11.09.07

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Personal Minddump: What Is the OpenDocument Foundation?

Posted in Formats, GNU/Linux, ISO, Microsoft, Novell, Open XML, OpenDocument, Standard at 6:09 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Some quick thoughts

The OpenDocument Foundation is in for a bit of a shock. I’m actually in good terms with them (or used to be), but I hope they’ll get a good slap on the wrist for what they so selfishly did a few weeks ago.

Money divides communities and Microsoft knows how to use its money. We have seen that with Novell, which supported OOXML only after receiving a huge heap of cash from Microsoft.

Novell gets 'bribed'

On that same issue, I still wonder about the Foundation sometimes, but I am convinced there is no Microsoft connection. Other people whom I speak to suggest otherwise, but their arguments are poor and they completely neglect to take into account the principles of people at the OpenDocument Foundation where Microsoft’s monopoly is generally loathed.

Sam Hiser is a good example of this and I’ve been reading his blog for quite some time. He has just published a pro-GNU/Linux article in the Financial Times. In his defense of the OpenDocument Foundation, he is now bragging about getting attention (see his blog if you wish). Buy why? Why is it worth betraying ODF just to fuel a publicity stunt? Why throw away their years of hard work just to divert attention?

”Does personal interest overcome the obligations?“They are serving Microsoft’s interests, which Gary tells me is a sad side effect. What happened to the good of the community? Does personal interest overcome the obligations? Wasn’t the Foundation supposed to be for the ‘little people’? At the moment, the very opposite steps appear to be taken. They drive in reverse. CDF? I was patient enough and I even mentioned it at some stage. I had some blind trust and faith, but those who understand CDF say it’s impractical, according to the latest article from Andy Updegrove. It’s a route to nowhere. Andy has some harsh words for the media as well:

The most astonishing piece was written by ZDNet’s Mary Jo Foley. Early on in her article she stated that, “the ODF camp might unravel before Microsoft’s rival Office Open XML (OOXML) comes up for final international standardization vote early next year.” All because Gary, Sam and Marbux have decided that ODF does not meet their needs. Astonishing indeed, given that there is no available evidence to support such a prediction.

[...]

Here’s where things stand today:

  • The Foundation’s former members are not supporting Gary, Sam and Marbux
  • No one has spoken up to support their view of CDF as an alternative
  • They are not working with the W3C at this time, and no one at W3C is working with CDF in the manner they are proposing
  • CDF is not an appropriate substitute for ODF
  • The CDF working group is not chartered to provide what Gary, Sam and Marbux want to try and accomplish, even assuming that what they want is technically possible

All of which takes us back to the question, What were Gary, Sam and Marbux thinking?

I trust Andy’s assessment a great deal, but it’s a good point to clarify that just as we haven't any association with the FSF (or any not-for-profit body for that matter), there’s no connection at all to IBM, or Sun, or anybody else in industry. This is about freedom and fair competition, not market value. It’s good that I’ve actually been reminded to state this in public.

To Andy, our stance would be rather odd. He works for the Linux Foundation, which has Novell as a Gold Sponsor. Generally, it’s the same situation with IBM (notably Rob and Bob), which collaborates with Novell. Still, We’re on Weir’s blogroll (he added us by choice) and Andy lets the links (trackbacks) be. Bob actually linked to boycottnovell.com from his blog (again, by choice). I appreciate this, but again I stress that there’s no connection at all. Shane and I are independent individuals.

Returning to the point at hand, the important part of the article is that where Andy cites a position of authority. Even CDF people say that CDF cannot replace ODF. It is simply not suitable. Meanwhile, ODF gets support from almost everyone (well, just about everyone except Microsoft).

”It’s about time someone explained that the OpenDocument Foundation is not exactly what the name stands for or strives to represent.“It’s about time someone explained that the OpenDocument Foundation is not exactly what the name stands for or strives to represent. Rob Wier did this a month ago, but now it’s the CDF experts as well that give the Foundation the thumbs down. Mind you, I used to be a supporter of the Foundation before they began with the self-serving charade. I hope I haven’t lost them as friends, but I just can’t support their cause, which is a non-cause at the moment.

On the other side of the pond, OOXML is the format which associated with fraud and bribery. We have all the necessary facts to back and protect this accusation. There is no reason to feel shy about using words such as these (“fraud” and “bribery”) when there’s just so much evidence. Anything else would be a case of turning a blind eye to crime, or unethical manipulation at the very least.

