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Hemidemisemiquavers

Some “short notes” to share with you:

From a GrokLaw news pick we hear that ZDNet’s David Berlind recently interviewed Tim Berners-Lee in Boston, where Sir Tim received the Massachusetts Innovation and Technology Exchange’s Lifetime Achievement Award. Watch the whole interview if you have 12 minutes, though I will transcribe one passage which highlights the importance of agreeing on a single open standard for a problem domain and fostering competition among the applications built upon that standard:

It was the standardization around HTML that allowed the web to take off. It was not only the fact that it is standard, but the fact that its open and the fact that it is royalty-free.

So what we saw on top of the web was a huge diversity and different business which are built on top of the web given that it is an open platform.

If HTML had not been free, if it had been proprietary technology, then there would have been the business of actually selling HTML and the competing JTML, LTML, MTML products. Because we would”t have had the open platform, we would have had competition for these various different browser platforms, but we wouldn’t have had the web. We wouldn’t have had everything growing on top of it.

So I think it very important that as we move on to new spaces … we must keep the same openness we that had before. We must keep an open internet platform, keep the standards for the presentation languages common and royalty free. So that means, yes, we need standards, because the money, the excitement is not competing over the technology at that level. The excitement is in the businesses and the applications that you built on top of the web platform.

Well said. I tried to make a similar point, but with pictures, back in February.

I recently ordered some podcasting equipment. It should arrive tomorrow. I will be looking for people to interview soon. So hide while you can, don’t answer the phone, and if it looks like I’m carrying a microphone, then run for the exit.

An interesting article in the American Surveyor, by Joel Leininger, on the importance of file format standards. Although it is a different application domain, the concerns are very similar (via OpenMalaysia).

Anyone know Romanian? Something gives me the impression that this guy from Microsoft Romania is not complementing me. I wonder what subtle hint gives me that impression…

The OOXML ballot marches on in national standards committees around the world. September 2nd is the deadline, though many committees have earlier deadlines for developing their recommendations. In the US the committee looking at OOXML is called INCITS V1, and we have until July 13th. V1 has had a few meetings so far and we’re just starting to get into the technical comments. Since we have a consensus process, all it takes is a small minority of members to bring everything to a halt, which is pretty much what is happening. For example, we spent 2 1/2 hours today and discussed only two comments. So we risk having a perfunctory technical review of OOXML. When I compare this to the BSI’s excellent work developing detailed comments on a publicly-readable wiki, I think we in the US should be ashamed at the stonewalling going on in V1.

I’ll be hosting a V1 face-to-face meeting in a couple weeks in Washington, DC. Hopefully we’ll make some more substantial progress there. If you really want to follow our work closely, you can read through our mailing list archives which Sun’s Jon Bosak was kind enough to set up for us.

Although no formal call for public comments has gone out, we’ve received a number of unsolicited pro-OOXML letters which you can read here. As you can see, they are pretty much identical form letters, all ending with the artless phrase, “Furthermore, Open XML in no way contradicts any other international document standard.” Remind anyone of the Manchurian Candidate’s, “Raymond Shaw is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being I’ve ever known in my life”?

In any case, if you want to provide input into this process, feel free to send in your thoughts as well. Having read many of these letters myself, I’d offer the following advice:

  1. Don’t send in a form letter. It hurts your cause more than helps it, since it makes it look like you couldn’t get real support if you tried.
  2. Use your real name and email address and postal address, so we know you are a real person and not a robot.
  3. Be polite. Remember you are trying to persuade.
  4. Give a succinct, reasoned opinion. Keep it to a page if you can.
  5. Ask for a specific action. Don’t expect the reader to draw a conclusion. Draw it yourself.

Of course, since V1 is developing the US position on OOXML, comments from US companies and citizens are especially welcome. Also, if you have specific technical comments about OOXML, you can submit them through me and, if I agree with your points, I will raise them directly with the committee. (I do this as a personal favor to you, my readers, not as an official INCITS V1 solicitation.) Assume the committee is already familiar with the GrokLaw items. But OOXML is a big standard, and there are certainly dark corners where I have not ventured. So if you’ve found something new, certainly let me know.

