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05.06.09

Embrace, Extend, and Microsoft Wants to Toss IBM Out of ODF

Posted in IBM, Microsoft, Office Suites, Open XML, OpenDocument, Standard at 8:08 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Steve Ballmer on ODF

Summary: Microsoft brings the most familiar shills to assist with spin and disinformation; it also wants Rob Weir out

THERE IS unnecessary drama brewing at the moment because — as John Drinkwater puts it — Rob Weir said: “Microsoft [is] calling for my removal as Co-Chair of the ODF TC [technical committee]. Evidently I’ve hurt their feelings.

“And now Microsoft wants to remove Rob Weir.”Hurt their feelings by showing the expected outcome? Let’s face it, Microsoft has attacked ODF right from the start. There is no reason to believe that it changed its ways. On numerous occasions over the past few months we’ve provided evidence to show that Microsoft is still hostile towards ODF.

Microsoft’s attempt to pretend to embrace, extend and extinguish support ODF are made clear by a half-hearted, semi-baked implementation (yes, that too is a Microsoft products ‘standard’). As Balrog says in the IRC channel, “even Microsoft’s sponsored ODF plugin performs better.” And as this man puts it, “Microsoft [is] deliberately subverting ODF universal document format in new Office 2007 release. Flood help lines! Demand proper usability!”

And now Microsoft wants to remove Rob Weir. How dare they?

Heise describes this horrible mistreatment from Microsoft merely as a “dispute” between two vendors.

Microsoft’s release of Open Document Format (ODF) support in Service Pack 2 for Office 2007 has triggered a war of words over the handling of spreadsheet formulas. Rob Weir has posted the results of his interoperability testing of various applications which claim ODF compatibility. Weir’s results show Microsoft ODF support as failing on spreadsheet tests with nearly all other applications.

Microsoft already brings out the shills from the Burton Group, whom it paid handsomely to attack ODF in the form of several jobs (full-time wages) and contracts. Wake up and smell the coffee. It’s no coffee, it’s AstroTurfing in suits. Or as Microsoft calls this:

“Analysts sell out – that’s their business model… But they are very concerned that they never look like they are selling out, so that makes them very prickly to work with.”

Microsoft, internal document [PDF]

There is some more coverage of this from Eric Lai at IDG, but both him and the publication are Microsoft-oriented. We wrote about this many times before. The same goes for ZDNet, which at least opens with:

Microsoft has come under fire for spreadsheet interoperability issues in its latest release of Office 2007 SP2, but the company said it is an issue inherent in ODF (Open Document Format) 1.1.

The software giant released last week the second service pack for Office 2007, which provides support for documents saved in the ODF 1.1 format.

Charles too is already weighing in.

If we are to believe several reports who all link to Rob Weir’s own thorough review , Microsoft has not only done a poor job implementing ODF, it has also ended up into a quite unique endless loop phenomenon . What this basically means is that in some instances
ODF documents created by Microsoft Office will only be readable and editable in… Microsoft Office. How was this possible? Apparently when you want to mess up something, you always find ways to do so.

While it’s clear that Microsoft uses paid mouthpieces to borrow some lip service and pseudo-support, one must careful of what is said out there. It could, after all, come from the army of hundreds of Waggeners & Edstroms [1, 2]. Microsoft uses PR against objective press. It has always done that.

“It’s a Simple Matter of [Microsoft’s] Commercial Interests!“

Microsoft on OOXML

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15 Comments

  1. Needs Sunlight said,

    May 7, 2009 at 4:27 am

    Gravatar

    FWIW being “mean” is M$ code speak for knowing about technology.

    Part of it is that M$ shills, fanbois and even general users have become so divested from reality and mainstream computing that it is literally impossible to have a professional level conversation with them. Every few sentences, there is a phrase or term that will require an extensive explanation to fill in their gaps in knowledge. Eventually they dismiss the knowledge as being ‘mean’ or making fun of their ignorance.

