12.21.07

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Interop is Effectively a Noop (Article by Pandu Rao)

Posted in Formats, Microsoft, Open XML, OpenDocument, Standard at 9:39 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Pandu Rao contributes the following good article.

There is something Orwellian about the name “MS Interoperability”. A more apt name would have been “MS Intraoperability” or even “MS Inoperability”.

The unstated technical goal of any Microsoft application is to ensure that data can be shared only across Microsoft applications and systems. This ties into their strategic objective which is- Anyone wishing to exist in their ecosystem must pay Microsoft for that privilege. ISVs must pay to play. Binary formats have helped them further this objective.

”Another crucial advantage offered by binary formats is the ability to trigger forced upgrades that ripple through network effect thereby creating a continuous revenue stream.“SGML and Tex formats had been around long before Microsoft came up with RTF and DOC formats. Microsoft neither used these nor supported their use. All this can be summarized as “Use the format to bind the data. The users will follow; by way of ignorance, or incapacitation”.

Another crucial advantage offered by binary formats is the ability to trigger forced upgrades that ripple through network effect thereby creating a continuous revenue stream. The binary format is a the catalyst that triggers this continuous revenue stream. You need a network effect for this to work and that is supplied by OEM contracts and IT managers reading advertisements in trade journals.

This worked well (and still does to a great degree) until the late 90′s when developers learned firsthand the advantage of text over binary in the form of XML. XML was ugly to behold, but easy to use. Also, it achieved respectability by donning on the Web Services garb. It is, arguably, the first- and possibly the only- data format that corporate IT managers care about. This last point is important. And we shall soon see why.

Enter ODF

Along comes ODF and offers editable document-portability-and-longevity. Portability threatens the pay-to-play system set up by Microsoft as data can now leave the Microsoft ecosystem and end up in areas that Microsoft has no control over. Longevity threatens the crafty upgrade treadmill they have created for their users.

”Longevity threatens the crafty upgrade treadmill they have created for their users.“Despite being on the OASIS committee, Microsoft chose not to become a member of the ODF technical committee.

When it comes to common standards, Microsoft chooses to deny, delay, deflect and defuse. When the state of Massachussetts stamped ODF with a a seal of approval, that meant that ODF was a serious contender. Microsoft had failed to do all four. The damage had been done, they now had to move quickly to contain it.

Microsoft’s response

The time allocated was not enough to create a genuine standard even if one was inclined to draft one for the purpose. So a lip service equivalent would have to suffice.

So how do you pull wool over the eyes of the corporate IT managers?
Disguise the proprietary office document format in XML, add the “open” keyword and you get Office Open XML. Government bureaucrats who deal in technology might insist on a standard blessed by a body such as ISO. The FrankenISO-approved, psuedoXML-ized, misnomer called Office Open XML would provide all the check-marks minus the substance.

”The gullible trade journal reading IT managers will be taken in by the fact that it has to do with Microsoft and the abbreviation has Office in it.”A lot of thought went into naming OOXML thus. It allows Microsoft to pay lip-service to openness, XML and standardization without threatening the revenue stream. For good measure, patents would be used on certain aspects as “hook-IP”.

The gullible trade journal reading IT managers will be taken in by the fact that it has to do with Microsoft and the abbreviation has Office in it.

The superficially-aware IT managers might be taken in by the combination of of Open and XML factoids in the abbreviation.

That leaves the enlightened IT managers. When enlightened IT managers in enterprises advocate ODF, the Microsoft marketing team will be able to tell the enterprise executives that OOXML has parity on all aspects of ODF, plus backward compatibility with the enterprise’s legacy documents, Sharepoint integration, etc. Therefore OOXML is a better option. The spare-me-the-details executives will mandate OOXML.

How should the FLOSS community respond?

  1. Aggressively promote ODF at every opportunity. For every copy of binary .doc or .docx saved, save a copy in ODF format. If novice users can download PDF readers to view PDF files they can download ODF viewers to view ODF files.
  2. Create light-weight, cross-platform ODF viewers (of standalone and browser plugin variety) . When the format is widespread, promote OpenOffice as the ODF editor.
  3. Completely shun OOXML support in FLOSS applications. As users, when you receive OOXML files, ask users to send you binary versions such as .doc or .xls (as you have not yet upgraded to Office 2007). Use every means necessary to keep the count of OOXML documents low.