Canada continues to solicit comments on OOXML. And the UK is soliciting comments as well, through June 30th. Again, be succinct, and give your name and address. Otherwise you risk having a committee member reject your comment outright since it cannot be ascertained whether you are actually a resident of that country.

A blog I’d like to recommend to my readers is Lodahl’s blog. Leif Lodahl has been giving some great coverage of ODF happenings in Denmark, including analysis of the parliamentary debate on the question of whether Denmark should have one or two standards. Also a good catch of Microsoft dancing all over the place, trying to avoid giving a straight answer on why Word does not provide integrated ODF capabilities. If you can spare 45 minutes this is a great clip to listen to.

{ 9 comments… add one }
  • MariuS 2007/06/12, 00:14

    Hello Rob,

    The first part of the Zoli’s blog says something like:

    If you will read Bob Sutor or Rob Weir you’ll understand why I say that. For a company that sustains openness it is curious the impressive effort to denigrate a standard (ECMA Office Open XML). As Stephen McGibbon says, you need a big dose of hypocrisy to do that. Especially when the guys do big efforts to influence the standardization organisms. The procedure is simple: without lying (saying plain lies), those who try such influences link to the texts of above-mentioned or (if they are more evolved) process ideas from there. Bullshit! You’ll say I’m paranoiac. I’ve thought of that myself… but, from a week, I see a sustained activity in TIC-Lobby mailing list related to the same subject: “OpenXML it is bad (it is a standard born from Microsoft specifications) and it must not be standardized by ISO because there is already a standard named ODF which is enough”
    .
    He continues with citations from his previous emails on the mailing list and concludes:
    I’ve had enough already! But wait a second. Now I see why this has swelled again: ISO starts to ask for the votes of members organizations and ASRO, as member of ISO collects its members opinions. So this is it!

    Bullshit, brothers. Bullshit!

    If you need/wish I could translate the missing part but it pretty much the same rhetoric you see in Microsoft speeches, nothing new (to me at least).

  • Rob 2007/06/12, 15:58

    Hi Marius,

    Thanks for the translation. I’m flattered that they hold my opinion is such regard as to warrant expenditure of their limited wit to comment on it. But I don’t see why “attempting to influence” is denigrated. This 5-month review of OOXML is part of the standards development and approval process. Unless this review period is to be merely ceremonial, now is the time to review the specification for problems, to document those problems, and to persuade others that these problems need to be fixed. That is what a consensus process entails. For some reason Microsoft seems afraid of this.

    -Rob

  • Christopher 2007/06/12, 17:28

    Thanks for the link to the BSI wiki, Rob. I had no idea our standards body was doing this!

    What I did find interesting was Inigo Surguy’s analysis of the code samples in the OOXML spec. He found that, in the WordProcessingML section alone, around 300 of the XML examples do not validate.

    That is, over 10% of the examples in one part of the spec are plain wrong. How these sorts (and volume) of errors can be put forward for an international standard is crazy.

  • BobFolkerts 2007/06/12, 19:50

    Rob,

    As Christopher notes, many of the XML samples in the OOXML standard are not valid XML. I know firsthand that is is very easy to make this sort of mistake in hand generated XML. But with OOXML, the authors should be able to unzip Office documents and cut and paste. So where do the samples come from?

    From work with HTML, I know that there are always degrees of conformance. With HTML, there are accepted tests to determine strict compliance. Do the RelaxNG documents provided in the OOXML specification fill this role? Can I take something like Schematron and and handful of Office 2007 documents and validate?

    My worry is this: Does Microsoft Office 2007 currently generate valid OOXML, or does it generate a superset of OOXML? I don’t expect perfection, but the defect density in their documents had better be approaching ‘six sigma’ and improving. Am I crazy/paranoid for even suggesting that Microsoft has already extended a protocol that they are asking us to embrace?

