05.21.08

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Beware the Vapourware (Microsoft to Save ODF Bunnies, End Global Warning)

Posted in Africa, Europe, Formats, Free/Libre Software, ISO, Microsoft, Open XML, OpenDocument, Standard at 9:02 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

What did mother tell us about empty promises and what about the boy who cried “Wolf”?

It’s deja du all over again. Microsoft claims it will support ODF.

The other day we shared a court exhibit which explains very clearly how vapourware can injure competition/competitors by “freezing the market” (the terminology is used internally by Microsoft) and also disappoint users.

It is safe to judge a person or a company based on repeated past behaviour — a track record, a pattern, a history. That’s just why the ‘big announcement’ from Microsoft deserves to be taken with a grain of salt.

Among the first sources to have spread this news (except for Microsoft of course) was Andy Updegrove, who wrote this:

Regardless of the motivation, today’s announcement is indeed good news for everyone that believes in open document formats in general, and in ODF in particular. Once Office users can round trip documents with ODF users, and vice versa, the frequency of that process should begin to increase. Hopefully, Microsoft’s years-long delay in agreeing to participate in the ODF working group will allow better interoperability as well over time.

While this is very welcome and it’s also a big win for ODF, bear in mind that Microsoft ‘supported’ ODF before, but this support was so horrible that it gave a bad name to ODF and discouraged its use. Stories about this go as far back as early 2007 or 2006. See this post for example.

Amongst those who were a step ahead of the hype there was Steve Stites, who saw the hidden possibilities.

Now Microsoft customers are faced with the Microsoft vaporware problem. Microsoft is asking customers to hold off buying any ODF compliant software until Microsoft produces one. Any Microsoft customer who is planning to move to ODF must ask themselves the following questions before they decide to wait for Microsoft to fulfill their promise.

Microsoft’s support announcement (not implementation) is hardly a panacea. It’s scarcely a solution to anyone at this stage. Another decent comment reveals the true motives at play.

Scott at Beta News is a Windows expert who has written many books on the subject, so his opinion and selected quotes from Microsoft employees should be approached only with prudence, even suspicion.

In a breakthrough development, Microsoft has announced its future editions of Microsoft Office, beginning with Service Pack 2 for Office 2007, will enable users to choose OpenDocument support as an alternate default option.

“Breakthrough development,” as Scott puts, seems like an exaggeration. It will be a breakthrough when they *IS* development. All we have now is some announcement on some Web page.

Remember the promises Microsoft made about Vista. It delivered a service pack many months late and it was chaos. It seemingly introduced more problems than it resolved, but it kept people patiently hoping, possibly tolerating the aches of Windows Vista or locking in some entire enterprises that foolishly adopted it early on when there was artificially-generated hype everywhere (Microsoft spend half a billion dollars on advertising in late 2006 and early 2007 in order to conceal what it had already known too well, based on court evidence divulged in a class-action lawsuit).

CNET too seems enthusiastic about the announcement from Microsoft, but words are cheaper than deeds.

Now, the company is going a step further by building ODF and PDF support directly into Office. In addition, customers will now be able to set ODF as the default file format in Office 2007.

Meanwhile, over at Groklaw, the findings from a New York State study are shared and they suggest that multiple formats are detrimental as a whole. In other words, OOXML was never needed in the first place.

What did they find? You can find the “Major Findings” on page 8 of this PDF, part 1 of the study. The most significant finding is that having more than one format doesn’t provide increased choice. It confuses and increases complexity and costs instead. It would be better to use single, standardized formats to increase efficiency and interoperability. Well, we all tried to tell ISO that Microsoft’s argument was wrong. They didn’t listen, but that doesn’t mean that governments will just fall into line. It’s obvious that if you want interoperability, you need to agree on one standard everyone can use equally.

In case you wonder what led to Microsoft’s latest ‘acceptance’ of ODF, which some said was inevitable, it’s not goodwill or openness. That’s just a convenient excuse. It’s like the use of ‘charity’ to make an endowment to political entities. The press would label it “humanitarian causes” while in reality it can be bluntly described as “bribery”. We provided some examples of this over the past year.

“Another bonus for Microsoft here is an escape from scrutiny and/or further fines.”What led to a change of heart in this case? It’s most likely the fact that Microsoft loses government contracts. It also risks losing business because large nations in Europe, for example, simply refuse to touch OOXML. They require ODF and sometimes PDF as the adjunct static document format. Mind the fact that Microsoft opportunistically keeps — or at least squeezes in — its duplicity with XPS in the announcements above and it wants it standardised too (multiple ISO standards for achieving the same thing).