    How about instead of attacking and dragging down the few people left doing good in IT, M$ boosters open their wallets and pay restitution for the damage they are causing. If we look just at the Windows worms alone, each one trashes the world economy to the tune of double-digit billions — for each Windows worm. It should be straight forward to solve. Make a list of current and present certified gold partners, MSCEs, etc. and add up their net worth and then apportion the restitution payments proportionally. Alternately, we can just take the lot of them out near a scrap yard specializing in old tires and necklace the lot.

  2. Roy Schestowitz said,

    May 7, 2009 at 4:34 am

    Gravatar

    Reuters has just put up the IDG piece and Yoon Kit writes to Rob Weir:

    MS did the exact thing which David Wheeler warned us about and now MS is blaming ODF? Embrace, Exploit loopholes, Extinguish.

    Needs Sunlight Reply:

    @Roy: That’s not an IDG peice, that’s a Reuters’ peice:

    http://www.reuters.com/article/idgSmallBusiness/idUS381511037220090507

    In other words the link will die in a few days.

    Also, this is an ongoing part of their anti-standards strategy outlined in the Halloween Documents. Specifically regarding ODF, since Massachusetts, MS shills have been trying to belittle the massive commercial backing behind ODF by trying to pretend it is an IBM thing.

    Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    That’s an important point there about IDG also casting this as Big Bad IBM versus Microsoft. See what I wrote about Heise.

    Jason Brooks from eWeek is currently testing MSO07 SP2 for ODF support. He’s no IBMer, so his results may be interesting. Be aware that Waggener Edstrom did give Jason a new Vista 7 laptop.

  3. Roy Schestowitz said,

    May 7, 2009 at 5:17 am

    Gravatar

    More in Linux Pro Magazine.

  4. Will said,

    May 7, 2009 at 6:56 am

    Gravatar

    I think Microsoft may be correct here in stating that, for them, their Office 2007 SP2 compatibility problem is an issue with ODF 1.1.

    After all, ODF is an *open* standard, and we all know that Microsoft has severe allergic reactions to “open.” Maybe that’s why Ballmer sometimes gets so sweaty on stage?

  5. Jose_X said,

    May 8, 2009 at 6:38 am

    Gravatar

    The following comment was sent in hours ago and still has not posted. I’ll added here [with minor edits and an addition at the end] just in case.
    *****
    It surprises me that the Openoffice developers can figure out many details of Microsoft’s closed formats [this requires a lot of hard work and desire for interoperability], yet apparently Microsoft can’t be bothered to attempt interoperability in such an important area (spreadsheet formulas) with the most popular open source competing product. They have the software for testing purposes and a liberal license to go with it. They have the source code. They have the source code! What were they waiting for? And this is even more shocking when you consider that Openoffice was not the lone product where Microsoft failed in this important area. Openoffice compatibility would have simply been the easiest to acquire.

    It’s difficult to believe Microsoft had an interest in interoperability when you consider this decision they made. Maybe they were trying to make a statement: that interoperability with important open source products (whose blueprints they have) is not something they value whenever the spec does not mandate it.

    Further, iirc, Rob Weir pointed out that Microsoft had access to implementations that already worked more sensibly (ie, with greater degree of interoperability). Why did they decide not to leverage that interop work? So people drop interop aids onto Microsoft’s laps, it almost seems, and Microsoft doesn’t take it up because the spec does not mandate it?

    Incompetence or bad will? .. or is Microsoft running out of money and trimmed down their interop division significantly?

    >> “..You’re challenging us all to go where none have dared tread before. So go ahead and lead the way. You have the TC’s attention. We are listening. As you grind out the grit of your proposal, please keep in mind that we have to fit proposed solutions into the politic of work that has already been done. A politic that represents years of work that is just now on it’s way to ratification at OASIS, and beyond to ISO. Keep in mind also that the ISO certification comes at the request of the European Union. Time is of the essence. Ratification perhaps trumps perfection. At least for the moment.”

    >> …I seem to remember some dialog from Rob about Open XML being “rushed” through standardization. Funny how those things come back to haunt you.

    In what way did the author of this posting think this was evidence favorable to Microsoft?

