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ODF: Microsoft Gets Its Way in Seattle, Washington

Posted in Formats, ISO, Microsoft, Novell, Office Suites, Open XML, OpenDocument, SUN at 3:44 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Mars attacks alien
“We come in peace”

Summary: OpenDocument Format (ODF) falls further into the hands of the already-corrupted ISO after a meeting that Microsoft was hosting

THE previous post showed that ODF is gaining (there is a Japanese translation in progress, which looks like this), but there is one company standing in the way, as always. Lacking desire to inter-operate with ODF [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7] (Office 2010 will still lack proper ODF support), Microsoft tries to bring this debate closer to home, as we last mentioned here. The plenary meeting of ISO/IEC JTC1/SC34 is taking place in Bellevue or Seattle, as planned all along. It’s almost as if Microsoft is to be the centre of ODF this time around and those in attendance include Microsoft folks like Alex Brown [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21], who is delighted to “create a new working group (WG 6) dedicated to servicing its responsibilities for #ODF maintenance.” Jomar Silva might become a member, but who else?

ISO standards for saleIt sure sounds like that dreaded attempt of ISO/Microsoft to take control of ODF, at the expense of OASIS. SC34 is already stuffed with Microsoft people [1, 2], most of whom have their interests disguised. It’s worth remembering that this is an SC34 meeting near Microsoft which is responsible for everything and it’s Microsoft employees who seem most pleased. Henrion from FFII is rightly angry, arguing that one should “Scrap ISO. They have a stupid system of physical meetings around the planet. I don´t have the money to travel to such meetings.”

This SC34 meeting at Microsoft sure seems to have served as a stepping stone in the hijack of ODF, which Groklaw warned about one year ago. Simon Phipps from Sun is seemingly unhappy. He asks Brown (Microsoft mole and OOXML convenor): “What responsibility does SC34 have for ODF beyond forwarding mail to OASIS?” Later he tells a Microsoft employee: “SC34′s role in ODF maintenance probably matches the Linux Foundation’s role in Windows maintenance following your kernel code drop”

Phipps is referring to this incident, which we last mentioned here. Rob Weir just posts this Q&A, leaving no clear indication of how he feels about this development, into which he could as well be pressured. “Rob Weir tells more than we probably want to know,” argues Glyn Moody.

Question: So who owns ODF maintenance?

Rob: The OASIS ODF TC owns the maintenance of the OASIS ODF standard, and WG6 will own this activity for the equivalent ISO/IEC text. However, neither committee has absolute freedom of action, both being governed by applicable procedural rules of their parent organizations, as well as various joint agreements between OASIS and JTC1.

Given the corruption at ISO [1, 2, 3, 4, 5], is this a safe bet? How did it come about and whose proposal was it?

NZOSS has also just reminded the world of XML and OOXML patents from Microsoft. This is a subject that we wrote about in:

Here is a new video from NZOSS (as Ogg Theora or Flash):

Direct link

Charles from the OpenOffice.org community had this to say:

I remember that a while ago, as I was attending a heated debate on the (in)famous standardization of OOXML. As we were arguing with Microsoft on some specification details, I happened to state all aloud that when it came to this level of security (the topic at hand was security), I had my concerns about the encryption algorithms used by the specification but that in a general sense, security relied much more on the application using the format and the underlying operating system’s level of security. I went on to say that for the specific portion of the draft we were studying, it was perhaps not necessary to waste time in fruitless discussion topics including the behavior of OOXML documents in a computer undergoing a nuclear attack and being stored on a computer facing a zero-day exploit at the same time.

The response from one of the Microsoft spokesperson (I’m coining the term spokesperson, because that’s what most of them were) was a mix of surprise and sarcasm: “Everything happens, today you agreed with us!”. And indeed, I agreed that we should continue to parse the 6000 pages-long draft.


First, one has to realize that what happened with Novell was a serious attack against free and open source software, but although it was serious, it never really had any major impact on the community itself. What I mean by this is not that it did not have any real and damageable impact on IT companies or OEMs that ended up signing phony IPR deals with Microsoft. I mean by this that when you step back, you end up realizing that even the divide it caused inside the community is not that big. There is no one “Novell Community” and one “FSF Community”. That simply never existed except perhaps in the mind of some Mono architects. Even the Ximian bunch is very much on its own; influential because of monthly salaries, and time to devout to their pet projects and an historical ties to Gnome. But aside this, the impact of the Novell agreement with Microsoft did not create the “grand schism” many feared or wished at that time.


That is, I believe, the essence of the Codeplex foundation that is described here. Forget the code for a moment, and you might come to the conclusion that either Microsoft wants to impose its views on patents and copyrights, or it genuinely wants to have a fruitful conversation with the free and open source software community. The former is only surprising as it shows a different approach, but if that’s what they’re looking to achieve I am afraid that unless this foundation comes out with the most radically innovative ideas in the field of IPR, it will fail, for the first reason I outlined much above: Nobody will follow them, except people and constituencies who have an economic incentive to do that. What is left, then, if not the latter hypothesis? Interesting times are ahead of us in this case.

Microsoft’s CodePlex Foundation is still seen as undesirable by the Free software community. It’s a subject we covered in:

The next few posts will carry on along the same theme. Microsoft’s bear hugs are merely attempts to take control of its very own opposition, thus diffusing it.

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