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Declaring Bankruptcy

Lawrence Lessig called it email bankruptcy: when you have so many unanswered emails in your inbox that you decide to make a clean start and just admit to yourself, and to those who wrote, that you are not going to respond.

I have a related problem, interesting links I’ve collected and have meaning to blog about. But my links have accumulated far faster than I have been able to write about them. So I am declaring “link bankruptcy”. Here is my fire sale, a set of interesting topics for only pennies on the dollar:

  1. Glyn Moody has the story about how platform dependencies has impacted one notable British institution.
  2. Even more startling results in Korea, as reported in The Cost of Monoculture and the Korean Saga.
  3. It is mainly in Polish, but some in English. More coverage of Open Standards in a new blog from Jacek Łęgiewicz.
  4. In case you missed it the first time around, here is a wonderful essay by Dan Bricklin on “Software that Lasts 200 Years“. It made me think of what ramifications this has for file formats that aspire to longevity as well.
  5. This looks interesting. A free OpenOffice Calc add-in for doing “fuzzy math” in OpenOffice.
  6. Sweave adds ODF support to the open source R statistical analysis and graphing platform.
  7. Docvert, an online REST service for converting Microsoft Word documents into ODF format.
  8. I know someone was asking for this a few months ago — A Microsoft Works import filter for OpenOffice.
  9. Office Migration Planning Manager (OMPM) allows bulk conversions of legacy Office binary documents to OOXML. Does anyone have something similar for ODF? Not just bulk conversion, but detection and reporting of possible conversion problems as well.
  10. The eXtensibility Manifesto has some good schema design advice, including: #3 “Design of a data model focuses on all stakeholders’ requirements for the data.” #6 “Designs or components are not reinvented, but rather are leveraged where possible.”
  11. “[Expert Witness] Alepin…alleged that the company [Microsoft]had subverted developers who used Microsoft’s version of Java ‘thinking they were developing multi-platform applications, but were actually developing Windows-specific applications’ “. From PC Pro News.
  12. The Case For ODF — a recent presentation from OpenOffice Community Manager Louis Suarez-Potts.
  13. “Office 2007 lacks some features of earlier versions of Office, and so it can’t fully support some Office files created in earlier versions. For example, Word 2007 cannot open Word files that contain multiple document versions, a feature supported by Word prior to Word 2007”. Anyone know what else is missing? From Directions on Microsoft.
  14. A few months old — European Cities Do Away with Traffic Signs. Does anyone know how this has turned out?
  15. Dashed Lines and their uses.
  16. David Berlind over at ZDNet: “To me, Ecma is not a standards body. As evidenced by the DVD situation (which is ridiculous if you ask me), it’s little more than a puppet with a pipeline through which vendors can pump their proprietary technologies into the ISO standardization process (avoiding the rigor that should normally be applied to anything up for consideratoin as an ISO standard). As such, the ISO is sort of a joke too.”
  17. “One trouble spot we encountered using Vista’s Explorer metadata organization tools was the lack of support for some of the file types we commonly use. For instance, JPEG files happily take attributes under Vista, but PNG files do not. Along similar lines, Vista would not apply metadata to files we had created in the OpenOffice.org format. And, strangely, our attempts to apply metadata to documents created in OpenOffice.org—in Microsoft Office format—were greeted with an error message.” From eWeek.
  18. What is a standard, according to David Rudin, Microsoft’s official Standards Attorney? “A technical specification that enables interoperability between different products and services and is either 1) intended for widespread industry adoption or 2) has achieved wide spread industry adoption.” This is a nice write-up.
{ 10 comments… add one }
  • Steven G. Johnson 2007/02/04, 10:37 pm

    Regarding “software that lasts 100 years,” it is instructive to realize that there is already reusable software that has lasted for 40 years, almost as long as we have had “software.”

    In particular, in my own field of numerical computing, there is Fortran code from the 1960s that is still in active use. (For example, an FFT subroutine by Singleton in 1968 is still widely used in new programs, sometimes via f2c.) The key attributes that made this possible are: open source code (and prior to 1977, public domain licensing was the legal default), a portable open standard language, and the use of simple, lowest-common-denominator, language-independent data formats (contiguous arrays).

    Indeed, for scientific code, code lifetimes measured in decades are commonplace. (Although this is not necessarily an indication of clean design; a friend of mine once joked, “The definition of legacy code is any code written by a physicist.”)

  • Gen Kanai 2007/02/04, 11:11 pm

    Rob, thanks for the link to my post on Korea.

  • Anonymous 2007/02/05, 9:19 am

    To answer your question on what features in Office 2007 are missing from older versions, this was partly answered for Excel in the MSDN blogs from the Excel team (just click in “backwards compatibility” in their tag cloud).

    An example of that is charts. To understand this, bear in mind that they have completely rewritten the chart drawing engine, and apparently they have removed features.