It is the widespread use of HTML that forced Microsoft to provide an HTML editor. It is the widespread use of Lotus-123 that forced Microsoft to support the format in Excel. It is unlikely that Microsoft will offer native ODF support in Microsoft Office. But if the FLOSS developers support OOXML, we lose the only chance we have to break Microsoft’s grip on office documents.

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20 Comments

  1. Yuhong Bao said,

    December 21, 2007 at 11:54 pm

    Gravatar

    The third one is probably not practical. But the others can and should be done.

  2. Stephane Rodriguez said,

    December 22, 2007 at 3:16 am

    Gravatar

    Timing is key. And that’s why what Gnome and other Deicazaed people are doing is despicable.

    There should be no confusion between two things : 1) the new file formats that Microsoft Office is defaulting to are not going to get broadly adopted before a few more years, because not everybody out there thinks they need to adopt it as fast as they can, and that Microsoft and their silly ribbon user interface have slowed down that adoption even more. During this period of time, which may be between 2007 and 2010, there is no reason for a vendor to implement this stuff. Why Gnome guys are doing this right now, as fast as they can, is because it’s paid work, no need to find other reasons. 2) if and when those new file formats are widely adopted, it’s a given that competing Office suites will want to implement it as well otherwise they’ll lose customers. But, as I alluded to a while ago in a comment on this blog, there are two different implementations possible : one favors Microsoft, it’s what Gnumeric is doing, the data structure is modelled around Microsoft Excel file format, therefore Gnumeric is just a (bad) clone and will always lose on the market. The other implementation considers a superset data structure, a flexible Office document format model, flexible enough so that Microsoft Office 2007 formats are just a simple subset and can be supported without much fanfare. I think this data structure is ODF plus extensions because, unlike Microsoft’s, it’s based on other standards rather than reinventing the wheel at every turn. The latter implementation is the one that should be favored.

    It will be interesting to see, in Microsoft Office 2009, what will be the changes in the file formats in the following areas :
    - integration points with other Microsoft products, like Sharepoint
    - integration points with Live services (is Office Live workspace exclusive to Office 2007 for instance?)
    - layout semantics and WPF/Vista. Will Office 2009 directly depend (or indirectly be optimized) on Microsoft’s latest operating system APIs ?

  3. Roy Schestowitz said,

    December 22, 2007 at 3:33 am

    Gravatar

    …there is no reason for a vendor to implement this stuff.

    I took some more notes about these issues and I’ll post more information tomorrow. Actually, I have heaps of stuff that I haven’t found time to post, so there will be posts through the holiday.

    Make no mistake. de Icaza is still on the board of the GNOME Foundation, says Jeff Waugh. I’m tired of being deceived at best (or at worst being lied to).

    …integration points with other Microsoft products, like Sharepoint

    Doesn’t that already exist?

  4. Yuhong Bao said,

    December 22, 2007 at 3:44 am

    Gravatar

    I’d say that almost everything that is not in ODF that is in Office can be implemented using extensions to ODF.
    Indeed, Sun is only getting a head start on implementing OOXML so a converter will be ready by the time it gets popular.
    See http://blogs.sun.com/GullFOSS/entry/office_open_xml_ooxml_filter .
    On the ribbon, that is a different issue. BTW, Office 2007′s UI patents is a glaring example of why UI patents need to be restricted. The license restricts competing products from implementing the UI. Users often demand that any competitor minic Office’s UI. The two combined to effectively make switching to another office suite more expensive.

  5. Roy Schestowitz said,

    December 22, 2007 at 5:15 am

    Gravatar

    The ribbon provides a perceived (and visible) added value which makes users believe they get their money’s worth. I’m not too worried about those patents because there’s prior art (in Blender 3D, I think) and there’s more:

    Is Imitation The Sincerest Form of Flattery?

    As many as 8 of the top 10 benefits of Microsoft Office 2007 provide capabilities that have already been addressed by Corel WordPerfect Office X3. Some “new” features of Microsoft Office 2007 have even been part of Corel WordPerfect Office for close to a decade!

    There are other factors to consider. For example,’ribbon backlash’ already takes users back to the old UI (if not other office suites). See this:

    On Friday, Addintools, based in Hai-nan, China released Classic Menu for Office 2007, after more than six months of beta testing. The user interface enhancement does what Office 2007 can’t: Revert to the Office 2003 look and feel.

