the stakeholders. I’ve offered so many times to answer your questions. You have full, up-front, declared access to me at any time.

    As it stands, I’m less inclined to take the rest of the site seriously because I know how you approach GNOME stories… and it greatly disappoints me that you’d take such a combative and divisive approach to community issues. By just asking questions of the relevant communities, you’d be avoiding a whole class of issues related to that.

    You don’t have to agree with the subjects of your articles, but you really need to have a more solid footing for the claims you make.

  4. Roy Schestowitz said,

    November 6, 2007 at 11:26 pm

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    Jeff,

    I do by all means want to clarify that I’m not against GNOME, but I’m worried about certain things which the project does to itself (or a subset of which imposes upon the others). This is very, very similar to my emotional relationship with Novell, which I do not hate (I actually dislike Linspire a lot more for the anti-Linux FUD they tactlessly spread). It just hurts me to see the route GNOME has taken (or is taking as we speak) and I hope that things can be brought back to the way they used to be before it’s too late.

    Let me be a little more specific. In the most recent post on Mono we’re beginning to find strong ties between packaged GNOME and Mono. With Evolution, which is bound to have Mono extensions, it’s becoming hard to avoid Mono. These ties are becoming harder to break and a friend of mine now is considering starting a whole new GNU/Linux distribution that is intended to be GNOME-based and 100% Mono-free, for legal reason.

    Back to Novell, people don’t believe me when I say this, but I still like Novell. I just don’t like parts of the management (I won’t name names here) which are responsible for the colossal mistakes that hurt not only Novell, but also the rest of the Free open source software world. I investigate these issues, I write about them quickly (apologies for the many typos), and I firmly believe that understand where it’s going a few years down the line. As Jeremy Allison said last years, “we [Novell] were WINNING,” but then came this horrible deal with Microsoft, which Microsoft even paid a lot of money just to have. I don’t know who gets paid by whom, but I believe there’s something very complex going on here and as Sam from ITWire said very recently, someone is not telling us the whole story.

  5. Jeff Waugh said,

    November 6, 2007 at 11:32 pm

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    Roy, as noted in my latest email to you (just before I read this article), the recent issues you’ve posted about packaging pointing to GNOME dependencies on Mono are also demonstrably false. Because you didn’t fact-check it, it’s right there on your site, providing misinformation to your readers.

    I’ve offered to help. Numerous times. You need only mail or call me.

  6. Roy Schestowitz said,

    November 7, 2007 at 12:04 am

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    Jeff, I have not corrected these bit of text because I am not entirely convinced. I do appreciate your persistence and I assure you that there’s no prejudice here. Look at my posting history prior to the time when I discovered more about the impact of Mono (standalone) and later about the integration between GNOME and Mono (at least that which is made concrete by integrators at Mandriva, Fedora, Ubuntu, and several other major distributions).

    I am not the only person who has come up with this assessment. Others have independently reached the same conclusions.

  7. Jeff Waugh said,

    November 7, 2007 at 12:06 am

    Gravatar

    Right, and I’ve asked you to contact me so I can explain the issue, and why your analysis (and the information you’re getting from other sources) and conclusions are incorrect. You can still do that.

  8. Roy Schestowitz said,

    November 7, 2007 at 12:36 am

    Gravatar

    I’m very happy to discuss this by mail too, e.g. in order to draw the distinction between what I’m consistently calling “GNOME” here and GNOME on its own (without more complex interaction that involves other packages). From my most recent message:

    I believe this has a little to do with semantics. When I refer to GNOME, perhaps I should clarify that it does not refer to standalone GNOME (to be compiled from source code, for example), but to GNOME when it’s packages in pretty much every major distro. In each such distro, it appears not to be trivial to remove Mono, and it’s becoming harder and harder all the time.

    Is that an incorrect statement to make? I’m not playing foolish here and I understand how frustrating this can be to you and to others. Should I ignore known problems (not necessarily with Mono/GNOME) just because speaking about it is damaging? Turning a blind eye to these issue can be equally (if not more) damaging in the long term.

    Saying bad things about Xandros (even the Eee) can be damaging to Linux, in the short-term.

    Wishing that Linspire will have its talented developers defect to other distributions is bad to Linspire and many of its customers, but it helps keep Free software free (and Free). Without it being free, it cannot compete. It’s enslaved.

    There many more such examples. Infighting is very hurtful and it usually begins when someone accepts money to ignite it all. Shall we avoid controversial at all cost, the side which burps out money will get its way. Information can help here, and that’s the least many of us can do.

    I never liked Novell’s deal and the implications brought by Mono. It still took me a week to decide whether it’s worth fighting against it or pretend the scale of the problem would never balloon (I was among the first to say that Microsoft’s deal with Novell is an acknowledgment of Linux winning, but it was wishful thinking). Later came the FUD and that “Microsoft takes on the Free World” Fortune article (with many other to follow). That’s when many of us got our answers and realised what Novell and Mono meant. I cannot believe that some people still refuse to see what’s happening. Maybe they are simply selective with their readings, or misinformed.

  9. Jeff Waugh said,

    November 7, 2007 at 12:42 am

    Gravatar

    That statement is incorrect, yes. It’s very plainly demonstrable, and with a little help from those in the know, you can find out why. That’s why I keep suggesting to you that research would be a good idea. You’re making claims without checking them first. You’re trusting random voices in the wilderness instead of going to the source and finding out the truth. That’s not good for your website or audience.

    I’ve asked you to get in contact if you want to better research your stories and claims. I don’t regard the comments section of your website as the right venue for that.

  10. Roy Schestowitz said,

    November 7, 2007 at 12:54 am

    Gravatar

    Jeff,

    I am being defensive here, but I still think that you’ve failed to answer a question (here and in E-mail too) about the differences between GNOME’s core and GNOME as it stands when deployed (it ‘real life’, so to speak).

    Some folks on the Web (I can think of several) systematically remove Mono whenever they install GNU/Linux, but how long for can they do this (Mono expands in terms of its role)? What about the vast majority of people who do not do this and just blindly accept software like Beagle? They become dependent on what Microsoft considers its ‘IP’. I don’t have to serve you my opinion, but I can give you references to journalists like SJVN, who consider this a timebomb.

  11. Jeff Waugh said,

    November 7, 2007 at 1:02 am

    Gravatar

    So, I’ve suggested that you ask questions. This isn’t the right forum for doing your research. Our email thread is. Seriously, ask questions and you’ll get answers. If you keep trumpeting the same assumptions and sources without asking for more information from those in the know, you’re just repeating misinformation. I’m am 100% willing to work this out, I just need to see that you’re willing to make the effort.

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