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A Pre-BRM Miscellany

I’ll be attending the BRM as part of the US delegation, leaving for Geneva a week from today. I am awed by the security apparatus which is being rolled out to ensure the integrity of the open standards process. Photo ID requirements, badged access to the meeting room, prohibitions against cameras and recording devices, no observers, no press. Truly, this is what open standards are all about.

Our delegation has been warned that there will be a dangerous group of agitators at the event and we may need to walk past them to get to the meeting room, and we should not lend our support in any fashion to this event, which includes such known disruptive elements as Vint Cerf, Håkon Wium Lie, Bob Sutor, and Andy Updegrove. Eyes front, do not look to the left, do not look to the right.

I’m certainly impressed that JTC1 is taking the BRM process so seriously, and everyone is so concerned with the integrity of the process. But I must wonder where all this attention was when NB’s were reporting to JTC1 that OOXML was too large to review under Fast Track procedures? Where was the concern when NB’s were objecting that the proposal contradicted numerous international standards? Where were the precautions when committees were being stuffed, and new NB’s were joining JTC1 only days before the ballot ended? Who was watching out for the integrity of the process then? Why is an OFE panel discussion on “Standards and the Future of the Internet” by international experts on the subject a threat to the international standards system, but no one in JTC1 even blinked when Côte-d’Ivoire joined JTC1 as a P-member three days before the end of a 6-month standardization process and voted “Yes” without comments on a 6,000 page proposal?

In other news, Martin Bekkelund has a look at some of the much vaunted “support” for OOXML on the Mac. Despite the claims, the support is quite underwhelming. As Gertrude Stein said, “There is no there there”. (That probably won’t translate well, so for my non-native English-speaking friends, trust me, that was hilarious.)

From ZDNet Australia and Brett Winterford comes a summary of some analysis by IP law practitioners and academics of OOXML and IPR. “Can Microsoft be trusted on OOXML covenants?” My summary: individuals, small companies and open source projects are roadkill.

Google searches for “ODF” and “OpenDocument” or even “noooxml” are now returning sponsored links with phrases like “Learn the truth about the standard for interoperability” that lead you to a pro-OOXML petition on Microsoft’s faux OOXML community site. For example, try this query.

Let’s see if I understand how this pay-per-click system works. Every time I click these sponsored links, money gets transferred out of some pro-OOXML supporter’s bank account and is sent to Google? These seems the expensive route to go, but there is some logic to it. A look at Google Trends shows that Google queries for “ODF” far outnumber queries for “OOXML”.

On the other side, at the real <NO>OOXML petition, the count stands at 82,422 signatures. Apparently they did not need to trick people into visiting their web site.

Three ODF applications in the news this week.

IBM Lotus Symphony takes Datamation’s “Product of the Year” award in the “Office Productivity Software” category, beating out Microsoft Office. Congratulations to Symphony team!

Also, CNet TV puts OpenOffice.org in the #1 slot in their “Top 5 Best downloads of 2007“.

As reported by <NO>OOXML, the OpenDoc Society has an interesting tease in their February newsletter about a proposal “under investigation” by an “ODF standards group” within Microsoft to add better support to MS Office for ODF. Interesting.

Get it while you can. Microsoft is making their legacy binary format documentation available for download. This timely disclosure comes a few month after they silently disabled access to many of their legacy formats in Office 2003 SP3.

My advice — download these binary formats, burn them to CD and store them in a safe place. Over the years Microsoft has made these formats available for download (ca 1996), put them on MSDN CD’s (ca 1998), then added restrictive terms that specifically forbade use by competitors (ca 1999), removed the documentation entirely from the web and MSDN CD’s (ca 2000), made the formats available under commercial license only, made a RF license available only after filling out an intrusive questionnaire and only when the use was “complementary to Office” (ca 2005), to the present download terms. So get them now, since there are no guarantees on how long they will remain available this time.

In any case, it is good to have this material available once again. We now have a file format specification, controlled exclusively by Microsoft, with all sorts of quirks and bugs necessary to be an accurate and compatible description of the billions of existing Microsoft Office documents, available for anyone to download and implement under terms granted by Microsft’s Open Specification Promise. In fact, the observant reader will note that the same could be said about OOXML. But why should either be an ISO Standard? They both remain a description of the anomalous quirks of a single vendor’s proprietary products, with no generality or applicability to other uses.

In fact, if a claim is made for needing ISO standardization, the better claim should be given to the legacy binary formats, since they indeed are widely implemented, and are used for billions of legacy documents. Microsoft would not even need to pad their résumé with toy implementations. The binary formats are implemented in everything from MS Office, to OpenOffice, to Lotus SmartSuite to Lotus Symphony, to Corel WordPerfect Office, to KOffice, Google Docs & Spreadsheets, to Apple iWork, to MindJet. In fact, for every partial implementation of OOXML that Microsoft claims, we could point to dozens of fuller implementations of the legacy binary formats.