    Here’s some more about that ribbon:

    Why Microsoft’s ribbon sucks

    Bottom line, I have a lot of respect for Microsoft and many of the outstanding people that work there (e.g. Bill Buxton).

    But the new ribbon sucks.

    I’ve been using it daily for months (Word, Powerpoint, Excel), and I consistently stumble on the same functions over and over again. I doubt I will ever master it. And I’m an interface designer!

    Poor Design by Microsoft – “Save As” Button in 2007 Excel has been located!

    In an experiment 4 out of 5 users took longer than 2 minutes to find the SAVE AS button. And 3 of those users needed to use the PAPER CLIP (CLIPPY). This is clearly poor design upon Microsoft. They never think about the end user. The menu structure is horrific and it has been proven inefficient!

    Bold Redesign Improves Office 2007 But Learning Curve May Be Too Steep for Some Users

    “it requires a steep learning curve that many people might rather avoid. In my own tests, I was cursing the program for weeks”

    Office 2007 Review: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back – Part 1

    I’ve been using Office 2007 for a couple of weeks and I’m convinced that Microsoft missed an opportunity to change the way we relate to software by taking one step toward radical change, but ultimately failing when it came to implementation.

    The bad news is that Microsoft will try to forcefeed through expiry of predecessors, just like with Vista/XP. It can be seen as good news, however, because this leads to backlash that promotes competing products from other vendors that play with OpenDocument (portability).

    It’s only been six months since Microsoft launched Office 2007 at retail. But as of July 1, 2007, Microsoft won’t be making the OEM version of Office 2003 to its PC partners, a k a “OEMs.”

    [...]

    Microsoft has told OEMs that they must stop selling Windows XP preloaded on machines as of January 29, 2008. Retailers also are required to stop selling XP on that date.

    In case you don’t know about the backlash, consider these:

    Office 2007 may be Microsoft’s Titanic: former Government IT boss

    Bill Gates has been talking up Office 2007 ahead of its business launch on November 30. However, the recently departed deputy CIO of one of Australia’s biggest government Microsoft sites believes introducing the new version of Microsoft Office may be the company’s biggest ever disaster.

    Question: why do I need to upgrade to Office 2007?

    Much has been said and written about Microsoft’s “bold”, “gutsy”, and “innovative” initiative of releasing Office 2007, an office productivity suite with a totally new user interface. However, the question that is bound to be on the lips of every user will be: “why do I need to upgrade?” Microsoft doesn’t really have a good answer.

    [...]

    Microsoft, however, claims to have come up with something better and more intuitive – the Ribbon. Such a claim begs the question: “If the new user interface of Office 2007 is so intuitive, why does it have a learning curve?” And it does have a learning curve – a very steep learning curve.

  6. Stephane Rodriguez said,

    December 22, 2007 at 6:31 am

    Gravatar

    @Roy,

    “Doesn’t that (Sharepoint integration points) already exist?”

    Yes. I meant more integration points. I expect some additional integration points, with their CRM product line, Biztalk, Live services, and other things. Perhaps even .NET connectors to Sharepoint. At some point, Microsoft may introduce the Mono/.NET interoperability trick (if you forget the licensing).

    @Yuhong,

    “Indeed, Sun is only getting a head start on implementing OOXML so a converter will be ready by the time it gets popular.”

    By Sun you mean the OpenOffice guys? If that’s what you mean, I’m not entirely sure, OpenOffice will have to support some of the advanced stuff that is introduced in the Office 2007 documents, such as the new drawing/theming/rendering. This is a lot more work than just read/write. Estimation : 3 years of work. I would say the only vendor getting a head start here is Microsoft, and I expect them to play that game with Office 2009 as well.

  7. htrztr said,

    December 22, 2007 at 10:26 am

    Gravatar

    “Make no mistake. de Icaza is still on the board of the GNOME Foundation, says Jeff Waugh. I’m tired of being deceived at best (or at worst being lied to).”

    You crazy little man… Is being a hater your idea of contributing to the community?

    Note: comment has been flagged for arriving from a known (eet), pseudonymous, nymshifting, abusive Internet troll that posts from open proxies and relays around the world.

