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The Big Stories Behind the 'Story' of OOXML

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In this hazy cloud of the CNNs and BBCs of our world, it would be far too easy to miss the more profound analyses of the state of OOXML. It's worth highlighting a few particular reports that dig deeper beneath the surface.



OOXML Still Unavailable



OOXML might indeed be a "dead format walking". Since the very beginning of the month we have been waiting for something to arrive. Many waited for a final version to arrive from ECMA (ITTF, see correction at the bottom) and complained about lack of response.

We got nothing. We were told nothing. Everyone still complains and total disregard for the process is ever more evident. According to the following new report from South Africa, the reason for this perpetual delay is not what we initially had in mind and suspected; it's not about hiding the flaws but perhaps more about the inability to get the thing done. It's a mess.

The third objection is that despite obligation to publish a final version of the standard within a month of the meeting it is almost two months since the ballot resolution meeting and no standard has been published, suggesting the OOXML format is indeed too complicated.


Later came an implicit admission from Microsoft itself, acknowledging that it had experienced great difficulties with OOXML. It tried to put a positive spin on this and characterise itself as one that opens up, not gives up. It said it was embracing ODF -- whatever that 'embrace' really means. Leaving the abuse of the proces behind is another peril.

ComputerWorld: "Arm-Twisting, Committee-Packing, Bribery..."



Microsoft may have cleared several hurdles, but people do not so easily forget how Microsoft behaved, despite the systematic and despicable denials. It was a refreshing change to find the mainstream press disseminating the following article trough the IDG tubes, which includes ComputerWorld. Rarely do you find the company accused of "bribery" in the trade journals, probably due to risk of libel lawsuits. So this one is an exception.

OK, try to follow this: Microsoft has spent the past two years slamming its Open XML file format through the process to make it an international standard. Along the way, there's been arm-twisting, committee-packing, bribery and other chicanery. But by last week, Microsoft was one step away from success.

And that's when Microsoft adopted a competing standard.

Sound crazy? Sure -- until you learn that Microsoft's own products don't actually conform to the standard that Microsoft has been twisting arms to pass. And that the competing standard, the OpenDocument format (ODF), will actually be easier to add to Microsoft Office than Open XML would be.


Microsoft may have realised this a long time ago. It could probaly confess that ODF is better, but had it done so, it would not have managed to get OOXML down ISO's throat. What we have here is a self-serving itinerary. Microsoft decided to ignore and to mock ODF in order to ensure multiple standards exist (including its own pseudo-standard, which reuses proprietary modules due to laziness). Then, having done the damage, it can swing the other way, beat the bushes for a while, and then return to the proprietary agenda, having causes enough harm and confusion.

ODF Coming Along Nicely



Regardless of Microsoft's plans for ODF, some nations, such as the Netherlands, have requirements that are stricter than most. Their intention is -- in the long term at least -- to adopt Free software and regain digital autonomy. Microsoft Office is therefore excluded while ODF is a prerequisite to the long-term goal.

Open standards and open source are not the same thing, but Microsoft goes out of its way to cause such confusion (this is a reference to the Times of India, but also see this more recent example from Reuters, right at the bottom). According to this document from the European Commission, another important step has been completed by the Dutch.

The Dutch Council of State is willing to open source its application that can centrally convert documents between open formats and proprietary formats, said Marcel Pennock, the tool's developer, Wednesday at a conference on Open Document Format (ODF) in Utrecht.

[...]

The tools converts Microsoft documents to Open Document Format and the other way around. Documents can also be saved as Portable Document Format (pdf). The council's IT department is also considering a document management system that will be using the conversion tool. "We have not decided if that document system will be built as Open Source or not. For the past fifteen years we have been working with proprietary documents. Changing that is not done instantly."


Parts of the world have moved on, especially in Europe and South America. Microsoft will the best it can to just move along and be part of this trip. It's like that friend nobody wants to drag along.

It is important -- even crucial -- not to be misled by this. As The Guardian emphasised over the weekend, "Microsoft is poised to shift from open to closed." Yes, in reality, that's the direction Microsoft it taking. Consider the shift from HTML to XAML for instance (proprietary and patent-encumbered lock-in, which it markets as "Open-Source Compatible” although it excludes GNU/Linux).

Microsoft became more sophisticated in the way it disguises that shift from consensus (standards) to closed (proprietary), using words like "Open" just for advertising purposes. Remember Live Mesh, which portrays and markets itself as "open", but does not support GNU/Linux. Many other examples exist which are recent enough to be noteworthy, but not in this post (due to scope).

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