If you wish to know what lies ahead for OOXML, then watch Bob Sutor’s latest blog item.

Though I’ve written about this before, I continue to be amazed that there does not seem to be a single, unambiguous, and logically complete description of what will happen at the OOXML Ballot Resolution Meeting (BRM) in Geneva at the end of February.

Will it be technical or political? What role will the money have? One thing is certainly true: the ISO has lost its way.

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6 Comments

  1. Sam Hiser said,

    November 9, 2007 at 8:06 pm

    Gravatar

    “Buy why? Why is it worth betraying ODF just to fuel a publicity stunt?”

    Roy -

    Is it wrong to tell a friend his collar is untucked?

    We didn’t launch the PR campaign about ‘Foundation quits ODF’ (or whatever).
    Since then, we’ve faced this paradoxical message: Foundation kills ODF; helps Microsoft; they’re insignificant, only 2 guys in a garage. Which one is true?

    Turns out only the garage bit is true. Gary’s wife built a walk-in closet in his and I just don’t have one (my car is all covered with leaves).

    Too much has been distorted in the hysteria and I appreciate your reverting to common sense here.

    CDF is not a contrary story to ODF; it is about taking on Sharepoint at the hub.

  2. Roy Schestowitz said,

    November 9, 2007 at 8:31 pm

    Gravatar

    Sam,

    Isn’t it impractical to take such a U-turn? (not a rhetorical question, I’m genuinely curious)

    SharePoint is a big problem, which we mentioned 2 days ago (mind the bit about the urgent need for a free open source answer). Taking a Microsoft-like side and slamming ODF is going to help SharePoint more than it’ll stifle its adoption though.

  3. Sam Hiser said,

    November 11, 2007 at 7:00 am

    Gravatar

    We haven’t changed what we are doing (in terms of action): working on software that is a solution for CDF at the server-side.

    We were wrong about something: we believed the Universal Document Format should have a locus on the desktop.

    We continue to believe CDF is the best container for document content and layout information coming from a myriad of sources. This has not changed. CDF is very important but it does not conflict with ODF — it complements ODF’s open XML; it can use ODF’s open XML.

    We are at the Web now. Not the desktop. That changes what we do and with whom we work.

    We are moving forward to close the foundation because its purpose is over. This means the rhetoric to influence ODF will stop; our work is not on ODF any more. That format is in better hands than it was.

    Impractical? I’m not sure the word applies. Is a monopoly a practical thing to have?

    We are doing software which we are designing to correct some of the forces of monopoly. All the rest is talk. One does what one can, it’s not always the easiest path. And it is important to change when the old path doesn’t work any more. So that’s where we are.

  4. Roy Schestowitz said,

    November 11, 2007 at 8:13 am

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    Sam,

    To justify your sudden change of course, you often refer to ODF as though it was a failure. I believe this to be a convenient excuse and distraction. Please explains how more than a handful of nations creating strong pro-ODF policies makes ODF an insufficient response to the monopoly. It starts at government level for a reason. It becomes more universal, so the monopoly gets excluded and eradicated before its ‘extend’ phase can begin.

  5. Sam Hiser said,

    November 20, 2007 at 10:55 am

    Gravatar

    How many of those declaring policy for ODF have deep knowledge of how business processes get interrupted when you insert OpenOffice.org into an MS Office workgroup?

    I mean knowledge like I have (as an experienced OpenOffice.org migration consultant), like Mass ITD has, like Peter Strickx in Belgium has, like the pilot people in Denmark have.

    Apart from those I mention above, none of these pro-ODF organizations have hit that brick wall. Individuals don’t hit the brick wall because our workflows are not as complex as the multifarious permutations of behaviors with documents of even a 5-person enterprise workgroup that, for example, shares a spreadsheet file set up as a landscape table to update the project funding & invoice process of their organization.

    What happens when, for example, the workgroup keeps several simple Excel spreadsheets (version 2003) on a share directory /blah.blah.blah.F:\? It so happens that the spreadsheet called CCi_4.xls has a few formulas in it which reference cells in different spreadsheets, CCi_2.xls and CCi_15.xls. They all sit on a share drive F:\ and those relative cell references contain the full path as well as cell information. Occasionally the Team Leader — Janice — updates these spreadsheets — CCi_2 and CCi_15 — with new information reflecting the events of the business week in that department. What happens is that when someone opens CCi_4, they are prompted with the question ‘would you like to update?’ Saying yes, the formulas in CCi_4 recalulate based on the new information Janice had entered into CCi_2 and CCi_15.