  8. Roy Schestowitz said,

    December 22, 2007 at 11:52 am

    Gravatar

    eet, if you carry on with your proxy game, we’ll just delete all your comments (past and present). You’re going too far with your insults, especially elsewhere. If you don’t like this site, don’t visit it,

  9. rewr4rf said,

    December 22, 2007 at 1:56 pm

    Gravatar

    Well, you are one to talk about insults!

    BTW, how would you know who is me and who is not? Better bury your desire for censorship and take criticism like a man. But it seems for you freedom is only your own freedom.

    Note: comment has been flagged for arriving from a known (eet), pseudonymous, nymshifting, abusive Internet troll that posts from open proxies and relays around the world.

  10. rewr4rf said,

    December 22, 2007 at 1:59 pm

    Gravatar

    You are really a weasel BTW, complaining about insults, while insinuating just sooooo indirectly that Jeff Waugh has lied to you. You carry a hidden dagger, talk slanderously behind people’s back. You wouldn’t dare saying stuff like what you have insinuated above into Jeff’s face because you are a coward, of course.

    What kind of creature are you, Roy?

    Note: comment has been flagged for arriving from a known (eet), pseudonymous, nymshifting, abusive Internet troll that posts from open proxies and relays around the world.

  11. Roy Schestowitz said,

    December 22, 2007 at 2:27 pm

    Gravatar

    You can keep changing your name and use new Web proxies, but it’s all too obvious that it’s you. Feel free to harass those other Web sites where you are already banned.

    Your past behavior, which includes insulting even site readers and invoking Godwin’s law, have earned you the status of being the ONLY person in this site whose comments are not welcome. It’s readers of this site who requested that you get censored for terrible behaviour.

    Don’t paint yourself as polite all of a sudden and portray yourself as a victim.

  12. rewr4rf said,

    December 22, 2007 at 2:57 pm

    Gravatar

    “You can keep changing your name”

    I do type in a very obviously random series of letters and number instead of ‘eet’ because otherwise my messages get filtered out automatically, thank you.

    So it is your censorship which gave you a handle to call me ‘nymshifting’.

    Note: comment has been flagged for arriving from an incarnation of a known (eet), pseudonymous, forever-nymshifting, abusive Internet troll that posts from open proxies and relays around the world.

  13. htrztr said,

    December 23, 2007 at 6:25 am

    Gravatar

    “You can keep changing your name and use new Web proxies, but it’s all too obvious that it’s you.”

    Don’t be ridiculous. It is _you_ who auto-filters every message signed by ‘eet’ or with my real e-mail address.

    So I can either sign with ‘eet’ and have my message auto-censored and lost or I can use a random sequence of characters to prevent that. The sequence being random, I think I made it rather obvious that these messages come from me; I am not trying to hide.

    So don’t accuse me but stop your policy of censorship against critical voices; then I’ll gladly post as ‘eet’ again.

    Note: comment has been flagged for arriving from an incarnation of a known (eet), pseudonymous, forever-nymshifting, abusive Internet troll that posts from open proxies and relays around the world.

  14. hötrztr said,

    December 23, 2007 at 7:01 am

    Gravatar

    “You can keep changing your name and use new Web proxies, but it’s all too obvious that it’s you.”

    Don’t be ridiculous. It is _you_ who auto-filters every message signed by ‘eet’ or with my real e-mail address.

    So I can either sign with ‘eet’ and have my message auto-censored and lost or I can use a random sequence of characters to prevent that. The sequence being random, I think I made it rather obvious that these messages come from me; I am not trying to hide.

    So don’t accuse me but stop your policy of censorship against critical voices; then I’ll gladly post as ‘eet’ again.

    Note: comment has been flagged for arriving from an incarnation of a known (eet), pseudonymous, forever-nymshifting, abusive Internet troll that posts from open proxies and relays around the world.

  15. hötrztr said,

    December 23, 2007 at 7:02 am

    Gravatar

    “You can keep changing your name and use new Web proxies, but it’s all too obvious that it’s you.”

    Don’t be ridiculous. It is _you_ who auto-filters every message signed by ‘eet’ or with my real e-mail address…

    So I can either sign with ‘eet’ and have my message auto-censored and lost or I can use a random sequence of characters to prevent that. The sequence being random, I think I made it rather obvious that these messages come from me; I am not trying to hide.

