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05.04.09

Microsoft’s ODF ‘Support’ is a Scam

Posted in Deception, Microsoft, Office Suites, Open XML, OpenDocument, Standard at 7:19 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Just a PR campaign

OOXML data vacuum

Summary: ODF support in Microsoft Office 2007 SP2 is a fail, fail, fail, and fail

Microsoft’s so-called ‘support’ for ODF is worse than no support at all. Why, who didn’t see that coming? The seminal analysis which is very comprehensive comes from an IBM employee, Rob Weir. Among the many things that he wrote:

We’ll probably also hear that 100% compatibility with legacy documents is critical to Microsoft users and that it is dangerous to try to save Excel formulas into interoperable ODF formulas because there is no guarantees that OpenOffice or any other ODF application will interpret them the same as Excel does. So one might try to claim that Microsoft is protecting their customers by preventing them from saving interoperable spreadsheet formulas. But we should note that fully-licensed Microsoft Office users have already been creating legacy documents in ODF format, using the Microsoft/CleverAge ODF Add-in. These paying Microsoft Office customers will now see their existing investment in ODF documents, created using Microsoft-sanctioned code, get corrupted when loaded in Excel 2007 SP2. Why are paying Microsoft customers who used ODF less important than Microsoft customers who used OOXML? That is the shocking thing here, the way in which users of the ODF Add-in are being sacrificed.

Groklaw too has made some fine arguments throughout the day (article and comments), so we won’t be repeating them. Here is just a portion:

I tried the updated Microsoft Office 2007 SP2, which supports ODF, or says it does. I created a document in Office 2007 SP2 and saved it as ODF. I got an ominous Microsoft warning that if I persisted, I might lose some formatting — “Document [name] may contain features that are not compatible with this format. Do you want to continue to save in this format?” — but it saved the document when I clicked Yes. I reasoned that OpenOffice, which I intended to use to test the result, does have the features I wanted. I had included one footnote, a photo, and a text block, all of which OpenOffice can do, but when I opened the saved document in OpenOffice, none of it looked right. You couldn’t read the footnote at all, because it’s cut horizontally in the middle of the text. You can see it’s there, but you can’t make out the words.

I thought most of the problems, and there were others, might be my fault though, because I’ve never used Office 2007 before, since I don’t own it, and I found it very confusing. Because I don’t own Office 2007, and I had limited access time to test on someone else’s, I looked around to see if anyone else was reporting results in the new SP2. I asked Groklaw members if they had tried it out yet and how it worked for them. A Groklaw member, Dobbo, did a test working on a spreadsheet with a client, and his experience was also a failure.

Regarding this Microsoft ODF “interoperability”, says one reader of ours: “[it] shows well how Microsoft sees interoperability. I suppose, with this, they can, in a very narrow and technical sense, claim ODF support. They certainly violate the spirit of ODF by not interoperating with other prominent implementations like OpenOffice.

“…Microsoft will make a lot of noise to pretend that it supports ODF and only give it a very bad name and discourage its use…”As we’ve warned right from the beginning, Microsoft will make a lot of noise to pretend that it supports ODF and only give it a very bad name and discourage its use while giving CIOs reasons never to dump Microsoft Office for lack of ODF support (no matter the level of support). Microsoft is doing it all in a hurry to just drop an “ODF” label on the box and then use the likes of Waggener Edstrom to make loads of noise (like never seen before) and associate Microsoft’s Office with ODF ‘support’.

If this rush job sounds like a familiar trick, it ought to. Rather than support ODF right from the start Microsoft hurried up with its phony format and shoved it down ISO’s throat using plenty of corruption. Alan Lord has just explained this pretty wellin his Web site:

Microsoft implemented OOXML (their XML based file format which is essentially a binary dump of the memory footprint of your document wrapped in an amazingly obscure and illegible XML schema) in Office 2007. You may have even received the odd file with a .docx or .xlsx extension. Then some kind of panic happened in MS and they decided that because Governments and other public bodies were asking for ODF (ISO/IEC 26300 Open Document Format supported by many applications including OpenOffice.org) they’d better get OOXML standardised too. So in a rush job, Microsoft’s specification publicist ECMA took the format used on Office 2007, got the developer documentation and wrote a bit more stuff around it and published it as ECMA 376. It then got submitted to the ISO for “fast tracking”.