Another bonus for Microsoft here is an escape from scrutiny and/or further fines. While the sheer abuse of the process won’t be pardoned, there are the fresh complaints from BECTA, for instance.

Lastly, recall the frustration at the requirement for ODF (and particularly FOSS) in South Africa. Remember who it has that has just gotten back from there (lobbying against ODF, probably without any success) and who it is that’s largely involved in the announcement above. Coincidence? Maybe; maybe not. That man is Jason and he’s quoted at the bottom just to remind you who he really is. Microsoft isn’t being ‘nice’ and ‘fair’, but it wants the its press to characterise it that way. Microsoft just plays its cards right.

In summary, we have another victory for ODF, but the implications for FOSS (OpenOffice.org for example) are a more complicated question. Additionally, Microsoft Office is pressured by some nations at the moment. That’s the subject of the next post.

[More Open Than Open]: “I am constantly amazed at the flexibility of this single word.”

Jason Matusow, Microsoft (for background see [1, 2])

OOXML data vacuum
There are still some missing options

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12 Comments

  1. Shane Coyle said,

    May 21, 2008 at 11:06 pm

    Gravatar

    Wow.

    Stafford Masie, once again you have been proven correct, even though I have ridden you from the moment you uttered .

    Honestly, if you go back through those presentation and q&a transcripts, it’s kinda spooky how right he has been.

    It’s also kinda scary, how right he has been.

  2. Shane Coyle said,

    May 21, 2008 at 11:07 pm

    Gravatar

    [repost, fixed link]
    Wow.

    Stafford Masie, once again you have been proven correct, even though I have ridden you from the moment you uttered those words.

    Honestly, if you go back through those presentation and q&a transcripts, it’s kinda spooky how right he has been.

    It’s also kinda scary, how right he has been.

  3. Roy Schestowitz said,

    May 21, 2008 at 11:23 pm

    Gravatar

    Interesting indeed. Here are portions of what he said:

    what have we done? we’ve taken open xml from Microsoft… worked on the translation engines of that with ODF, we’ve now built open xml support into… a version of openoffice, so now it will open up the latest Microsoft Office default document standard.

    We’re going to work very very closely, we have a roadmap in place for ODF translators… Open XML translators to ODF… we start releasing them in January, so there’ll be one for Word, one for Excel, one for Powerpoint, etc for the.. for the OpenOffice product,

    [..]

    So, essentially, you’ll be able to open up, all up to office 97 documents that come with Microsoft with office. and in turn, we are also working with Microsoft to ensure that they put native ODF support within Microsoft office. Ok, that’s key the fact that it will now open up our documents that we natively store in OpenOffice inside there.

    He said this in 2006. Wow.

    By the way, Shane, I’ve figured out what was causing some of the server issues after the host had apparently brought down and soon up again the Web site (a matter of minutes, but maybe some changes to Apache/cPanel were made). There’s some memory limit that doesn’t permit sitemaps to be generated unless we limit them (size leads to heavy server load). This leads to errors when attempts are now to made to regenerate the sitemap (e.g. when publishing new items), so maybe it’s worth inquiring about. I wouldn’t mess about with server settings because of the warnings given at the bottom of this page which explains a common issue:

    http://wordpress.org/support/topic/171865

    For the time being, posts are excluded from the sitemap. Technical issues as hurdles. It’s a shame really.

  4. Roy Schestowitz said,

    May 21, 2008 at 11:56 pm

    Gravatar

    Afterthought: one could easily argue that Microsoft has not publicly endorsed ODF (e.g. with MSO07 support) up until now because that would harm its chances of having OOXML approved using the brought stuffers, with whom it gamed ISO.

  5. Roy Schestowitz said,

    May 22, 2008 at 12:05 am

    Gravatar

    Another update.

    Just published in The Register:

    Don’t get too excited by this outbreak of peace. SP2 isn’t due until the first half of 2009, meaning you’ve got a good year before you can save an Office 2007 document using ODF. Ahead of that lies SP1, due at the beginning of June.

    There is also no word on if, or when, SPs will be delivered that bring ODF and PDF to the vast install base of customers and developers working with older versions of Office.

