“There won’t be anything we won’t say to people to try and convince them that our way is the way to go.”
–Bill Gates (Microsoft’s CEO at the time)
It took Groklaw a while to respond to the latest announcement from Microsoft, but after some studying, a detailed article was dispatched. The analysis at the start is eerily similar to ours (serving as further validation), but PJ then notes that there are legal traps too. Do take a look because it sounds similar to the RAND+OSP stunt.
Microsoft Supporting ODF? — Close, But No Cigar
Once again, the problem is software patents. Internet News indicates that commercial Linux/FOSS vendors, and the GPL license that Linux comes with, will be excluded…
GPL developers can’t obtain patent licenses. That would violate the terms of the GPL. Period.
Like Microsoft doesn’t know that.
But, you say, Linux is GPL’d and that’s Microsoft’s primary competition. Can it be that commercial vendors and the GPL will be exiled again from the “even” playing field everyone else gets to be on? Why yes. It appears so. Commercial Linux vendors need not apply. Or they can sell out.
In short, I think Microsoft has no intention of interoperability with its actual competition, namely commercial Linux, like Red Hat and Ubuntu, et al, all the vendors who refuse to sell out to their patent demands. I’d say it has to be deliberate on Microsoft’s part, because when Microsoft offered its Open Specification Promise (OSP), the promise not to sue over OOXML, sorta, kinda, it was clearly informed by the Software Freedom Law Center that the OSP’s terms are inconsistent with the GPL and that the promise provides no assurance for FOSS developers. And Microsoft is certainly knowledgeable about the problems with RAND terms for FOSS. But they persist in offering what they know commercial GPL developers can’t accept.
Please note that they too expressed dreams of maintaining ODF, not just OOXML, and making the two “interoperable”. So, now Microsoft says it will join OASIS and “help” ODF and it hopes ODF will go to the same folks who mangled OOXML.
Does that sound helpful?
I wish they were sincere. I’d love to be proven wrong. But I’m afraid, having watched Microsoft shove OOXML through the Fast Track process, despite it not even being usable, that ODF will be harmonized out of meaningful existence. I suspect that is the plan. And so to me, the announcement of “support” for ODF sounds like it could just be the next chess move in Microsoft’s strategy to maintain its heavy footprint.
The fragments and findings above were missing from Glyn Moody’s new analysis, so he was sent a headsup on these overlooked aspects. Here are some of his own reasons for skepticism, as he articulated them in Linux Journal:
As I’ve written elsewhere, I see increasing signs of new Microsoft approach to open source, which involves loving applications to death, while undermining GNU/Linux. The idea might be to lull the wider free software community into a false sense of security while digging away at the foundations, so that one day open sources apps find themselves running mostly on Windows, with Microsoft in the driving seat.
That’s more of a long-term threat, albeit one that the free software world needs to be aware of. So, just for the sake of argument, let’s assume that Microsoft is sincere, that it really will offer proper ODF support in Office, and that it really wants work with rather than against the OASIS technical committee: why might that be?
Microsoft wants to have its cake and eat it too. It wants the regulators off its back while at the same time finding itself able to EE&E ODF. Don’t believe it yet? Then read on.
What the EC May Think
Europe’s regulators took a cautious stance. They formally said only that Microsoft’s announcement had been noted. There was no praise or protest. Looking a little deeper, you find some further analysis such as this good one.
The sudden moves by Redmond point out two hard facts:
1. It’s not nice to fool Mother Europe.
2. If Microsoft says you’ve got five fingers on each hand, many people will insist on an independent count.
In my view the second problem is bigger than the first. Credibility may not mean much in the proprietary universe, where money counts for everything and truth is a commodity.
In the open source world, political values like credibility are real. Microsoft has only just begun to recognize this.
Marcich advised caution for now, noting that Microsoft announced its intention two years ago to implement “support” for ODF for via a third-party translator that is still in beta (under development) and will not be completed until the first half of 2009. There was limited functionality available via the converters and they were poorly integrated into the overall Microsoft user interface, as compared with the integration and functionality Microsoft offers for its own OOXML format.
“What governments want is direct, internal support for ODF in Microsoft Office. Governments do not want to waste time waiting for translators to load or re-engineering default-save functions for their workforce,” added Marcich. “If Microsoft actually follows through with this most recent promise, it will reinforce the global market-led demand by customers, particularly governments, seeking open standards based interoperability through ODF.”
Here is the BBC quoting Marino Marcich of the ODF Alliance: “Governments will be looking for actual results, not promises in press releases.”
More of the same here:
Microsoft’s ODF support looks good … but on paper only
Microsoft’s pledge to support ODF as a native file format in Office 2007 SP2 is good news for OpenOffice – but on paper only.
The devil is in the details – and Microsoft hasn’t spelled out precisely how or if its ODF 1.1 implementation will support macros and other challenging aspects of document interoperability. And it will be some time before we find out. Office 2007 SP2 won’t appear until the first half of 2009.
When Microsoft says “first half of 2009,” it does not actually mean this. Remember that when Windows Vista got RTMed, Steve Ballmer promised a release of Windows every two years. Almost 20 months later Ballmer called Windows Vista “work in progress” and there are no signs of a Vista successor coming any time before November 2008. In fact, there are hardly any signs that anything as such even exists. Mary Jo Foley reported a few days ago that Microsoft is oddly mum on this issue.
All Microsoft offered was vapourware. Remember that Longhorn (Vista) was intended to be released in 2003. That’s what Microsoft told us when it showed flashy videos comprising some futuristic mockups (it tries this again at the moment with OLPC, so be warned). It never materialised and came to no no fruition, even 3-4 years late. Almost 7 years later people choose to jump back to 2001 (XP days, when I was a teenager) rather than tolerate the pains of Windows circa 2008.
A couple of days ago, the FSFE’s newsletter covered document formats, among other things.
2. Lack of quality in standardisation a serious problem
“FSFE published its ‘Six questions to national standardisation bodies’
before the September 2nd vote last year.  Considering the statements
about progress made on MS-OOXML, one would have hoped that at least one
of these questions enjoyed a satisfactory response,” states FSFE’s
German Deputy country coordinator Matthias Kirschner. He continues:
“Unfortunately that is not the case. Issues like the ‘Converter Hoax’ 
and the ‘Questions on Open Formats’  are still equally valid. As the
‘Deprecated before use’  and ‘Interoperability woes with OOXML’ 
documents demonstrate, MS-OOXML interoperability is severely limited in
comparison to Open Standards. In addition to these issues, there are the
legal concerns that were raised by various parties. ”
FSFE vice-president Jonas Öberg states: “Governments have to start
asking themselves what the ISO seal of approval really means. As
demonstrated by the MPEG standards, it never meant that something
qualifies as a meaningful ‘Open Standard.’”
The BBC also quoted Georg Greve from the FSFE regarding the very latest developments (unaccounted for in the message above): “Support for ODF indicates there are problems with OpenXML that Microsoft cannot resolve easily and quickly.” █