    When we compare what transpired, I suppose Rob Weir has a higher standard for the less-than-perfect than does Microsoft.

    While Microsoft was not worried about putting all sorts of half-baked information into a rushed OOXML standards process, Rob Weir apparently did want to maintain a high level of quality for ODF (which, iirc, was shown to the public for a much longer period of time than was ooxml before becoming standards).

    It would not surprise me one bit to learn that someone from Microsoft in Rob’s shoes wouldn’t have hesitated to throw in a half-baked formula spec.

    BTW, this happened years ago. Since them there has been a lot of formula work that has taken place.

    The results speak for themselves, as Rob pointed out. Microsoft’s offering did a horrible job at interoperability. I’m still not sure I know what was Microsoft’s excuse. I can say this much, if Microsoft would be as generous with the Openoffice community as the Openoffice community has been with Microsoft (in revealing the entire blueprints of their product), then I am sure it is very likely that the Openoffice community will even do some of the interop work on Microsoft’s behalf and for no charge. [I have to wonder if Microsoft is not having resource issues.]

    Finally, as concerns the focus on OOXML within Rob’s blog (someone claimed that fact implied Rob was not dedicated to ODF or something along those lines), I guess it’s a bit upsetting to him that OOXML had so many problems yet was then rushed through the standards process. I guess it was upsetting to him that Microsoft checked off on ODF and was asked for input yet decided to muddy the standards picture afterwards by throwing a competing standard into the fray.

    Microsoft’s track record of interop is dismal. Interop kills monopoly profits, so I am not surprised they find it difficult cooperating with others. It’s tough to ask employees to work hard at interop when it will likely diminish the paycheck they will take home and even their job security.

    Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    Microsoft’s track record of interop is dismal. Interop kills monopoly profits, so I am not surprised they find it difficult cooperating with others.

    That’s why the Commission needs to intervene. This “free” market theory simply does not compute.

    Kavey Reply:

    I don’t have a problem with a free market system. The problem is not the free market, but the public that ignore what a free market should mean. i.e. if someone produces a bad product you don’t buy it. If someone is intentionally breaking compatibility, you stop purchasing said product until it’s fixed. The real problem isn’t the system, it’s the fact that people are lazy and don’t want to do what is required to fix the system. Instead of answering back with their pocketbooks, they are relying on laws to do the dirty work.

    Free market is great for many things, but terrible when people just shrug their shoulders and hope someone else will solve the problems. I had this very conversation with a good friend of mine who basically agreed that Microsoft uses underhanded tactics to get ahead and proceeded to say “They’ll be punished by the government later.” Or even my favorite argument against DRM which they also agree is dumb, but shrug their shoulders at the content providers and says “someone will figure out a way to work around it.”

    It’s someone else problem to solve.

    Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    I think the problem is different. MSO users will put the blame on ODF, claiming it is defective (or that OOo won’t open their MSODF files and thus there is something wrong with it).

    Most consumers don’t read ODF/OOXML news.

    Kavey Reply:

    Ignorance also does not work in a free market system, and too many people choose to remain ignorant too.

    Jose_X Reply:

    http://boycottnovell.com/2009/05/06/embrace-extend-and-expel/comment-page-1/#comment-63201 did get posted, but some more comments are pending (half a day). It may help to understand what sorts of things Microsoft (rep) says to our replies, so I’ll repost below. Apologies if it seems long and a bit confusing in places. The summary is that Gray appeared to me to be diverting attention from what I said (hard work of “unpaid” FOSS guys), and tried to leverage that to suggest that ODF is not as good for interop as would be closed Excel formats. If you look carefully, I implied no such thing, he supported my case, and then I explain what I really think about ODF vs closed formats.
    ************
    I said: >> It surprises me that the Openoffice developers can figure out many details of Microsoft’s closed format

    Gray Knowlton said: >> And it surprises me even more that Rob’s & Doug’s tests are likely to have an “OK” mark in every table cell if binary formats were used instead of ODF.

    I think you dodged the question, or we are not understanding each other.