    Here is the actual post from one of the Excel guys : http://blogs.msdn.com/excel/archive/2006/08/28/724641.aspx

    If you read the post, you’ll notice that a number of those features are UI related features. If you don’t read the post and then the comments associated to the post, you may be under the impression that we are talking features not directly related to the file formats and particular features.

    But make no mistake. By reading the post and comments carefully, you’ll have a good list of actual features that have been deleted by them in Excel 2007.

    In the comments by the way, I have posted how, using a simple example, it was possible for anybody to see that the old and new chart drawing engines are not the same and that it breaks the “full-fidelity” claims that they have.

    This, for many industries relying on pixel-precise feature rendering and printing, is a disaster in the making.

    -Stephane Rodriguez

  • Anonymous 2007/02/05, 9:30 am

    Another feature lost when moving from older MS Office versions to Office 2007 is related to password-protection.

    When you’d password-protect a document in the past, be it Word/Excel or Powerpoint, that would still be a document of the same type, i.e. an OLE document with the same names and types of underlying streams. Albeit encrypted.

    But now, with Office 2007, be it Word/Excel or Powerpoint, a ZIP file becomes an OLE document when it is password-protected. Therefore, any content management system that routinely extracts metadata, or reads any part of the document in any way, not only will break, but it has no way to know that the file is encrypted. I’ll add that, contrary to the distinction they make between “macro-enabled documents” whose corresponding filenames end with “m”, versus “normal documents” whose corresponding filenames end with “x”, there is no particular filename extension for password-protected files, despite the fact that those are not the same type at all than those not password-protected.

    This is clearly a regression for all content management systems out there.

    I’ll end this by saying that the entire password-protection mechanism itself is undocumented, and it’s unclear at this point whether it relies on specific Windows APIs.
    The Ecma 376 specs mention password-protection in places, but only to provide the algorithm that computes a hash for the password, that is then stored in XML parts to allow for password matching later on. The Ecma 376 specs don’t mention or specify password-protection, meaning that the standard clearly deprives all password-protected documents from a certain status.

    -Stephane Rodriguez

  • Anonymous 2007/02/05, 9:37 am

    A particular feature that is omitted from the Ecma 376 specs is VBA macros.

    What it means is, by creating a client that reads/writes/renders/calculates/prints documents whose implementation is only based on Ecma 376, you cannot instantiate any of the business word or excel documents out there.

    I find it certainly strange that, those who wrote the specs at Microsoft thought they might not want to include the VBA specs in it, because it is not about XML markup, but at the same time they expect this standard to represent actual, real, business documents.

    Sure, this standard could be useful to describe simple, basic, trivial documents such as those in test cases such as the CleverAge translator. But what does it mean for the real world? If an implementation does not include a stack that understands and runs the VBA macros, it can’t instantiate business documents, period.

    -Stephane Rodriguez

  • Rob 2007/02/05, 5:59 pm

    Hi Stephane,

    Thanks for the great examples. So I guess OOXML is only 100% backwards compatible with the parts of Office that Microsoft decided to remain 100% backwards compatible with.


  • PolR 2007/02/05, 6:31 pm

    From Stephane Rodriguez

    “This is clearly a regression for all content management systems out there.”

    This is illuminating. Did you look at the feature set of Sharepoint 2007 Server recently? It is amazing the number of market they invade with a single product. I count:

    – Real-time collaboration
    – Entreprise portals
    – Entreprise search
    – Content management
    – Document management including legal record compliance
    – Business process and workflow
    – Business intelligence

    This is all bundled in a single product, not in a suite of separately purchased components.

    Now every content management system regress, but how about Sharepoint 2007?

  • Anonymous 2007/02/06, 9:48 am

    There are better solutions than e-mail bankruptcy. Either:
    1. don’t let e-mails pile up in the first place (a constant battle, much like keeping off the pounds for some people)
    2. or have your mail client delete or archive all letters older than a certain date (e.g. one month.) Anything that needs to be retained for more than one month does not belong in an inbox.

  • Anonymous 2007/02/07, 8:45 am

    Rob said “So I guess OOXML is only 100% backwards compatible with the parts of Office that Microsoft decided to remain 100% backwards compatible with.”

    Yes. They made the list and are forcing it on us.

    Much like CleverAge’s translator where the list of features is also an arbitrary (and in fact rather limited) subset of existing features of Word documents.

    By having Mr Jones declaring CleverAge’s translator “complete” earlier this week, what he has done is put CleverAge on fire, because the translator does not survive real world tests in practice.

    I have asked him why they chose NOT to test the translator with their own internal corpus of documents. Needless to say, I don’t expect an answer…

    -Stephane Rodriguez

  • Anonymous 2007/02/07, 12:20 pm

    And VBA macros are Windows only. The Mac version office will not support VBA macros. Intraoperable by design.

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