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Novell's Dirty Little Secret: It Helps OOXML (Updated)

Time to spill some beans

An important article has just been published by Bruce Byfield. It highlights conflicting roles and views in the ODF/OOXML debate, which divide Novell and GNOME, respectively. BoycottNovell.com is actually cited by Linux.com (not for the first time), the context being its views on OOXML, Mono, GNOME, Novell and whatever entwines them. Familiarisation with these issues is probably required. From the article:

GNOME Foundation defends OOXML involvement



...I suspect that many in the community would agree with Ossendryver's statement on his blog that "The participation of GNOME in ECMA TC45’s apparent subversion of the standards process is a major disservice to FOSS and all in the community who have worked so hard for open platforms and open standards." From this position, what matters is loyalty -- and that, for many, seems to mean support only for ODF and a complete boycott of any efforts to make OOXML a standard. Far from clarifying matters, the Foundation's statement may very well serve only to confirm this position and to justify the paranoia about its motives.


This article follows a press release from the GNOME Foundation. The press release addresses the issues and doubts surrounding OOXML and GNOME's stance on the issue, which is still mixed.

There is a lot more to come. There are many things which the article does not tell, so we wish to reveal some bits of information that we have gathered thanks to anonymous contributors. The text below blends various views which we are permitted to quote without attribution. Our goal is to inform.

Where do we start? There is so much information owing to transparency in the Free software development world. Here are some highlights the shed light on FOSS bodies and individuals.

We wish not to 'attack' (or criticise) the community; rather, we want to concentrate more on Microsoft until March next year. What we do need to consider, however, are those in the community who are possibly doing damage, notably by lending Microsoft a hand.

Jody Goldberg



Here is Jody Goldberg expressing his opinion that OOXML should be a standard:

The effort is hampered by my disagreeing with the opinion you, and much of the community appear to hold. I think OOX should be blessed as a standard, 'the MS Office XML File Format'...


”The press release and the Linux.com article seem like a case of slight misalignment.“Jeff Waugh assured me that Jody was merely experimenting with OOXML support, but the above shows that he's in alignment with Miguel de Icaza's stance. Miguel says that OOXML is a "superb standard". There's a difference between supporting OOXML as a standard and implementing it because "there's no other choice". The press release and the Linux.com article seem like a case of slight misalignment.

Now, watch this new discussion thread from Groklaw, which points to Slashdot. It's about proprietary extensions in OOXML. Check the followup. This seems like typical Microsoft disinformation, but it come from the mouth of Jody Goldberg. Shane wrote about this before and we are seeing signs of more to come. Why is Microsoft being defended by this developer?

A source tells us that Jody Goldberg and Michael Meeks have a personal vested interested in OOXML becoming an ISO-approved standard. They have already made improvements to OOXML to actually help it become a ISO standard.

Further, we are told that statements such as the following raise deep concern about the interested parties. In a blog post from Jan 30th, 2007 (Miguel de Icaza's blog):

The original submission to the ECMA TC45 working group did not have any of this information. Jody Goldberg and Michael Meeks that represented Novell at the TC45 requested the information and it eventually made it into the standards. I consider this a win, and I consider those 324 extra pages a win for everyone (almost half the size of the ODF standard)."


Miguel de Icaza



”Why on earth does a Novell employee, who is being paid by Novell for his work, virtually aid suppression of ODF?“This one new observation has been mentioned here before although it was intended to remain secret. Here is Miguel trying to resolve comments in Microsoft's favour. Why on earth does a Novell employee, who is being paid by Novell for his work, virtually aid suppression of ODF? What is Novell's stance on this issue? It should be clear by now that OOXML was merely a response to ODF. Its aim was to prevent the industry from establishing a vendor-neutral consensus on standards.

OOXML is about money



Michael Meeks



We mentioned Michael Meeks quite a few times recently due to what we consider an OpenOffice.org fork [1, 2, 3, 4]. The following might be an interesting thread to read ("Regarding OOXML and Microsoft patents"). Meeks seems to come out first attacking ODF, according to one who is familiar with this discussion. Indeed, here is Meeks coming out against ODF in a way.

