Bonum Certa Men Certa

Germany Leans Towards ODF, GNOME Receives Public Correction

On issues that were overlooked, but mustn't

There is some good early scoop over at Heise.de. If you care about document formats, then you'd better check it out.

Mr. Yadava declared ODF to be a way out of the current file format chaos that went hand-in-hand with a high risk of data loss. In other parts of India too there is no longer any way around the Open Document Format. "We no longer accept Word documents," Yatindra Singh, a judge at the High Court in Allahabad, declared. These were not easy to convert into ODF-compatible files, he stated.


"The reason is the rising tension between myself and some GNOME/Mono people (not just SUSE/Novell anymore)."Many more valuable arguments and facts can be found in this article. They help demonstrate the fact that ODF is the way to go, whereas proprietary formats, such as OOXML (yes, XML does not make anything necessarily open), do not belong in governments. If you look for further information on OOXML and ODF, also consider this collection of good articles from Andy Updegrove. They should hopefully sum up this debate reasonably well.

The main reason for writing this post is not the news from Germany, no matter how encouraging that may seem. The main prorpose of this quick post is the rising tension between myself and some GNOME/Mono people (not just SUSE/Novell anymore). While I'm receiving messages about how much of "an idiot" I am for presenting facts and analysis in this Web site, I thought the following discussion, which also includes minor corrections and opposing views, would be worth sharing. It would also be fair by those who voice opposition.

I'll refer to good arguments that are made by GNOME in this case, but they can be at times be generalised to overlap with Novell and Mono. I'm omitting most references and links in order to save time.

I've been getting some flak from a very senior GNOME developer, Jeff Waugh, so there are a few things which require corrections and clarification. I did this before when he convinced me that we had made accidental mistakes (inaccuracies or misinterpretations).

The first complaint refers to the fact that we put together argument without consulting to more sources and asking further questions to bring balance or definite, objective truth. As an example, Jeff begs to differ on our phrases which say that the GNOME Foundation has a controversial stance on OOXML. He says that Boycott Novell suggests this without reservation although this is not truly the case.

There are two issues at hand here. First, we may have been incorrect when it comes to the stance of GNOME as a whole. The reference I was relying on is the open letter that reached Slashdot shortly after we had cited it. I do always try to cite sources when I make arguments and I still opine that any stance which supports OOXML is controversial. OOXML itself is controversial for a million and one reasons.

Secondly, this is a case of disagreement, not necessarily a case of being right or wrong. I firmly believe and have stubbornly argued that many countries are moving to ODF, so there is no reason to take the tactless route of the OpenDocument Alliance (ODF snobbery) instead of instilling confidence in people's minds as far as ODF goes. ODF needs momentum. OOXML is its enemy, not its complement. Harmonisation is unlikely here because Microsoft wants to render ODF irrelevant, redundant, and scarcely-used. To be fair, ODF has similar goals that go in the reverse direction, which eliminates vendor lock-in.

Moving on to another point, we made an inaccurate assertion when the following sentence was used: "The GNOME team is, sadly enough, helping the Microsoft agenda. It’s an agenda of lock-in — a digital dark age." There was a poor generalisation here and I should have typed down something that excludes GNOME as a whole and only addresses those that support OOXML (Miguel de Icaza, for example, loves it) and those that promote the use of Mono at the expense of other (and better) ways.

Referring to a discussion we've had before, Jeff compared Mono to other technologies that make use of or mimic Microsoft technologies. As examples he listed Samba's implementation of SMB/CIFS and Wine's implementation of Win32. He also referred to "OpenOffice.org, Abiword, Gnumeric, KOffice, and plenty of other Open Source projects implement the binary Microsoft formats." He wanted to know if that was wrong and whether it was "helping the Microsoft agenda," as we had argued in a different context. My answer would be "no" because OOXML is not yet approved and it is not mature in terms of market presence. It can be stopped before it reaches a critical mass and the many recent governments' migration to ODF is proof of this.

With regard to Gnumeric, Jeff wanted to clarify something which is very important.

Jody implemented the beginnings of OOXML support for Gnumeric. You should at least attempt to portray reality, instead of suggesting that "GNOME" in general has OOXML as part of its agenda. That's simply not the case, and a basic understanding of the operation of Free Software projects would make that pretty obvious.


I apologise if I incorrectly assumed that GNOME/Gnumeric as a whole had given some signs acceptance towards and for OOXML. I saw similar signs in KOffice, for what it's worth, and Gary Edwards agreed on this issue in my long communications with him. Some other projects, not just GNOME, appear to be testing some waters elsewhere, albeit not defecting ('changing teams') completely. In anyevent, the issue which involves OOXML can and should be separated from the risky generalisation that points to GNOME. My bad, Jeff.

The attacks on our reporting style continues, which led to further disagreements. Several days ago I said that some people consider this site controversial. One of our readers responded to say that this was not the case as we do indeed present the truth. This was one among the comments that truly mean a lot to me personally, but I try to keep my character and my feelings off this site entirely. Let's make this the exception.

I beg to differ on some issues that Jeff has raised with regards to the site's reputation and presentation. It is important to clarify that we actually do research on various topics and then present our interpretation. We analyse an interesting (yet somewhat complex) situation, so there is room for errors and misinterpretation. A lot of guessing and speculation is involved because there is no other way. None of this is based on press releases that are informative, factual, but sometimes biased and promotional.

The core of this Web site is essentially a cross-linked blog with external sources and comments that fuel further discussions. We are here to explore some issues of interest -- issues that are tightly interwined. The level of coverage this site offers cannot be equated to that of articles, which is why I am hereby posting a clarification and offer corrections that reflect on things Jeff has told me. We can correct and annul things that we have made guesses about, some of which are incorrect and some of which miss another crucial point ofview. Some of Jeff's points are very valid indeed and it was important to bring up his perspective.

Further, according to Jeff, with reference to GNOME:

How is keeping Microsoft on their toes in their own working group in ECMA "supporting OOXML"? The open letter was a knee-jerk reaction based on very little information, and without the benefit of any contact with folks from GNOME. The guy made a bunch of assumptions. I'm participating in the thread on odf-discuss (an "Open Document Fellowship" list) if you want more fodder from someone who is actually involved:

http://lists.opendocumentfellowship.com/pipermail/odf-discuss/2007-October/thread.html (down the bottom)


I couldn't help but notice other people who take part in the discussions as well, e.g. here.

Some of the arguments tend to be a case of going around in circles. It is truly a case of chicken-and-egg (support and adoption for two competing format, one of which is an international standard).

Jeff insists that OOXML is still going to be implemented for GNOME users to have, despite the growing adoption of ODF. I don't believe it's the right route to take. He rightly add, however, that "wrestling better docs out of Microsoft is a great thing to do. Participating on the ECMA working group is not "support for OOXML"".

Consider this a disclosure that presents the other side of the story. You can judge for yourselves what is right and what is wrong. Let's just carry on presenting some findings and let the readers decide.

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