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The OOXML Trap Bites British Parliament

OOXML data vacuum

"Microsoft looks at new ideas, they don't evaluate whether the idea will move the industry forward, they ask, 'how will it help us sell more copies of Windows?'"

--Bill Gates, The Seattle Weekly, (April 30, 1998)

Observers have warned for quite a long time that not only will OOXML lead to confusion, legal problems and corruption of the process but it will also lead to eternal incompatibilities. The latest victim which finds this out the hard way is the the UK parliament, which is unable to exchange documents even when the same program from the very same vendor is in wide use.

Microsoft is working with Westminster technology chiefs after politicians and peers complained of being unable to open the latest Word documents.

The [Microsoft] Office 2003 software used by the UK's 646 MPs and 742 peers is incompatible with Microsoft Word 2007 document formats, leaving politicians and civil servants unable to read some correspondence.

It's worth adding that the same version of Office on different platform is also incompatible. That's how bad it is. And for Microsoft to have adopted OOXML means that many products which used to work fairly well with (binary) Office files are no longer able to do so. This means that Microsoft's move to proprietary XML is doing more harm than good, i.e. it's reducing inter-application compatibility rather than improving it.

The likely solution? Upgrade treadmill. Buy more software. Everyone must purchase the latest versions of Windows and Office. If it's demanding, buy a new computer too (there will hardly be a choice of anything but Vista, which even Microsoft seniors passionately hate).

The SoftMaker Insult

“This means that Microsoft's move to proprietary XML is doing more harm than good, i.e. it's reducing inter-application compatibility rather than improving it.”One reader wrote to us a few days ago, arguing that " has published an advertisement dressed as an article and featuring a Microsoft talking point.

"It's that old canard about "interop." It's popped up in that article, and several business communities nearby. The baseless assertion is that (OOo) has difficulty reading and rendering Microsoft Office documents whereas Softmaker, for a fee, can."

Softmaker even insists that ODF is not the focus of its agenda (see comment). Further, says our reader, "Obviously the article is simply a disguised advertisement and the author either has never run OOo or else is pretending to never have heard of how it performs.

"Myself, I cannot recall a time when OOo had trouble reading or rendering Microsoft Office documents, but then again my full time usage of OOo only goes back to 2002. One of my main reasons for moving to OOo from Microsoft Office was that it was far superior at reading and rendering Microsoft Office documents than Microsoft Office itself."

Similar argument are sometimes made w.r.t. Wine, which some say offers superior backward compatibility (win32 APIs) to Windows Vista. Going back to the reader, he concludes:

"Many have kept OOo around for rescuing files that Microsoft Office corrupts and renders unreadable. OOo can read and fix most of those. Also, it has always had superior support for old Microsoft Office formats. Now that Microsoft has pulled the plug on its own old formats, it is not just a hands down win for OOo, but also no contest. "I guess that explains why during the first 4 weeks, 3.0 had 10 million Windows and Macintosh downloads from the official Web site. Most GNU/Linux users and most mirror sites are not included in that figure."


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