    Well what happens if the members of the workgroup should inadvertently try to send on of the source files, CCi_2 or CCi_15, or the target file, CCi_4, as an attachment to an e-mail or saved away from the native location? If the attached file is opened locally and saved on a desktop, for example, the formulas break because the paths in the cell references change from something.something.F:\ to something.something.C:\temp. Often people are trained to keep, at all costs, the files in their relative locations to preserve relative path linkages. This is challenging enough with everyone using MS Office 2003 and it is prone to breaking as soon as people from another workgroup who are not inculcated with the do’s and don’t of workflow habits in the main workgroup, and prone to breaking when someone with Excel 97 comes in and tries to collaborate due to the different application behaviors.

    Now introduce OpenOffice.org into this workflow example and a) it is difficult to predict precisely where the workflow is going to run into trouble; or b) it is quite likely to the experienced migration consultant that OpenOffice.org Calc’s way of handling relative cell references is a shade different than MS Excel 2003′s and c) it is certain that at some point people are going to get mixed up about what the current latest data is or should be and where the last-best version of CCi_4.xls is and what information it should reflect.

    I have never posited that OpenOffice.org migration is impossible. It is being done all the time. However, take the complexity of this very simple example and multiply it by a few thousand — which is a conservative estimate of the number of different small workgroup collaboration permutations that occur more or less spontaneously in a mid-sized government agency of say 350 users — and you begin to get the magnitude and density of workflow stoppage risk attending OpenOffice.org insertion into a MS Office workgroup. (And this is OOo insertion during a pilot in which no MS Office installs have been uninstalled; no defaults changed.)

    Now, advance past Go. Now we are talking about migration risk in circumstances where policy is developed by people who are not at the location of risk. Imagine the CIO who has his own department of 350 users and he is in charge of implementing an ODF policy (brought down from above) across 79 (or 217…or 56…or 149) different autonomous agencies across his state or region — each agency of different geographical distribution, size, character and with its own CIO and its own particular patterns of business processes — and you can see why CIOs have been a) silent since Peter Quinn and Louis Gutierrez got beheaded in Massachusetts; and b) they are not happy about having to implement ODF policies in all these places where they cannot control the OpenOffice.org migration process.

    In fact, you haven’t heard a single peep from any single one of these CIOs because they a) wish ODF would disappear; or b) are incredulous that the policy people above would actually expect them to follow through on the policy after seeing what happened in Mass and what is about to happen in Belgium and Denmark.

    The fact that California did not come in with an ODF policy declaration and OpenOffice.org migration immediately after Massachusetts should tell you something about the general feelings about ODF and whether or not it is alive.

    Practically speaking, ODF is not implementable in what we call this Rip & Replace scenario being set up by IBM & Sun. CIOs would sooner license Office 2007 and move forward on OOXML than jump, at cost, over to the ODF|OpenOffice.org’s alternative universe where interoperability has been only framed as brochure-ware and not actually granted. The Devil you know…

    I was the biggest Rip & Replace OpenOffice.org cheerleader of anyone I know. At some point, when the information is overwhelming, one has to accept reality.

    You call our change of course sudden. We knew this in May 2006 and worked within the system to change it against stern and misguided resistance. Over these the 18 months, Microsoft has shifted the nexus of battle to the server hub while enjoying what has amounted to a great distraction.

    While playing the Foundation’s closure for maximum PR value and confusion — and to advance their own corpse of a standard, OOXML — Microsoft are not so happy that someone has woken up to where the problem really exists.

    Roy. I didn’t kill ODF. But you’re shooting the messenger anyway.

  6. Roy Schestowitz said,

    November 20, 2007 at 4:04 pm

    Gravatar

    and you can see why CIOs have been a) silent since Peter Quinn and Louis Gutierrez got beheaded in Massachusetts;

    From what I can recall, Peter Quinn went around the world advocating ODF and standards after he had been pressured out of his job in MA. For all I know, countries continue to support and implement ODF, gradually. The process is gradual, not a Rip & Replace scenario. The same goes for migration between operating systems, for example.

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