    So don’t accuse me but stop your policy of censorship against critical voices; then I’ll gladly post as ‘eet’ again.

    Note: comment has been flagged for arriving from an incarnation of a known (eet), pseudonymous, forever-nymshifting, abusive Internet troll that posts from open proxies and relays around the world.

  16. hötrztr said,

    December 23, 2007 at 7:03 am

    Gravatar

    “You can keep changing your name and use new Web proxies, but it’s all too obvious that it’s you.”

    Don’t be ridiculous. It is _you_ who auto-filters every message signed by ‘eet’ or with my real e-mail address….

    So I can either sign with ‘eet’ and have my message auto-censored and lost or I can use a random sequence of characters to prevent that. The sequence being random, I think I made it rather obvious that these messages come from me; I am not trying to hide.

    So don’t accuse me but stop your policy of censorship against critical voices; then I’ll gladly post as ‘eet’ again.

    Note: comment has been flagged for arriving from an incarnation of a known (eet), pseudonymous, forever-nymshifting, abusive Internet troll that posts from open proxies and relays around the world.

  17. hötrztr said,

    December 23, 2007 at 7:04 am

    Gravatar

    “You can keep changing your name and use new Web proxies, but it’s all too obvious that it’s you.”

    Don’t be ridiculous. It is _you_ who auto-filters every message signed by ‘eet’ or with my real e-mail address…..

    So I can either sign with ‘eet’ and have my message auto-censored and lost or I can use a random sequence of characters to prevent that. The sequence being random, I think I made it rather obvious that these messages come from me; I am not trying to hide.

    So don’t accuse me but stop your policy of censorship against critical voices; then I’ll gladly post as ‘eet’ again.

    Note: comment has been flagged for arriving from an incarnation of a known (eet), pseudonymous, forever-nymshifting, abusive Internet troll that posts from open proxies and relays around the world.

  18. d4rg56g5 said,

    December 23, 2007 at 7:07 am

    Gravatar

    “You can keep changing your name and use new Web proxies, but it’s all too obvious that it’s you.”

    Don’t be ridiculous. It is _you_ who auto-filters every message signed by ‘eet’ or with my real e-mail address.

    So I can either sign with ‘eet’ and have my message auto-censored and lost or I can use a random sequence of characters to prevent that. The sequence being random, I think I made it rather obvious that these messages come from me; I am not trying to hide.

    So don’t accuse me but stop your policy of censorship against critical voices; then I’ll gladly post as ‘eet’ again.

    Note: comment has been flagged for arriving from an incarnation of a known (eet), pseudonymous, forever-nymshifting, abusive Internet troll that posts from open proxies and relays around the world.

  19. 410581kk said,

    December 23, 2007 at 7:08 am

    Gravatar

    “You can keep changing your name and use new Web proxies, but it’s all too obvious that it’s you.”

    Don’t be ridiculous. It is _you_ who auto-filters every message signed by ‘eet’ or with my real e-mail address…….

    So I can either sign with ‘eet’ and have my message auto-censored and lost or I can use a random sequence of characters to prevent that. The sequence being random, I think I made it rather obvious that these messages come from me; I am not trying to hide.

    So don’t accuse me but stop your policy of censorship against critical voices; then I’ll gladly post as ‘eet’ again.

    Note: comment has been flagged for arriving from an incarnation of a known (eet), pseudonymous, forever-nymshifting, abusive Internet troll that posts from open proxies and relays around the world.

  20. 4550581kk said,

    December 23, 2007 at 7:09 am

    Gravatar

    “You can keep changing your name and use new Web proxies, but it’s all too obvious that it’s you.”

    Don’t be ridiculous. It is _you_ who auto-filters every message signed by ‘eet’ or with my real e-mail address.

    So I can either sign with ‘eet’ and have my message auto-censored and lost or I can use a random sequence of characters to prevent that. The sequence being random, I think I made it rather obvious that these messages come from me; I am not trying to hide.

    So don’t accuse me but stop your policy of censorship against critical voices; then I’ll gladly post as ‘eet’ again.

    Note: comment has been flagged for arriving from an incarnation of a known (eet), pseudonymous, forever-nymshifting, abusive Internet troll that posts from open proxies and relays around the world.

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