If you look closely, there are also signs of questioning Groklaw's credibility (smear campaigns come to mind again). This isn't the first time that Novell does this to discredit Groklaw. Stepping on one's reputation is something that is still happening. Only 4 hours ago, two separate threads were 'placed' in several newsgroups (to be mirrored on the World Wide Web) which say that schestowitz.com and boycottnovell.com are attacking with Trojan horses. It's a lie and a false accusation. It's probably part of an attempt to have the sites blacklisted (never mind reputation) and these attempts are coming from anonymous posters on compromised (zombies) PCs around the world. Groklaw had a similar story to tell a few years ago (Maureen O'Gara, her publisher, and SCO were probably the only parties involved after the stalking). Anyway, anyway, anyway... back to the point now.

Kohei Yoshida



the Position Statement from GNOME says that they support ODF, but GNOME members who are associated with Novell (past and present) appear to be pushing for OOXML. It also looks as though they are now working on OOXML filters, which will be entered into GNOME's OpenOffice.org with the help of a Novell employee (Kohei Yoshida).

Then we come to Evolution, which recently we found out something unpleasant about. Miguel de Icaza wants to add Mono extensions to it, although it is not necessary and many people depend on this core application. Here you can see Novell and GNOME (yes, they are listed as a pair) supporting Microsoft services. Is this Microsoft Linux in the making? Well, it's a partly sarcastic approach, but it no longer seems so far fetched.

OpenSUSE/GNOME/Novell



At the bottom of the page of the press resource for GNOME, it should be totally inappropriate for a non-profit free software foundation to be promoting a commercial product. And yet, Kevan Barney from Novell is listed as "Contact for questions about the Novell Linux Desktop". Is GNOME promoting Novell's products? Is it an endorsement? A dependency?

To quote the source which found this out, "It feels like GNOME is letting Microsoft control the Free Desktop through the backdoor, so we must stop it." Novell is apparently directing Gnome activities too. Let's not forget Mono's increasing role in GNOME. Mono is only sponsored by Novell.

”It also gives a bridge for Microsoft to invade GNOME's decision-making procedures.“Some of the findings above are both baffling and worrisome. This makes not only Novell and Mono inseparable. It also gives a bridge for Microsoft to invade GNOME's decision-making procedures. The separation between Mono and GNOME seems to be gradually fading.

Check this out this discussion about the vote in Geneva. It comes from the GNOME Foundation's mailing list:

6) OpenXML vs ODF

The announcement of the first ISO vote on OOXML has been published. A second very important vote will take place in February in Geneva and only technical comments will be considered by ISO at that time. Anne believes that GNOME should have a position on OOXML as an open standard. Even if GNOME can not influence the first vote, GNOME can still air a general view on the standardization at stake


What is the question here? The answer should be "No". OOXML is not suitable, unless you are Microsoft, in which case it's all about your financial interests (by Microsoft's own admission). Why be so equivocal on this issue when your goal is to create a free desktop?

To quote another source, "It is troubling that Gnome is still having an internal debate to come out with a simple statement and help the ODF/FOSS at large [, such as] "We do not support OOXML as and ISO but will work on interoperability as our users begin to need it. We are members of the ODFAlliance.org and support ODF.""

Jeff Waugh



Jeff is a polite person, but we are left with some unanswered questions. I know he has a consultancy that he runs with his wife (or something along these lines). He appears in the Australian press when Free software issues come up, so his presence is difficult to ignore. He also markets GNOME or supports those who do market it, based on what I can gather.

”The main question to ask here, given what we have seen above, are there any increases in terms of GNOME donations that arrive from Novell?“We are not exactly sure, however, if Jeff and the other GNOME board directors make a living only from their own businesses? The main question to ask here, given what we have seen above, are there any increases in terms of GNOME donations that arrive from Novell? What about the patent deal? Did the deal with Microsoft play a role? I am merely asking because I have not inquired, so these are not facts. Let's just assume that it's all false.

Jeff's position on ODF has always been ambivalent and he doesn't speak about it very clearly and openly. He was asked on the ODF list (by Lars) about the Foundation's support for the ISO policy of "one standard, tested per field". Jeff would not answer. He brought up arguments against this, which flies in the face of what FOSS stands for. He also said something to the effect that GNOME ships of code all over the world. The question to ask is, "what code and to whom?"

Whether money goes into GNOME and types like Jeff through Novell (Microsoft by association?) is an interesting question to ask. They would then become protective as far as Novell and OOXML go (less likely to extend to Microsoft, having seen the press release from Jeff). The same goes for Miguel de Icaza.

Another source which spoke to Jody (and Jeff) says that hope of convincing them to strictly support ODF was lost. Jeff and Jody apparently don't contradict one another. Jeff compares OOXML (e.g. in Gnumeric) to Samba, but see this recent comment on this issue (from Béranger). It's not that simple a comparison.

