12.27.07

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The Deprecated “Smoking Screen” of OOXML Makes a Failure by Design

Posted in Deception, ECMA, Formats, ISO, Microsoft, Open XML at 11:08 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

BSI British Standards says:
… a standard is an agreed, repeatable way of doing something. It is a published document that contains a technical specification or other precise criteria designed to be used consistently as a rule, guideline, or definition. Standards help to make life simpler and to increase the reliability and the effectiveness of many goods and services we use. They are intended to be aspirational – a summary of good and best practice rather than general practice. Standards are created by bringing together the experience and expertise of all interested parties such as the producers, sellers, buyers, users and regulators of a particular material, product, process or service.”

Whatever the OOXML file format will eventually look like if such ever appears, doesn’t really make a difference for Microsoft. Office 2007 or the subsequent version of Microsoft Office will never produce a standard compliant format.

What is currently implemented in Office 2007 is NOT what is described in ECMA OOXML: ECMA OOXML is a format that Office 2007 can *read*, not the format that Office 2007 is *writing*, e.g. scripts, macros, passwords, Sharepoint tags, DRM and others. If you try encrypting a document in Office 2007, it is not longer even a zip file + XML at this point.

”It is not about what the global community needs but strictly the commercial interests of the omnipresent player.“It seems Microsoft will *NOT* change Office to become compliant with ECMA. Their marketing experts will simply advertise loud and clear that “OOXML is now an ISO standard”, and will blur the differences between MS OOXML, ECMA OOXML and ISO OOXML. This will do the trick for most people, who are not technical experts. But they will eventually get caught again in lies. It is not about what the global community needs but strictly the commercial interests of the omnipresent player.

The significant papyrus change in the format by deprecating some controversial issues in the format shows a significant failure of the format. Shuffling chapters around and putting some parts in the annex is not the answer. There are still major problems with the format as now proposed in its deprecated form, from cultural and linguistics adaptability problems, accessibility issues, to the reliance on Windows and the guidance to what is called the “DEVMODE” structure, increased patent problems, added harmonization and interoperability problems, third party implementation remains almost impossible and many others. And let us not forget the proposed format has never been implemented, tested and it not the consensus of the common.

The fact is that Office 2007 has not implemented the initially proposed ECMA format, so it is more than apparent that the new “smoke screen” proposals will never be implemented, even if they can be. It also dooms all the .docx files out there already. Is Microsoft ready for a recall or ready to develop another converter for this problem?

The TRUTH IS, every application will need to support the deprecated features in order to read files with the deprecated features, so moving stuff into deprecated status does not ease the burden of implementing DIS 29500.

If a file is one which was converted from the old format of Microsoft Office by DIS 29500 and allowed to wrap the old file in XML, it is kept unreadable for everyone else. The legacy binary formats remain closed. OOXML is still a closed format tied into to many proprietary formats.

OOXML on the trash canECMA 376 is a bomb-shaped standard. It redefines everything just to keep the legacy (and therefore a number of things that should be fixed by now, thanks to better engineering, and existing ISO standards) afloat. Why? There is a difference between preserving old files and preserving them with all internal bugs. In essence, Microsoft is shoving their own mistakes right down the throat of ECMA/ISO. Microsoft has the audacity to say the standard meets a different need, when all they mean is : we don’t want to fix our bugs, because that would force us to use non-Microsoft standards, and that is unacceptable. Unfortunately, the new proposals do not change this fact.

The SpreadsheetML part of OOXML describes a “securityDescriptor” attribute, which according to the specification: “…defines user accounts who may edit this range without providing a password to access the range. Removing this attribute shall remove all permissions granted or denied to users for this range.” This is an important security-related feature that tells the application which users are allowed to edit arrange in a spreadsheet without a password. A would-be programmer implementing this feature would need to know how these user accounts are represented in the document. Are they comma-delimited? Semi-colon delimited? Space-delimited? You can’t define a list without defining a list delimiter.

OOXML does not provide those details (although it does imply that more than one name is allowed). This function lacks sufficient definition to allow interoperability, which in the end is what repeatable, common use is all about. Finally, any vendor who wishes to have a competing spreadsheet product must be able to give the same results as Microsoft Excel. So a proposed ISO standard for Excel’s file format must precisely specify the required calculation behavior, included precise definitions of spreadsheet functions, especially the crucial financial functions. However the specification given for spreadsheet functions in OOXML appears to be merely a dump of the end user documentation for Excel. The definitions are vague, with unstated assumptions, and in some cases clear errors in their definitions.

Furthermore, the proposed deprecated changes increase the already dramatic overlap with the established ISO standard for office documents. If creates new patent problems in such that now Microsoft reserves the right to sue you if you implement any of the deprecated stuff moved to the annex of the proposed standard.

It makes harmonization and interoperability worse than ever because without the code for interpreting the deprecated stuff, any file with deprecated data will be impossible to read properly.

Given the extent to which Office 2007 will have to be changed and the extensive coding work which would need to be done, don’t you think that it is just wiser to reject OOXML as a ISO standard? It is not just one and for Microsoft to collaborate on the development of ODF and create one universal file format for everyone – the fundamental of standardization – OOXML need be rejected.

Aspirational, Consolidated are the Best Practices

An ISO Standard should not merely be the minutely detailed record of the operating characteristics of a single company’s product, no matter how dominant that company is in its field. From the definitions provided by ISO and others, which were cited earlier, an International Standard should represent the “consolidated results of science, technology and industry.” A standard should be “aspirational.” In other words, it should not just show one vendor’s way of accomplishing a task. It should attempt to provide “a summary of good and best practice” based on the consensus of expert opinion. It should teach the best practices for the repeatable, common practice of a given technology.

Industry records its best practices through standardization. The existing body of document and markup standards represents a compendium of reviewed, approved, and implemented best practices. The work of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) is especially relevant to XML document formats, since they
maintain the core XML standard as well as related standards such as XHTML, CSS2, XSL, Xpath, XForms, SVG, MathML and SOAP, the standards that represent the very backbone of XML and XML-related technologies.

OOXML, however, incorporates very little of the consolidated best practices of the industry. Worse, would-be implementors of OOXML are asked to use Microsoft’s proprietary, legacy formats, even when relevant and superior W3C standards are at hand. For example, Vector Markup Language (VML) was developed by Microsoft and proposed by it to the W3C, where it was evaluated by a technical committee and rejected back in 1998. The industry instead supported Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG), which was developed into a standard by the W3C and then widely adopted. The standard for XML vector graphics has been SVG for almost a decade. But OOXML uses the proprietary VML and Microsoft has only stated the intent to deprecate it.

The Culture of Self Interest is not Open

Let’s be clear, an ISO standard should benefit everyone and should be developed by consensus and by open participation for all to embrace, enhance, and share. DIS 29500 as now proposed still only serves the commercial interest of one vendor and will always only serve the interest of one vendor Microsoft because that is the way it was designed.

Contributed by Russell Ossendryver / fanaticattack.com

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