Bonum Certa Men Certa

GNOME's Position on OOXML is Still Hurting OpenDocument Format



When Microsoft provides various examples of OOXML support, one of which is GNOME's Gnumeric, it is important to remember that this is just one example among many others, which can be found in entirely separate places (besides other examples on MSDN blogs). That's where Microsoft uses "GNOME support" as a bargaining card that demonstrates independence from the proprietary software world.

When several highly-visible GNOME people openly make negative statements about ODF and also make statements like "Office Open XML should be and blessed as and ISO standard", this is damaging. When ECMA, in their most recent press release, mentions GNOME as a party that participates in the standardisation of OOXML, that is damaging. There are many other examples.

GNOME is essentially giving Microsoft many weapons to use for spin. Microsoft is arguing that OOXML is not bad for Free Software (GNOME) and should therefore be accepted as an ISO standard.

GNOME is naively pragmatic in this matter. In many respects, it's possible to see some logic. It can be said on behalf of many in the community, who are not involved in the ISO process, that this is a case of pragmatism. It's only a part of a larger picture though.

”In the mean time, Microsoft is lobbying privately and it is using GNOME as a support example.“After the BRM, National Boards go home to discuss the "new text". This is when Microsoft will come in with all the silver bullets GNOME has given them. In the mean time, Microsoft is lobbying privately and it is using GNOME as a support example. That is a fact. Why would they not?

A suspecting party which opposes OOXML might ask: "But what about Free software, and patents, and the difficulties involved in implementing all of this?" Microsoft then responds confidently by using GNOME as the example that makes the 'perfect child', selectively citing and quoting voices from GNOME -- voices that strongly support OOXML, not to mention an existing implementation and arguments that wrongly falsify some of the main deficiencies of OOXML (e.g. binary 'extensions', whose existence Jody Goldberg has tried to deny). Some of these arguments come from the mouths of a small groups (maybe just a tiny subset) of GNOME's developer community, but that's enough for Microsoft to pick on.

There are all sorts of excuses here about the community being independent and not being forced to adopt and accept a policy from up above, but this is where the Foundation's role comes into play. It serves as an umbrella and it was not effective with its latest statement on this issue. It tried to express support for ODF, but it achieved quite the opposite thing by sending out a mixed message on the need for one universal standard.

There are quick sound bites, not much time to rebuke and these GNOME activities do damage. Period. This is not just us talking, but major international standards experts like Andrew Updergrove, Alberto for FFII.org and many others on the front line, who are right now preparing to beat down OOXML at ISO. None of them is happy with GNOME's actions (speaking collectively here), so we, as Free standards and/or software supporters should not be either.

Some GNOME users might have to work with OOXML, which is a fast-moving target. In fact, it is moving so fast that even Office 2007 is not using the ECMA standard right now (Office 2009 is approaching a test build and who knows what 'features' will be added to the OOXML filedump by the time it's relased?). Microsoft has already stated that it is not necessarily committed to stick to its own ECMA specification, which is still being changed.

The fact is that none (or very few) of GNOME's users have actually received a .docx file. So, why get involved now amid this highly political process with so much at stack for so many in the community who have worked so hard, including all the major companies like Sun, IBM, Google, Oracle, the major financiers of Free software?

”GNOME is believed to have over-stepped its boundaries and made a mistake.“GNOME is believed to have over-stepped its boundaries and made a mistake. It cannot benefit from this participation in any way now and can only hurt itself and the community. Jeff Waugh refuses to admit it and some of his responses are aggressive and stubborn, which makes matters worse for the community as a whole.

Those who defend OOXML inside GNOME can deny things all they want, but others already do some 'legwork' by explaining our points (Jamie, Richard Stallman, Rui and maybe even Sutor and Weir, who begin to understand how OpenOffice and Symphony can get 'poisoned' by patents, through OOXML and Mono). The GNOME folks try to shoot the messenger, especially those who are close to Novell. To them, OOXML support might actually be a competitive advantage. It's all about Novell, at the expense of everyone else in the Free software world, among other worlds.

Mono Microsoft brain Novell has the Mono/OOXML patent protection advantage in mind

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