    Let me address what you said. Assuming your suspicions would turn out to be true, principally this would say that Microsoft’s binary formats, for the relatively simple test file that was created, has been deciphered quite well by others so as to be read accurately and be written in a similar enough way.

    For the most part, this just means that the OpenOffice contributors have deciphered the closed Excel format and have shared the implementation details with everyone else.

    The OpenOffice contributors have also “deciphered” the ODF format (the spreadsheet subpart) and shared it with others, but perhaps this has not been done as successfully (at least if you are correct and for the particular test file Rob Weir created), or, more likely, some of these other products simply have not yet found the time or commitment to get this done for ODF.

    This explanation (which I believe is fairly accurate) that I just provided for your observation supports my initial remark: that the OpenOffice people work hard for interop while Microsoft does not. In particular, when Microsoft defined the format, others worked very hard to achieve interop despite all the hurdles. However, when the rest of the world had their turn and defined a format, and, unlike Microsoft, made it public and provided an open source reference implementation, Microsoft still failed to achieve interop even for a fairly simple test file.

    I’m not sure why you avoided a direct reply to me. Nevertheless, I believe you were insinuating some things with your reply, but things that I think are inaccurate. For example, I think you wanted to suggest, without outright saying so, that binary formats like a Microsoft Excel format can achieve a greater degree of interoperability than can be achieved from an open format like ODF which even has a de facto known open source reference implementation. Your “proof” would be that the binary formats would be implemented interoperably by everyone. Meanwhile, most, but not everyone (with the obvious exception of Microsoft), would be able to do same for ODF.

    I have a problem with this insinuation about the relative interoperability properties of ODF vs Excel closed formats, but, before getting into more detail as to why I think the suggestion doesn’t hold much water, let me point out that your comparison speaks badly for Microsoft: When we talk about Excel binary formats, everyone can figure it out, right; however, when we talk about ODF, everyone can pretty much figure it out except for Microsoft.

    Most people would probably agree with Rob and others that this result speaks badly for Microsoft. Who knows if the reason has to do with competence, intentions, or something else.

    Alright, so why is ODF a better format than Excel closed format, when it comes to interoperability?

    To start, let me point out something you appeared to have overlooked. ODF is very new. There is a lot more interop that has been achieved in these short years than was possible in the early years of the binary formats (eg, the Excel formats).

    Perhaps you might argue that the Internet and software is more advanced today and blah blah. This is true, but one thing to realize is that compatibility with the Excel closed formats has improved recently as well. In short, we have apples and oranges to some extent, so let’s look at some other attributes.

    First, ODF is defined openly. Excel’s closed formats are not. Without getting into details, I’ll just say that being given a blueprint makes your task easier than if you have to figure everything out through reverse engineering. [This is more so if the closed formats can change over time without you realizing it because the formats are defined by a single monopoly application that changes every single time it is updated or patched (which can happen at any point in time on Windows, without it being clear that such is happening).]

    A second reason why I believe ODF is superior is that ODF comes with a known de facto reference open source implementation while the Excel closed formats do not. Again, having such reference material accessible just adds to the amount of information that is publicly available. More information means your job is easier. Source code is actually about the most you can ask for if you want to guarantee interoperability. As a bonus, there are many open forums, mailing lists, documentation, bug reports, and other resources to further aid the developers seeking to improve interop.

    A third item to look at is that ODF leverages existing standards. This means all interested parties have a headstart in building interoperable implementations. The knowledge, experience, and implementations for large subsets of ODF are already out there.

    A fourth point is that because a lot more existing documents are encrypted in Excel closed formats than are encoded in ODF open formats, there is a much greater need to find interop with these closed formats. Thus Excel’s formats were working from a position of advantage over ODF in terms of having everyone’s attention and dedication.

    Finally, I might as well contrast ODF with OOXML a little.

    As with the Excel closed formats above, OOXML does not have an open source reference implementation nor nearly as many of the other public extras (even the official ISO OOXML is not finalized from what I heard). Also OOXML does not leverage nearly as many existing open standards as does ODF. [This is one reason why OOXML has more flaws. Its component parts have simply been much less peer reviewed when compared with ODF. Interoperability may not even be possible in many more cases (eg, inconsistencies and ambiguities) vs ODF.]