As Tony Manco stated earlier, Microsoft now “wants to try and shape ODF, the same thing they tried to do with the Internet.”

Another anonymous reader described (hypothetically) what Microsoft will say next:

“Hey! Look! We support ODF too (kind of), so you can keep buying MS Office!”

OR

‘Of course. “See. ODF is broken, so use OOXML instead.”‘

Microsoft has already said that ODF files are "corrupt".

The anonymous reader adds: “The question is, are they doing this in a way that leaves them open for another EU investigation?

Truth be told, Microsoft’s pseudo ODF ‘support’ is placeholder to prevent defections away from Microsoft Office, so it is even worse than not supporting ODF at all. It creates an illusion and harms the reputation of ODF. It also stifles interoperability.

Microsoft’s stunt may be intended to drive people to OOXML and make ODF interoperability look poor. What is OOXML for anyway? Here is one good answer to this question:

If, they follow that statement through, it means OOXML will only work for compatibility with previous versions of office documents and this stops at MSOfiice 2007.

Of course it is easy to rewrite the charter, as it is only words. However, a charter sets the guideline and scope for one’s work, in agreement with a third party. That is why people do not like to alter the charter. Think about a charter like the consitution for the group, it can be amended if there is consensus, but should not be attempted with great caution, i.e., much greater care than amending a rule.

Microsoft’s business model is based strongly on making other people’s software unable to interact with Microsoft’s. Why would Microsoft change its ways now that it faces a crisis and may announce more layoffs tomorrow?

“In one piece of mail people were suggesting that Office had to work equally well with all browsers and that we shouldn’t force Office users to use our browser. This Is wrong and I wanted to correct this.”

Bill Gates [PDF]

OOXML patent issue prompt

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9 Comments

  1. David Gerard said,

    May 4, 2009 at 7:55 pm

    Gravatar

    Better than that: read this Microsoft press release. They promise *practical* interoperability. Before giving that fabulous line of red in Rob’s second table.

    Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    “If you can’t make it good, at least make it look good.”

    Bill Gates, Microsoft

  2. notzed said,

    May 4, 2009 at 9:39 pm

    Gravatar

    Really, as if m$ are going to spend any time and effort undercutting the one thing that makes them money – owning the file formats.

    Already a comment on Weir’s post suggests the ‘open source’ crowd could whip-up an importer that works around m$’s shitty exporter issues. If they do that, then all that they’ve worked for will be for nothing – just the crap with the web all over again, and another useless format which nobody can use reliably.

    Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    It’s RTF all over again.

  3. twitter said,

    May 4, 2009 at 11:50 pm

    Gravatar

    In the end, it’s not ODF that’s broken it’s Word and ignoring ODF is a critical mistake. People already hate Office 2007 and love Google Docs. People with Open Office can work with the DOC version people who use M$ Office also work with. Guess which word processor works with netbooks, the only kind of computer selling these days? The usual networking tricks are not working in M$’s favor this time. Instead of shelling out hundreds of dollars for a word processor, people are going to simply send docx to the trash. There are simply too many better and easier way to publish and collaborate than a clunky old desktop with expensive and buggy software. M$ is stuck in the 90s but the world has moved on. The more M$ breaks word, the faster people will leave it.

  4. Roy Schestowitz said,

    May 5, 2009 at 5:57 am

    Gravatar

    Here is another new take:

    Microsoft has opened the ODF door and will be pressured on better interoperability, so even my inner cynic has a hard time imagining interoperability will not improve. With Office 2007 SP2 and Wordpad in Windows 7 supporting ODF, the future looks bright for OpenDocument Format. Has Microsoft turned a new leaf? Microsoft’s recent investments in ODF, PDF, and web standards (in Internet Explorer 8) are probably more a function of government regulation or business demand than corporate goodwill.

    David Gerard Reply:

    Huh, OOOninja think anything’s better than nothing? Despite Microsoft’s best efforts to make it worse than nothing. We’ll see. Although they cleverly kept to the letter of the spec while maintaining a perfect lack of interoperability, I can’t see the promises in that press release from 2008 not coming back to bite them.

    Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    Huh, OOOninja think anything’s better than nothing?

    isn’t OOOninja tied to Sun somehow? I’d assume he has to be civil.

    David Gerard Reply:

    The author’s email address (the contact link at bottom) is @openoffice.org, so it’s an at least semi-official tips blog, yes.

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