    Accordingly, the ODF Alliance, the group of vendors and national bodies leading ODF, has warned against premature celebrations saying we should wait and see what Microsoft actually delivers in SP2. ODF Alliance managing director Marino Marcich said the proof of Microsoft’s commitment to openness would be whether ODF support is on a par with Open XML.

    He pointed to Microsoft’s promise two years ago to support ODF, when it backed an existing BSD project for an Open XML Translator. The project, to deliver an Office add-on to save documents in ODF, is also due in the first half of 2009. That software has not been finished, and it’s not clear whether today’s announcement for support will use the translator.

    “Until Microsoft enables Office users to create and save in ODF by default as easily and fully as in Microsoft’s own formats, governments will continue to adopt a ‘buyer beware’ attitude,” Marcich said in a statement.

    Significantly, Microsoft is not quite ready to give up on its ODF rival, Open XML, that it’s been busy railroading through standards bodies across the globe.

    So my instincts were possibly right. The excitement from Updegrove seems premature.

  6. Alex H. said,

    May 22, 2008 at 1:37 am

    Gravatar

    I was wondering how you’d manage to spin a negative light on this :)

    First, it’s pretty clear they’ve been working on this a while – you can see screen shots on Doug Maugh’s site – no matter how “simple” ODF is, it takes a while to implement. For them to ship this in 9 months means that they have to be looking at being feature complete before the end of this year.

    Second, you missed the really huge news! Office’s support of ODF is great, but the big story is that Microsoft are joining the ODF committee at OASIS. They’re going to be helping develop ODF.

    After ODF 1.2 is done, I think we’ll begin to see rapid alignment between the two formats.

  7. Roy Schestowitz said,

    May 22, 2008 at 2:00 am

    Gravatar

    I was wondering how you’d manage to spin a negative light on this

    I was wondering how you’d manage to spin a positive light on this. :-)

    I’ve just posted a follow-up about a minute ago:

    http://boycottnovell.com/2008/05/22/microsoft-odf-skeptics/

    I suppose in “you” the addressee was to a pluralised entity. We’re not alone here, although I personally arrived at this conclusion /before/ reading anything from any of the critics.

  8. Alex H. said,

    May 22, 2008 at 2:17 am

    Gravatar

    It’s pretty easy to put a positive light on it :)

    Microsoft are putting ODF into Office 2007 at their next available opportunity. That’s huge.

    Microsoft are joining OASIS’s office committee, and are going to participate in all the relevant OOXML, ODF and PDF committees at ISO. That’s also huge.

    This is the end of ODF vs. OOXML and the beginning of ODF+OOXML.

  9. Roy Schestowitz said,

    May 22, 2008 at 2:22 am

    Gravatar

    Mind the fact that I never denounced this. :-)

    I think it’s an important step, but I will only believe it when I see it.

  10. kurizocan2 said,

    May 22, 2008 at 3:37 am

    Gravatar

    “Second, you missed the really huge news… the big story is that Microsoft are joining the ODF committee at OASIS. They’re going to be helping develop ODF.”

    “Look mommy. They are not so bad. They have sent our town a giant wooden horse as a gift.”

    Alex H, I do believe you hit the big plan. But how do expect they are going to help develop ODF?

  11. Roy Schestowitz said,

    May 22, 2008 at 3:53 am

    Gravatar

    “Look mommy. They are not so bad. They have sent our town a giant wooden horse as a gift.”

    “We’re disheartened because Microsoft helped W3C develop the very standards that they’ve failed to implement in their browser. We’re also dismayed to see Microsoft continue adding proprietary extensions to these standards when support for the essentials remains unfinished.”

    George Olsen, Web Standards Project

    Then we had Microsoft licenses in OSI whilst Bill Gates is openly bashing the GPL and Ballmer screams for blood.

    Do I trust them? I judge by history. So should we generally trust them? Like we trust a camel in our tent… or Microsoft’s elephant in the room.

    http://www.openmalaysiablog.com/2008/03/the-elephant-in.html

    Absolutely disgusting. Despicable. 2008. Nothing has changed.

  12. freesoftie said,

    May 22, 2008 at 11:48 pm

    Gravatar

    Do I trust Microsoft?

    Do I trust leaving my cat alone with a fish I’m defrosting?

    What’s Microsoft trying to protect? An astronomical rate of profit…even beyond the oil companies.

    http://leftylabourtech.blogspot.com

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