    Jose_X Reply:

    Here is another comment not yet posted. Here he invokes goose/gander over OOXML not being complete to itself ..just like ODF isn’t, despite supposedly ODF getting a free pass. I don’t know the context under which Rob made that statement, but I mention the issue of degree. Most importantly, Openoffice is open to all to inspect in real-time. Though not ideal, it augments the ODF spec. The prob with OOXML, besides having a greater number of ugly issues, is that there is no ref impl either; thus, interop is thwarted and even simple fixes will require much reverse engineering effort and arrive late if at all. Microsoft’s unfair playing field is that while we give them immediate access to precise implementation details (ODF), they only want to give a delayed access (to OOXML) and only as a black box. This guarantees that by the time we have fixed some issues (and lost many customers because of MS’s monopoly push), MS has time to be onto the next set of undocumented extensions.
    *********
    >> “one [supposedly] cannot implement Open XML using the specification alone.”
    >> So many people on my post (and Rob himself) are claiming that this is fine for ODF, but a reason to vote no on Open XML.

    Let me give you my take.

    I agree that both ODF and OOXML have flaws. Being generous to the OOXML side and assuming these two each have the same measurement for “flaws”, it’s still true that ODF essentially has an open source reference implementation while OOXML has nothing near that.

    For ODF, this means everyone can look at the “reference implementation” for the marginal pieces of the ODF spec. That is not an ideal situation, but it’s tough (or impossible) to define a large standard in a reasonable amount of time that is virtually perfect and has no gray areas. This is why I think interoperability to a high degree for a featureful and growing open standard only make sense in the context of open source (eg, reference implementations). Regardless of what others think on this last issue, it’s difficult to argue that having an open implementation isn’t a great aid to achieving interop.

    Jose_X Reply:

    This last one is likely about Microsoft trickery (if not arrogance). See, according to this theory, because we didn’t go the extra mile for them, they want us to believe that in itself is a legitimate excuse for them failing. Well, not only is the concept that “we owe them” absurd, it’s to their loss if they don’t want to put real effort in.
    **********
    Gary, you have mentioned numerous times that Microsoft had some sort of forum where people could give their input. However, it should be Microsoft the one participating on ODF or OpenOffice forums, and, for all I know, they already do, perhaps extensively.. and still failed.

    The issue here, as I see it, isn’t to beg Microsoft to be nice. We are all competing, after all. The issue is if Microsoft doesn’t attempt to be nice, then why should customers use Microsoft products that fail at interop when other strong products succeed? If Microsoft’s products don’t have an open source compatible “second source” (as somewhat of a customer hedge against lock-in), but some other company’s products do, then why should that customer opt for a costly lock-in into Microsoft’s flavor of ODF that cannot be used from independent third party implementations (in particular, from open source implementations)?

    If customers did not care about hedging, they would not care about ODF and standards in the first place. If they wanted to surrender control and the future of their documents to a sole vendor (having a monopoly over their documents), then why bother with ODF and standards in the first place?

    Hence, for the sake of this discussion, I have to assume customers care about interop and hence will take note of Microsoft’s failures. If this bothers Microsoft, it makes sense to me that Microsoft will be active in the future visiting ODF forums in order to get the answers it needs to achieve interop. Others have found a way and customers will likely reward them. It’s not in the interest of competitors to help out Microsoft. They may still help, for example, the OpenOffice developers provide the entire blueprints/source code to their product, but, certainly, the one to benefit by getting it right is Microsoft. It’s folly to expect anyone but Microsoft to go the extra mile to help a Microsoft product.

  6. rich said,

    May 8, 2009 at 10:11 pm

    Gravatar

    Expecting a hero, an intermediary (whether it’s the government, standards bodies or others) is eschewing our collective responsibilities. We have gotten lazy. Vigilance is a lot of work. But then again, have we ever experienced a free market? Do we know what a free market should look like?

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