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04.07.08

The Somewhat Overlooked Menaces of OOXML, Demonstrated by News

Posted in Africa, Antitrust, Bill Gates, Deception, Formats, Free/Libre Software, ISO, Microsoft, Office Suites, Open XML, OpenDocument, Patents, Standard at 4:55 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

OOXML is trouble to the IT industry and everyone knows it, even those who are close to Microsoft and therefore seek to capitalise on the anti-competitive nature of OOXML.

We already know about the lying, the cheating, the bullying and the bribes which this OOXML fiasco has involved. We have it all documented. This makes standards less important as a whole, but there are some implications that tend to escape people’s attention and we present some of them here, particularly in light of the news. Be warned that this very partial, but hopefully informative as far as the topics covered are concerned.

Preservation

We wrote quite a lot in the past about document formats and their relationship with digital preservation (or curation). The nature of lock-in is typically adverse to the notion of future access. You will find material of interest in:

Here comes a very timely April 2008 special from IEEE Spectrum. The referenced page speaks of death of digital media, which is related to the loss of digital access due to antiquated, unmaintained or poorly documented formats, such as OOXML.

A storage device can become obsolete in less than two years, as this timeline shows

Death of Digital Media: Jaz! Clik! Sparq! In no time, some of these storage devices leaped into oblivion. The media may survive, but will anyone be able to read them?

It’s a slideshow by the way. Worth watching. The new Abiword 2.6 already supports ODF, mind you, which Microsoft Office cannot (not properly anyway). What is Microsoft waiting for? OOXML is truly incapable of preservation information because nobody will ever implement it , not even Microsoft itself.

Software Patents

Another important issue developers mustn’t lose sight of is software patents. OOXML has heaps of them and this makes fertile ground for patents ambush, as stressed by the article “Buy, Cheat, Steal, and Lie: The OOXML Story”.

A 2007 decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit may end up coming back to haunt Microsoft in their ongoing U.S. antitrust battle. The case revolved around claims by Broadcom that Qualcomm had deliberately included its patents in the Universal Mobile Telecommunications System standard in order to create a monopoly for its products. The appeals court held that if a company acts deceptively to gain adoption of a standard that then results in a monopoly to their advantage, they can be held to have violated anti-trust laws, irrespective of their right to determine the use of their patents. Interestingly enough, the Court of Appeals ruling relies on a Federal Trade Commission ruling which in turn relied on — drumroll, please — United States v. Microsoft, the very case that put MS under supervision in the first place.

All we can say is, we hope that with this many available avenues, something is done to rectify the farce acted out over the last several months.

Microsoft was last caught lying about this anti-GPL OSP only over a week ago, just in time for the key decision. More examples of patent ambush (OOXML included) you can find in:

Web ‘Infection’

Bill Gates once spoke about adding proprietary Office extensions to the Web browser and the World Wide Web. Here is just one of the E-mails that show this. [PDF].

From: Bill Gates
Sent: Saturday, December 05, 1998 9:44 AM
To: Bob Muglia (Exchange); Jon DeVaan; Steven Sinofsky
Cc: Paul Mariz
Subject: Office rendering

One thing we have got to change is our strategy — allowing Office documents to be rendered very well by OTHER PEOPLES BROWSERS is one of the most destructive things we could do to the company.

We have to stop putting any effort into this and make sure that Office documents very well depends on PROPRIETARY IE capabilities.

Anything else is suicide for our platform. This is a case where Office has to to destroy Windows.

We showed several more examples here, all based on Microsoft’s own words, which were extracted from antitrust exhibits.

Now they can possibly add what Rob Weir called “Open HTML” the other day to their Web browser. They might call it an ‘open’ (ISO-approved) standard instead of a “proprietary extensions”. Since it is just a proprietary format with Windows dependencies and GPL incompatibilities in place, Microsoft can try to break the Web further while using the ISO that it bought as a shield against complaints.

Shall you complain about ‘Open HTML’-based sites (maybe even government-tied), Microsoft would point at ISO’s directions and so would the government, which was seen selling out for proprietary XAML before. That’s just what makes it so outrageous and dangerous.

Competition

OOXML harms real competition. It puts Microsoft at the centre of the document universe and has everyone else enslaved to it.

We recently included a video of Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi, who spoke about standards and competition. She realised that OOXML, much like software patents, is seriously anti-competitive. She urged against both.

We mentioned around the same time also a bad follow-up article where Microsoft, in response, threw some mud — so to speak — declaring or at least by implication characterising advocates of Free software as “anti-industry”, “anti-capitalism” and “anti-Microsoft”.

Professor Derek Keats, whom we mentioned many times before [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9], has published a letter to explain why this rebuttal was utterly deceiving, to say the very least.

