01.21.11

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OOXML a Descent Into Dark Ages in Today’s Age of Collaboration

Posted in Australia, Novell, Open XML, OpenDocument, OpenOffice at 9:07 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

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Summary: Microsoft’s OOXML is proving to be more of a farce now that people in Australia respond to absurd suggestions; Novell influence in LibreOffice is poisonous (promotes OOXML); some businesses may choose hosted spreadsheets that can render the formats debate less relevant

SOME days ago we wrote about Australia making a fatal mistake (post available in Spanish too) by assuming that Microsoft’s proprietary formats will help ensure compatibility. The stupidity surrounding this assertion has been noted just about everywhere by now. Rob Weir from IBM wrote:

Australia has rejected the ISO version of OOXML and gone with the Ecma version that ISO rejected. Is everything upside down there?

Later he added:

@homembit It is a slap in the face for the OOXML efforts in SC34. With PDF they specified the ISO version, for example.

Microsoft’s 'fox' Alex Brown already spins it in Twitter and in his blog. How appalling. And other OOXML drones like Jesper Lund Stocholm are there as well, as expected. But anyway, the subject has been covered extensively by now (if not here then elsewhere) and we are a lot more concerned about Novell’s influence inside LibreOffice. It continues to cause problems, based on this LWN report which has just been made publicly available. It says:

Just before the end of the year, Larry Gusaas called on the LibreOffice community to refuse to support the writing of OOXML files. Standard OpenOffice.org is able to read such files, but will not write them; that is, according to Larry, how things should be. But LibreOffice is based on the Go-oo project, which is the version of OpenOffice.org which has actually been shipped by most Linux distributions. This version does have the ability to write OOXML files; thus, LibreOffice does as well.

Quite a few people supported Larry’s desire for read-only OOXML support in LibreOffice; one could easily peruse the thread and come to the conclusion that the LibreOffice community is overwhelming opposed to the idea of writing in that format. Even so, a number of LibreOffice developers have made it clear (repeatedly) that they have no intention of removing the ability to write OOXML files. There is, thus, no need to worry that we might have to go on using Go-oo after all.

We wrote about this before [1, 2]. Just a day or so ago it was a Novell employee who announced the latest release/build of LibreOffice, so there is room for concern. Novell was paid by Microsoft to support OOXML and LibreOffice should stay true to its promise of avoiding OOXML.

As one last bit of news, consider as food for thought the fact that more companies choose collaboration with SaaS, including wikis for example. Google Apps is one example of it, but there are more. The IDG article “Why some companies are ditching their spreadsheets” sheds some more light about what may become a trend, especially now that spreadsheets become ever more massive and sometimes require compute clusters to work with.

Cohen’s frustration with spreadsheets is not unique. As decision-making becomes more collaborative and workforces grow more distributed and global, the days of compiling a spreadsheet, mailing or e-mailing it to colleagues, then manually inputting updates and re-sending it seem antiquated.

A transition to the back end (server) for large operations on massive databases may lead to further distancing from Microsoft Office/OOXML. Maybe it is time to rethink the relevance of interchange formats that mostly apply to desktop computing.

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4 Comments

  1. twitter said,

    January 21, 2011 at 1:39 pm

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    A rethink is in order but the formats are still important. As even Ars Technia noticed in 2009, desktop PCs are “the new typewriter” and that kind of document flow is obsolete. Wikis and other services are going to take over and already have in many places. These can as easily be run by IT departments using free software as they can be farmed out. The formats used for exchanging the information are still important because it is important for people to be able to work on these things on their own and to have control of where things go. Individual access and control of work will always be required at companies that don’t want to operate the way the former Soviet Union did. Non free software in general is something that should be rejected by people and companies that value their freedom and efficient operation.

    Dr. Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    The point I was making about formats was referring to exchange between users rather than migration between applications on the server, which often expose all their source code (wikis for example).

    twitter Reply:

    The two things are equivalent if all the work you care about is done by others in some toxic cloud. Digital restrictions all have the same goal, control and exploitation of users. Nasty file formats and cloud computing are two sides of the same coin. Free formats, P2P and user owned wikis are a different situation where file formats and other data exposure can be used to build trust and collaborative sharing. Software and network freedom are intertwined as are the mechanisms to strip users of both.

    People can not share things with me through Facebook, for example, because Facebook is an exclusive publication and Facebook promotes OOXML. Owners of malicious “clouds” require non free software to enforce the limits they would set on their users, hence their promotion of garbage like Vista (via OOXML) and iPhone and vice versa. The use of Facebook accounts as a login by big publishers is like a spreading cancer. OOXML, if popularly adopted outside of the end of network freedom, would set the world back about fifteen years in terms of software freedom and document exchange. Thankfully, this is not happening. Clouds that lock everything up would truly put the world back into the dark ages where documents and information really has chains and total submission is the price of viewing. Big publishers would push us back to a world worse than broadcast and paper print and they are doing so with a variety of “services” that should be rejected. Kindle is another good example.

    Sites like Wikipedia are philosophical and technical opposites to “the cloud”.

    Dr. Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    It would be best to manage everything locally.

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