05.23.08

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Document Formats Roundup: ODF Gets the Upper Hand

Posted in Africa, Antitrust, Europe, Formats, Microsoft, Office Suites, Open XML, OpenDocument, Standard at 11:52 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

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ODF Advocacy News

Pieter Hintjens has announced that on Wednesday they signed the Hague Declaration. “We signed four copies. One went to the Royal Dutch Archives, one will remain with Digistan, and we’ll sell two on eBay to raise funds for our work.” We address this issue simply because readers have asked. So… it’s done. Signed and completed. Now we must only cope with scary people, to whom Digistan seems like some satanic ritual.

Yesterday we wrote yet again about the study from New York (additionally mentioned in [1, 2]), which serves as an objective analysis suggesting that only one document format should rule them all. That format seems likely to be ODF after Microsoft’s change of heart. To explain this change of heart, consider what Slated said last night in a discussion group:

It’s pretty obvious Microsoft is making concessions in order to soften the blow of the inevitable antitrust findings, rather than it being just a hand-waving exercise.

Looks like the old schoolboy trick of admitting to the lesser crime, to divert attention away from the bigger one. Bribery and corruption are such ugly words.”

Back again to the New York study, there’s some decent coverage of it in The Inquirer.

It is an interesting turn of fate that sees US legislators recommend dismantling a vital means for Microsoft to hold its dominant world position in desktop software, yet make those same US commercial interests central to the nascent international document standard, while ensuring a powerful lobby of the ISO in the interests of US government.

Looking back a little further, you can find this formal response [PDF] from the ODF Alliance. It was quoted widely in the media.

The ODF Alliance today greeted with scepticism Microsoft’s announcement of its intention to include support for the OpenDocument Format in the first half of 2009. “The proof will be whether and when Microsoft’s promised support for ODF is on par with its support for its own format. Governments will be looking for actual results, not promises in press releases,” said Marino Marcich, managing director of the ODF Alliance.

Memories also return from OpenMalaysia which, needless to say, isn’t too impressed by Microsoft’s endless spin. Here’s one for a chuckle.

Then a few weeks ago (April 2008), we had the famous words of Malaysia’s very own Yasmin Mahmood, “The industry just wants to have the best innovation; they want to have the freedom of choice. The whole idea is not about choosing, it’s about having a choice … and that is what customers and partners want.”

Take a moment to think about this one.

OOXML Flaws

Here is yet another article which elaborates on Microsoft’s technical difficulties with its own format. How can a company — any company for that matter — struggle to implement a specification that was derived from its own implementation in the first place?

Microsoft has admitted that it won’t be adding support for the new OOXML standard in Office 2007 Service Pack 2 because of its complexity.

This says a lot about the volume of deficiencies in OOXML, does it not? We addressed such issues the other day (software bugs as a standard).

Schools

Microsoft’s nightmare scenario is becoming more of a reality already. What’s that nightmare, you ask? Consumer choice. Tenders and bids for government contracts. Should we not expect those to be the default choice and simply take them for granted? Limitation of choice has, for a long time, been on Microsoft’s side.

“Limitation of choice has, for a long time, been on Microsoft’s side.”For many years, Microsoft has relied on the fact that nothing “worked properly” unless you bought Microsoft Office. This enabled Microsoft to fix the prices, overcharge, exclude GNU/Linux (bar Wine), and persist with an iron fist attitude whenever features are requested, discounts seen as needed, or critical security patches craved for.

We mentioned the following development in a hurry (and thus very briefly) a couple of days ago. Now comes this article from the British press about the opening of doors that could soon bring Free software to more schools, or at least facilitate choice.

Officially sanctioned open source and free-to-use software could be in use across the UK education system within months after government education agency Becta issued a tender for a four-year framework agreement.

Becta is looking for up to 10 software suppliers to participate in the £80m framework that will launch in October. This will replace its software licensing framework, in place since April 2005.

The contract notice says: “We are particularly seeking suppliers which can provide a comprehensive choice of software solutions including appropriate open source and free-to-use alternatives and advise users on best-value licensing.”

Solutions should be cost-effective, but provide freedom of choice, said a Becta spokeswoman.