There are probably several discussions about this, but the one at hand is said to be "quite contentious and did not end on a pleasant note with Jeff and Jody." That's what we've been told anyway.

From The ODF thread where Lars asks Jeff questions:

Lars: GNOME could easily clear up this misunderstanding by publishing a statement clarifying their opposition to MSOOXML, the independence of individual developers to do what they want, and the support for ISO's "one standard" policy.

Jeff: The GNOME Foundation could say such a thing, but it wouldn't necessarily reflect the opinions of GNOME developers, corporate contributors, etc.

Besides, in what way do you suggest we "oppose OOXML"? Entirely? Should we oppose implementation of it? Should we oppose our users using it? Should we stop our developers from supporting it? Should we oppose its acceptance as an ISO standard? Most of these are entirely unrealistic.

Lars: GNOME backs ISO's "one standard" policy

Jeff: We'd love it if organisations would focus on collaborating around a single standard, but I'm not sure we'd say this as a matter of opposition to OOXML. Think about this for a minute: When we put Free video codecs on the agenda for ISO standardisation, would you like someone to come back with, "But we already have MPEG4"? Perhaps arguing for "one standard" is not the best way to achieve your aims.

I think an important distinction to consider is that GNOME, supported by the GNOME Foundation, is not principally an advocacy organisation: We write and ship code for users who work in the real world.


Others



There are other board members, whose affiliation and stance we know very little about (if anything). These include:



What Lies Ahead



Here is a prediction of things to come. This was sent in by a reader. These are merely some thoughts about how Microsoft can sabotage the process in the future, especially when everything goes back to ISO:

  1. Try to bargain with the NBs. "We'll fix it in release 2.0" or "We'll harmonize with ODF, but only once we're approved".


  2. Try to take over the NB by signing up more MS partners. When February comes along and NBs decide whether to change their vote, what prevents another herd of partners from joining the NBs on the last day to vote? It almost worked before and there has been no rebuke by ISO. Microsoft just needs to repeat that approach and they are guaranteed to win. Main thing is to avoid their memos becoming public, as in Sweden.


  3. Escalate the decision. Most ISO NBs are run by the government. What we see in the industrial west with independent vendor forums is the exception. So Microsoft can directly appeal in most of the world to the administrations, where offers of discount enterprise agreements or free software for schools have been effective ways of molding behavior in the past. Even in the US we saw such direct appeals from Microsoft to the Commerce Dept, and these were effective, getting the government members of our NB to flip their vote from No to Yes.


Well, Microsoft has already 'dumped' some charity on India just shortly (a few days) after India said it would vote "No" on OOXML.

Elsewhere, a FFII campaign spotted a new case where tries to take over the proceedings in Portugal (again).

Last but not least, let's remind ourselves of OOXML patents, whose existence Microsoft wished to deny or not talk about. A reader says:

If you go to WIPO and search Keywords "Front page = Microsoft XML", you will see a few recent PCT applications since Microsoft's pledge not to sue. The question to ask then is, "are any of these applications related to OOXML and, if so, which ones are?" If some are, to me it seems strange that they make pledges and then still file patents.


IBM made a similar pledge some months ago and it even annulled a poor patent that got spotted and ridiculed in Slashdot. As far as Microsoft goes, it remains somewhat of a mystery. Remember that Microsoft uses OpenOffice.org and OOXML 'protection' to create divide between 'legal' Linus distributions and 'illegal' ones.

OOXML patent issue prompt



Summary



This post was just a collection of thoughts, streams of consciousness, and few speculations that require further evidence. In any case, it seems like Novell's role in GNOME is not healthy to GNOME's existence (let alone the success of ODF), to say the very least. Only yesterday, we delved deeper into the connections between Microsoft and Novell, which desperately needs Microsoft's money. It is worth stressing that Novell should be approached very cautiously by the Free software world. Novell deserves to be perceived as somewhat of a Microsoft subsidiary at this stage.

Update: we have just been reminded of another item that we had spotted and mentioned a couple of weeks ago. The gist of it all is that Novell will be presenting in the upcoming XML 2007 conference in December. Microsoft has a sponsored track and Novell will prop up OOXML.

Well done, Novell. Your paymaster will be very pleased and will possibly permit you to sell more 'Linux coupon'.

Novell gets 'bribed'

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