  • Rob 2007/06/12, 21:33

    Hi Bob,

    I have no idea how the example snippets were created. We’ve certainly all seen programming books with syntax errors in the code. These typically are caused by late editing changes, faulty integration scripts or hasty preparation. But if we’re seeing hundreds of similar errors then I’d suspect a search & replace editing error or similar global operation.

    In any case these are the kinds of things that should have been caught much earlier in the process, during the Ecma review phase. That is the problem with trying to standardize 6,000 pages in less than one year. It doesn’t matter how smart you are or how much you really want to do it quickly, the results are going to be unacceptable. IMHO, it is a disservice to the talented people involved in the creation of OOXML to have put them in the situation where the forced pace of their review reflects so poorly on their efforts.

    -Rob

  • Anonymous 2007/06/15, 19:35

    I certainly can’t read Romanian, but from my familiarity with other languages, it looks like he called you a PR flak because you work for IBM and they apparently think the backlash against OOXML has been caused by your company. But don’t take my word for it, I can’t understand many important details.

    Of course, whether he claims it or not, that’s absurd. I’m one of the anonymous masses who has to put up with Word and is sick of all the single-vendor lock-in. In fact, I was the one who wrote and submitted the infamous Slashdot story featuring this blog when all those formatLikeAncientWordProcessor flags first drew widespread criticism. And there’s no one paying me to do this. I do it because the only thing I hate more than bad code and WTF-specifications is knowing that I can’t fix them.

  • Răzvan 2007/07/20, 21:14

    Hello Rob & others,

    I’m Răzvan from Bucharest, Romania.

    The explanation for that Microsoft Romania guy, Zoli, “complimenting” you is simple… :

    In the last few months I did some efforts to draw attention for the Romanian public about the ODF vs. OOXML matter.

    You must know that Romanian average users are accustomised with MS Office for many years, especially because, since 1990, one may buy a pirated copy for $3, on the street. This is somehow convenient for Microsoft, because now piracy rate is starting to lower, but non-IT users are so habituated with Microsoft products that they don’t even imagine an alternative.

    Microsoft Romania is keeping this „wall of silence” up – despite OpenOffice.org having many users among IT professionals, you can hardly see information about ODF in the official literature.

    So I tried to bring a modest contribution in breaking this silence:

    – I put up a blog in Romanian, presenting the matter – please see http://rsandu.myblog.ro. It shows as No. 1 on Google if you use “OpenDocument Romania” as searching criteria.

    – I’ve sent some messages on this matter to TIC-Lobby, which is a mailing list where all „official” matters in Romanian IT field are discussed (http://beta.agora.ro/agora-bin/lwgate/TIC-LOBBY/)
    Among others, it seems all Microsoft Romania employees, excluding the doorman, are members of this list (since it deals with Romanian Goverment’s investition plans in IT) ;-)

    Zoli’s text you’ve pointed to is mainly the response of my first tentatives of breaking the silence.

    Regards,
    Răzvan

  • Răzvan 2007/07/20, 21:24

    Hello again,

    Just forgot to note that I’ve sent letters on the matter “ODF vs. OOXML” to three more Romanian institutions – just to draw attention:

    – The Romanian Association for Standardization, ASRO, the national standards body http://www.asro.ro

    – The Romanian Ministry of Information Technology and Communication http://www.mcti.ro

    Given the position Microsoft has in Romania, I don’t hold many naive ilussions about what Romania’s official position will be at ISO ballot – but this is useful in drawing attention from the Romanian users…

    Now I learn, from your blog, that ASRO is questioning its official members (busineses) about what position
    Romania should have at ISO in the ODF matter.

    Regards,
    Răzvan

  • franco merletti 2008/01/25, 17:51

    hello rob

    “If you really want to follow our work closely, you can read through our mailing list archives which Sun’s Jon Bosak was kind enough to set up for us.”

    just in case, i would like to ask you if you know if Jon has any plan to keep updating this archive ( last mail batch was from october/2007 )…

    i found very interesting the V1 deliberations and discussions during the pre-vote phase, and may be now we can keep following the discussions of V1 regarding the ECMA(microsoft) 2263 pages (kind of) responses

    thank you very much

    franco merletti

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