≡ Menu

The Vast Blue-Wing Conspiracy

Microsoft’s Brian Jones and Doug Mahugh have put all the pieces together and are expressing their suspicions that all of the troubles OOXML is facing is caused by IBM.

Yikes, we’ve been found out!

The truth can now be told. We have a nine-floor complex beneath Devil’s Tower in Wyoming, Dick Cheney’s home state. We employee three-hundred Oompa Lumpas, ostensibly here on student visas, to read through the 6,000 page OOXML specification. They then input their concerns into a massively parallel computer, based on the old Deep Blue chess computer that beat Gary Kasparov. The computer takes the objections, formats them into English, inserting random literary quotes from The Modern Library of the World’s Best Books, and then posts them in blogs and press articles. The computer can express these objections in the form of sonnets, haikus, or even as crude limerick. Every year on January 14th (Thomas J. Watson’s Birthday) at 3:14am the Oompa Lumpas come to the surface, smear their bodies with blue paint, dance around a bonfire, howl at the moon and entreat the gods to vanquish their foes, mainly Microsoft, who canceled their favorite application, Microsoft Bob. Rob Weir doesn’t really exist. He is just a subroutine. As they say, “On the internet, nobody knows your are a subroutine processing data input by Oompa-Loompas working for IBM underground in Wyoming”

I guess that’s one theory.

But from what I’ve seen of the world, when you think everyone is out to get you, it is usually one of three things:

  1. You are mentally ill
  2. You are doing something stupid and people are trying to help you
  3. You are in a movie

I’d suggest #2 is the more likely explanation. But a 4th possibility, one I had not thought of, is hinted at in the latest Dr. Dobbs, in an article by Michael Swain entitled “Microsoft Loves Linux: What’s With That?”. The article focuses on the recent Microsoft-Novell deal, but there is an interesting observation that applies to the format discussions as well:

Then there’s the PR angle. In Microsoft’s case, PR includes trying to look virtuous to the EU courts. Look, Microsoft can say, at how we play nice with competing platforms like Novell’s SUSE. Here’s a tin-foil-hat theory: Microsoft can’t compete against a movement, Ballmer has acknowledged. It can definitely compete against a company. So isn’t it likely that this question has come up at Microsoft: Can’t we somehow turn this Linux movement into a company that we can compete with?

Can the same be said about file formats? It is hard for Microsoft to beat a movement, so it attempts to turn this into a battle against a single company.

Let’s look at the facts:

ODF is not controlled or promoted by a single company. ODF is developed in OASIS with a Technical Committee (TC) that includes members from a number of vendors, including Adobe, Novell, Intel, Sun and IBM. The TC also includes unaffiliated individual members, representatives from various open source projects, as well as members from the OpenDocument Foundation and other non-profit organizations.

The Foundation in particular has brought a huge amount of talent and resources to the development of ODF. Traditionally, standards were developed exclusively by large corporations, and individuals and smaller players were marginalized. But the world is different today. The Foundation has shown that with a bit of organizational skill, individual volunteers can band together and have a voice and technical contribution on par with long-established corporations. They should be given much credit for this.

On the promotion side ODF is promoted by groups including the ODF Adoption TC, the Open Document Format Alliance, the OpenDocument Fellowship and the previously mentioned OpenDocument Foundation. The Adoption TC manages the ODF portal on XML.org and is currently working on various journal articles, whitepapers and responding to CfP’s for various conferences and symposia this year. I’ve lost count of how many companies are members of the ODF Alliance. I stopped counting when it went over 300. If you are not on their mailing list, then you should be. The Fellowship has also done amazing work promoting ODF and developer tools related to ODF.

So let’s put to bed the conspiracy theories that this is all just IBM out to get Microsoft. ODF is far more than one company. IBM does not own ODF or control ODF or control the groups that promote ODF. Those who say otherwise discredit the efforts of the many of volunteers who have worked so hard to develop the ODF standard and implement it in so many applications.

{ 4 comments… add one }
  • W^L+ 2007/01/20, 3:11 pm

    When a monopolist fears losing his/her monopoly, he/she will attack with every possible thing he/she can.

    They will try their best to keep control of the file formats that people use, because Office and Windows (Client and Server) are the only parts of Microsoft that make money. This is really about their fear that they will lose one of their cash cows and have to close money-losers like MSN/Live and XBox/Zune/Origami.

    Pot. Kettle. Black.

  • Marbux 2007/01/21, 4:40 am

    To your list of folks who are backing ODF, please don’t forget the users. More than a few tech-savvy people really do care about interoperability. Just for starters, let’s add in all of the governmnent bodies that have announced decisions to adopt ODF.

  • hAl 2007/01/23, 7:17 am

    It is surprinsing how your blog is filled with article scrutinising OOXML and finding any miniscule fault of uglyness in the standard but that you never seem to scrutinize ODF in the same way.

    That makes your blog look extremly anti-OOXML.
    Don’t tell me you could not find flaws in ODF because it seems OASIS is hard-working on trying to add or change stuff for future versions.
    Also your articles have a tendancy to exagerate the extent of the flaws to find in OOXML by using comparion/parabels which are ment to enhance the feeling that OOXML is a poor standard. However to me who has now read all of ODF and a lot of OOXML the standards seem very different but I would not say one is better than the other.

  • Rob 2007/01/23, 1:16 pm


    If you are truly surprised that my blog is pro-ODF and anti-OOXML, then you have not been paying very good attention.

    I hope you will take the opportunity to report any flaws you find in ODF to our public comment list. We do take these reports seriously and believe that a good thorough public review, along with multiple implementations, is the key to a good standard.

Leave a Comment