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06.22.08

ODF/OOXML Synopsis: UK Action Status, Microsoft RAND, GPL Exclusion

Posted in Asia, Europe, Law, Microsoft, Mono, Novell, Open XML, OpenDocument, Patents, RAND at 7:15 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Same ol’, same ol’

A few days ago, Microsoft appeared to have admitted defeat. The benevolent activists at <NO>OOXML seem to suggest that we must use this to advance and increase the momentum of ODF, adoption-wise.

McKee said what he said as part of his initial opening remarks and did say it as part of a bigger sentence though. So it seems to be an explicit corporate message.

It is time to disseminate the idea that OOXML is dead and that ODF is still the “lingua universalis” for office documents. But the resistance of Microsoft to ODF and its OOXML campaign is also very helpful and essential for the domino project’s success. If Microsoft surrenders prematurely we get difficulties to further grow the community for open standards.

For ODF to win is one thing. The fight for justice after systematic abuses must not end, either. Having witnessed the “greatest scam of computing history”, let’s have a quick look again at where we stand.

Microsoft vs The System

Four important appeals withstanding, the legal fight in the UK [1, 2, 3, 4] seems to be far from over.

The UKUUG officially voiced many of the objections that were flying around at the time (and still are):

* The BSI approved fast tracking OOXML in the absence of a revised draft despite over 1000 comments to the original draft.
* Doing so undermines wider faith in the standards bodies themselves.
* Fast tracking approval in the absence of a single implementation of the format—even from Microsoft—is hard to justify.
* Rejection of the fast track is not rejection of the standard which should be given greater consideration before approval.
* Fast tracking a proposed standard requires a high level of consensus. Something distinctly lacking with regards OOXML.

Heise Online too has published an article covering the very latest.

Microsoft claim that their attempt to establish OOXML as an ISO standard is in the spirit of open standards and interoperability. It is seen by its opponents as Microsoft’s attempt to retain ownership of document formats in the face of the adoption of ODF – the Open Document Format, an open standard already accepted as an ISO standard. OOXML is deemed unnecessary and has been criticised because of the size, imprecision and incomprehensibility of the Microsoft specification document, a document seemingly designed to make it almost impossible for any company, other than Microsoft, to write applications that are OOXML compliant.

Alain Williams, Chairman of UKUUG, said, “We are concerned about future generations being able to access today’s electronic documents. That can only happen with fully disclosed document formats. To ensure continued profits, Microsoft prevents effective competition in word processors by keeping file formats secret. Adopting OOXML would be like setting to sea in a sieve, Lear’s Jumblies might make sense of it, but I can’t.”

The newer and more disconcerting news actually arrives from the US Department of Justice at the moment. Being heavily influenced by Microsoft, it’s hardly surprising that it bends Microsoft’s way and even “applauds” it (according to CNN) for something rather useless and discriminatory. Groklaw has the details on this one and here are some takeaway messages.

Same old, same old. Move the goal post. Vaporous promises. And that is what I fear they will continue to do with OOXML, if it’s ever approved, because they can. Who will stop them? ISO? They seemed to fall into Stockholm Syndrome long ago, the few that were not replaced with Microsoft folks. What is the effect of Microsoft changing the protocols in the compliance work?

For those who do not know or remember, Microsoft pretty much took over ISO (seniors fled). Yet the development above is disconcerting mainly due to RAND. Sadly, it’s not much better in Europe [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12].

Microsoft vs The GPL

WIPO seems to be at it again [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9]. We previously discussed Microsoft’s deliberately-introduced incompatibilities with the GPL and also spoke about its plan to expand, where required, the adjunct laws onto the EU. Watch this report that WIPO will discuss next week and pay special attention to the bits about RAND inside open standards.

(iv) Open Standards

121. Among technology standards, there is particular interest for “open standards”. While there is no universally accepted definition of that term, all open standards have the following common characteristics: (i) the specification is publicly available without cost or for a reasonable fee to any interested party; (ii) any IP rights necessary to implement the standard are available to all implementers on RAND terms, either with or without payment of a reasonable royalty or fee; and

You see? “Open Standards”, according to the above, are permitted even if they are not compatible with Free software.

Interestingly enough, Miguel de Icaza, who is apparently at Microsoft at the moment (he may have come back by now), seems to think that Microsoft forbids access to GPL code. Talk about intolerance. Here it is a portion from his own message:

…from what we know about Microsoft policies (right or wrong) their employees are barred from looking at code under certain licenses (GPL being one of them…

This seems insane. It does make you wonder how Microsoft feels about those selected Novell engineers who see Microsoft’s source code (as confirmed by Justin Steinman, who said this to Matthew Aslett last year). It all boils down to those SCO-type allegations.

One could think further and speculate wildly. If Miguel had worked for Microsoft, he would not be able to tinker with (or poison) GPL software. He did want to work at Microsoft just before he started GNOME, did he not?