Shuttleworth is of course part of the IT industry. His company, Canonical, is a business based on FOSS. Canonical’s revenue comes from implementing FOSS business models. There are many other companies, including fairly substantial multinationals, that use FOSS and hybrid FOSS/proprietary business models to gain revenue. Among them are Sun Microsystems, IBM, Novell, Red Hat and others.

[...]

The minister talked about the need for open standards. Who would implement such standards but the IT industry? The article presents the impression that the minister’s call for open standards is somehow against that very industry. The article clearly sets up the notion of FOSS and open standards as being anti-Microsoft, which is equally absurd. If the particular standard that is at the heart of current debate is accepted, Microsoft will obviously be one of its implementers because to do otherwise would be suicide.

It is a shame to see that Microsoft’s brainwash in the media even required such an obvious clarification. When will the company stop daemonising Free software?

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6 Comments

  1. Thomas M said,

    April 27, 2008 at 11:56 pm

    Gravatar

    Strangly enough Abiword does not very well support ODF and voices where heard that the project leader actually advocated for better OOXML support… ??

    http://www.abisource.com/wiki/Google_Summer_of_Code_2008#Improve_OOXML_support

    Just thought I’d add this since ODF is NOT the preferred file format for Abiword.

  2. Jose_X said,

    October 8, 2008 at 6:21 pm

    Gravatar

    >> Strangly enough Abiword does not very well support ODF and voices where heard that the project leader actually advocated for better OOXML support… ??

    Maybe your link is broken or you are hearing voices I am not hearing because I didn’t find any of your claims when I clicked on that link.

    Google gave this http://www.redhatmagazine.com/2008/05/08/abiword-team-interview/ which has most early comments dated May of 2008 and this agrees with the release time for Abiword 2.6.

    >> We only support OOXML importing at the moment, and it doesn’t cover the full spec by far. We got the OOXML import filter as a result of last years Google SoC program. This years SoC program will hopefully futher improve our import capabilities, and maybe bring us an initial OOXML export filter.

    >> No, us supporting ODF (even before it was ISO approved) is exactly the same as us supporting OOXML.

    >> I’m really sad about the ISO verification process, which is a complete farce. As for the format itself, from our point of view it’s just another file format we have to support, with all its good and bad parts. In the end, it doesn’t matter a single bit if it’s ISO approved or not. Millions of people around the world will MS Office and thus create documents that people expect us to support. So even though I’m strongly against how the process was conducted, we will have to support the format.

    How does one define “support”? This can be as simple as round-tripping where you encode most of the semantics using your own prefered format (eg, some AbiFormat or other) and can pull it out later as well as being able to preserve the other, eg, OOXML structures you don’t understand (which according to the interview are quite a few).

    The speaker might be a bit naive or maybe considers “best effort” MSOOXML “support” to be good enough for whatever purposes he has in mind.

    Personally, I hate to work on something where the *best* I could do would still leave me in a clumsy weak incomplete (if not inconsistent) state. It’s much better to put your money where you can achieve and stand out. FOSS is about leveraging others and giving back. OOXML seems to be like a rusted system that would impede much of such efforts/wishes.

    And as Rob Weir pointed out some time last year, OOXML conformance is rather simple to achieve (achieving plain ODF 1.1 conformance appears to be not much more difficult). This is why “support” can mean a great many things, some of which amount to trivial items like faithfully copying the file or renaming it.

    Here is recent comment on OOXML and MSOffice: http://boycottnovell.com/2007/12/14/ooxml-obsolescence/#comment-26469

    [Update: I just realized that the Thomas M comment is from April. The interview above is from May. Maybe Thomas M got a bit to excited.]

  3. Jose_X said,

    October 8, 2008 at 6:24 pm

    Gravatar

    >> Maybe Thomas M got a bit to excited.

    And I got *too* excited and posted *too* quickly.

  4. Roy Schestowitz said,

    October 8, 2008 at 6:29 pm

    Gravatar

    Abioword’s stance was disappointing, but not as bad as Gnumeric’s, which assisted the process:

    http://boycottnovell.com/2007/11/26/lifetime-of-ooxml/

  5. Roy Schestowitz said,

    October 8, 2008 at 6:34 pm

    Gravatar

    Oops. I have just realised that my link at http://boycottnovell.com/2008/10/07/microsoft-influence-in-novell/ pointed to the wrong place. The post illustrating development ‘addiction’ is this:
    http://boycottnovell.com/2008/02/22/net-in-gnulinux/

    I’ve just corrected the original too.

  6. AlexH said,

    October 9, 2008 at 3:42 am

    Gravatar

    Given that OOXML is closer to RTF/DOC/XLS that Abi and gnumeric were designed to work with in the beginning, it’s not surprising that they would work well with that format. Much less work than ODF, for example, so in a way it’s surprising that ODF works relatively well.

    Personally, I think it’s hypocritical to criticise people for aiding in debugging a standard and then deride the standard for having bugs, but there we go.

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