“We’re providing guidance on the educational elements and looking for suppliers that can provide comprehensive choice,” she said.

There are still some important questions to be answered. For example, would Microsoft charge for an Office and Windows licence covering all computers regardless of what's actually installed on them?

The following other article wrongly gives credit to Microsoft, as if the company did something because of kindness. In fact, it has done pretty much nothing other than tossing some words in blogs and a press release. We shall see how that vapourware comes along [1, 2, 3, 4], but we won’t know for sure any time soon, will we? Maybe in 2009. Maybe later. Microsoft rarely delivers anything on time and excuses are the marketing model.

In a development that could make it easier for schools to use cheaper, open technologies instead of proprietary programs, Microsoft said it will make its Office 2007 software compatible with the OpenDocument Format (ODF).

Assuming they deliver at all. Can’t wait for Longhorn (due by 2003)!

South Africa Revisited

Microsoft must really, really hate (or be afraid of) South Africa at the moment. The insults are very telling and the formal complaint which soon followed put some dark clouds over OOXML. Yesterday we argued that South Africa could soon find other nations joining the opposition, following its lead and its example in a way.

Norway, for instance, has just revealed, due to South Africa serving a blow to Microsoft, that it’s working to reverse its vote and the same type of action is considered or already taken in other countries whose post mortems reveal evidence of corruption too compelling to ignore. The embargo proposal is still on and Microsoft's popularity very low in Europe.

If you wish to know more about South Africa’s impact on OOXML, then have a look at the following new articles (listed in no special order).

This is from Glyn Moody:

When the ISO vote was “won” by OOXML, many spoke of challenging the result, but nobody actually took that step. Until now…

[...]

Also worth noting here is the growing stature of the South African computer community in terms of standing up for open standards and open source, which is great to see. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Microsoft’s Jason Matusow has recently attacked the South African government for its policies on computer procurement – a sure sign they’re doing something right.

Andy’s post was among the first few to highlight this development and Groklaw commented further on it:

I wonder if this is why Microsoft suddenly decided to support ODF, to avoid being shut out completely pending the appeal. Might other national bodies be considering doing the same thing? Stay tuned.

[...]

So. OOXML is not currently an official standard? I think that is what this means. It will take months, at least, I believe, to resolve this. So, to me the ODF support announcement by Microsoft yesterday suddenly makes sense. I wrote a bit about the appeal process here, if you want to review it. In the immortal words of Yogi Berra, it ain’t over till it’s over.

Quite a lot in these South African affairs has had to do with economics, stereotypes, and imperialism. At verge and risk of crossing over to non-technical aspects of this, consider another noteworthy comment.

South Africa has done what many other countries (presumably through corruption or laziness) have so far failed to do – call out the obvious. I guess a country like South Africa that was denied freedom for so long, truly values freedom for the same reason, while the rest of us just take it for granted.

To quote a comment from Ed landaveri (posted in our site a couple of hours ago):

   “Africa (and the whole Third World) needs Microsoft lik
   it needed colonialism.” Mr. Paul Saunders

Matusow is only reflecting his bosses a band of scared tyrants afraid of people waking up to real freedom. Matsulow have entered into history along side many idiots who spoke of racial superiority or justified genocide. The only dumbs in SA and the whole world are the ones who could swallow Matusow’s rhetoric.” he said.

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3 Comments

  1. Yuhong Bao said,

    May 24, 2008 at 12:33 am

    Gravatar

    In fact, MS is admitting defeat for OOXML by adding ODF support to Office 2007.

  2. Roy Schestowitz said,

    May 24, 2008 at 1:03 am

    Gravatar

    I’m not so sure about it because while it’s a defeat, Microsoft could try to snatch a victory and turn the situation to its own advantage from inside the Committee. Remember Patrick Durusau? Watch this photo:

    http://adjb.net/index.php?entry=entry080409-221633

  3. AlexH said,

    May 24, 2008 at 4:26 am

    Gravatar

    Poor Patrick getting stick again.

    I read the ZDNet article as saying that the OOXML complexity was about having a single version of Office potentially reading two different formats, and how they would handle the upgrade, not that the changes for OOXML were so complex they had to punt them.

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