The context in which the above was said is an older discussion about ODF and OOXML. In response to the arguments made by de Icaza — all in favour of OOXML — Slated had this to say in USENET (we were given permission to post it in full):


That’s because most of the conclusions de Icaza draws seem to be based on Microsoft propaganda rather than facts (e.g. “the ODF specification is incomplete”).

His bias is palpable, and for equally obvious reasons, given how much time he spends inside the belly of The Beast. However this also means his inside knowledge of Microsoft (both in terms of technical workings and attitude) is very useful to those seeking an insight into how they actually operate.

“If that’s actually true, and Microsoft engineers are not permitted to view GPL sources, then how exactly did Microsoft manage to implement ODF in MS Office?”This “GPL ban” is one such example, and is especially interesting given the Vole’s subsequent support of ODF in MS Office (ironically to the exclusion of their own OOXML), since according to the ODF antagonists (i.e. those steered by Microsoft) it is unimplementable without consulting the sources to OpenOffice.org (see OP), hence the assertion that it’s “incomplete”. If that’s actually true, and Microsoft engineers are not permitted to view GPL sources, then how exactly did Microsoft manage to implement ODF in MS Office?

Hmm, how easily the bigots’ inconsistencies are unearthed.

The specifics of the claim upon which de Icaza seems to base his (Microsoft’s) entire anti-ODF position, is that it excludes definitions for maths formulae [1] (e.g. in spreadsheets), which as explained by the OASIS ODF Technical Committee is beyond the remit of a technical description for an XML format [2]. IOW it’s like the W3C drawing a distinction between markup (HTML) and layout (CSS), and rightly insisting that the two remain separate.

A comment was submitted concerning the inclusen(sic) of a grammar for spreadsheet formulas which conforming implementations should support. While we think that having interoperability on that level would be of great benefit to users, we do not belive(sic) that this is in the scope of the current specification.

The natural (and most technically correct) solution is to have a unique specification for formulae interchange, and that is already being addressed with the draft OpenFormula [3] specification.

Again we witness Microsoft’s utter lack of comprehension of standards, as they stuff (what should have been) a document specification with irrelevant material, much of which is proprietary to Microsoft [4] [5] [6], in addition to a vast litany of technical problems [7]. But then what should we expect from a company that views “standards” as nothing more than a means to lock customers into their products, and subsequently ensure sales of future versions with planned obsolescence?

We are of the view that the format appears to be designed by Microsoft for Microsoft products, and to inter-operate with the Microsoft environment. Little thought appears to have been exercised regarding interoperability with non-Microsoft environments or compliance with established vendor-neutral standards

GNOME FlashHaving created this monster called OOXML, Microsoft then used bribery [8]; threats [9]; blackmail [10] [11]; and vicious smear campaigns [12] [13] to force OOXML into fast track acceptance, and all with the hot and eager assistance of Miguel de Icaza, Jody Goldberg, Jeff Waugh, the Gnome Foundation, Novell; and other Free Software “advocates” in the “We love Microsoft” cheerleading camp [14], assistance which they gave under the laughably weak pretext of “drilling for docs” [15].

Indeed de Icaza was so determined to help force through this ODF-killer, that he even attempted astroturfing COLA shortly before the final vote, bringing his pal Jesper Lund Stocholm with him for moral support. The timing of this appearance could not have been more obvious.

Context

Well given Microsoft’s apparent lack of enthusiasm for implementing its own (sub)standard [16]; Stuart McKee’s recent comments about the death of OOXML [17]; the final acceptance of OOXML being stalled by formal complaints by NSBs [18]; and the European Commission’s ongoing antitrust investigations into the Microsoft’s criminal behaviour in this process [18], it looks like de Icaza and friends completely wasted their time, and further isolated themselves from the rest of the GNU/Linux community, for absolutely *nothing*.

But don’t waste your pity on their self-induced ostracism. I’m sure their new (crime) “family” Microsoft will welcome them with open arms, if they haven’t long-since already done so.
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[1] External link
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OOXML protests in India
From the Campaign for Document Freedom

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3 Comments

  1. David Gerard said,

    June 22, 2008 at 10:33 am

    Gravatar

    Microsoft sells software with GPLed stuff in: Windows Services for Unix, a.k.a Interix. I can’t find a source download, but Microsoft would not be so foolish as not to make it available per the license.

  2. EazyVG said,

    June 24, 2008 at 6:20 am

    Gravatar

    Funny remake of the Indian movie.
    BTW, Amitabh there, the main actor, is one of my favourites.

  3. Roy Schestowitz said,

    June 24, 2008 at 8:14 am

    Gravatar

    Glad you liked it. The language in the subtitles is strong (to say the very least), but I didn’t make that video.

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