So why the rush to make an ISO standard for OOXML? I wonder if instead we should be taking Adobe’s example and standardizing the existing binary formats, as insurance for long-term access to the legacy base of MS Office documents. Then moving forward, MS Office could use a clear, modern format like ODF, enhanced with Microsoft’s participation in the ODF TC, to ensure that it includes all of the capabilities that they require for moving forward in the office productivity market. Do we really want to drag deprecated VML and incorrect leap calculations into the 21st Century?

{ 8 comments… add one }
  • orlando 2008/02/16, 6:04 pm

    ‘but no one in JTC1 even blinks when Côte-d’Ivoire joins JTC1 as a P-member three days before the end of a 6-month standardization process and vote “Yes” without comments on a 6,000 page proposal?’

    i don’t see the point on wasting precious time of NBs around the world reviewing this monster ( DIS 29500 ) ( i.e: 30 people at BSI expert group, USA/Incits V1, Japan, India, etc. ) if just any NB can join the party as P-member three days before and easily void your work casting a “yes without comments” vote.

    There is no provision at ISO/IEC to avoid this un-ethic behaviour?

    Doesn’t ISO/IEC JTC1 demand a minimum time ( a couple of months at least ) of participation in JTC1 activities to allow NB to cast votes in such importants standardization process ( like the fast-track of +6000 pages )?

    Why the “old” NBs don’t put a formal complain at ISO about that? this kind of process must be challenged … standards are not games or a kind of election.


  • The Wraith 2008/02/17, 5:13 am

    Could you tell us why IBM is sponsering an event that organises anti-ooxml information sessions specifically ment for participants of the BRM on DIS 29500 even during times that they are supposed to be working for their ISO/SEC national bodies ?

    IBM has members in the ISO national bodies. Wil they be attending the BRM for which they are in Geneva or will they attend the simultanious sessions organised by their own company ?

  • Rob 2008/02/17, 9:59 am


    Which sessions do you think are “anti-ooxml”? I don’t see OOXML mentioned in any of the session descriptions. Microsoft claims that OOXML is an open standard. So why should they worry about sessions like “Standards and Intellectual Property Rights” or breakout sessions on “Standards in Education”?

    In any case, there will be plenty of people attending the conference who are not BRM delegates. So I expect that the daytime sessions would not have BRM delegates in attendance, while the morning and evening sessions would be more likely to attract BRM participants.

    Speaking for myself, my primary responsibility is to attend and participate in the BRM. But I will be very interested in the conference sessions and plan on attending as many as I can outside of the BRM hours.

    And if I have time, I’ll blog it all.

    What is interesting to me is that no one complained about Ecma TC45, which recently held a meeting in Kyoto, Japan at the same time as the SC34 Kyoto Plenary, and then invited SC34 members to attend the TC45 meeting in order to hear all sorts of wonderful things about OOXML.

  • Usage May Vary 2008/02/17, 10:31 pm

    Also @ wrath. Where is your proof, buddy?

    IBM never did anything formal to MS, and never anything informal either. Pointing out fact is not illegal, or sponsoring, or “anti-ooxml”. Misrepresenting the facts however , is both immoral and unethical. Not that Microsoft has ever done that recently or anything.

  • Wesley Parish 2008/02/18, 9:21 am

    fwiw, I’ve just been over to http://xml.coverpages.org/news2007Q1.html and I’ve discovered possibly the best reason why ECMA 376 should be left abandoned, dead in the water:

    It has been alleged that ECMA 376 does not validate against the XML compliance tests; it has also proved difficult to translate ECMA 376 into a compliant XML standard such as ODF.

    By the news on the Cover Pages website, every man and his dog is developing additional XML standards for document interchange. The Office Suite is no longer an island, existing in splendid isolation; for what it is worth, it has to interoperate with all the software producing and using standards such as the XML Localization Interchange File Format (XLIFF) v1.2.

    If these standards take on momentum, and they each require a much higher standard of compliance with the base XML standard/s than ECMA 376 does, then using ECMA 376 is a neat and handy way to cripple your business, playing russian roulette with a loaded automatic instead of a revolver. Just think of all the interoperability you’ll be surrendering to your competition! Oh the joys of lock-in!

  • Rob 2008/02/18, 11:40 am

    A quick update on the concurrent OFE conference. I just heard that Microsoft employees have now started registering for the conference, around 8 so far.

    Interesting. So why exactly are all of these Microsoft guys in Geneva that week? None of them appear to be BRM delegates. To quote Doug Mahugh, “Wow. If this isn’t an attempt to exert undue influence on the standards process, it’s hard to imagine what is. Who are these people?”

    Methinks that the OFE conference has forced Microsoft’s lobbying team to decloak.

  • segedunum 2008/02/22, 10:46 am

    The disabling of older formats in Office 2003 is entirely predictable, and a well worn Microsoft tactic of closing the stable door.

    They will gradually squeeze support for older binary formats out of Office altogether, basically because of two reasons:

    1. It forces everyone to upgrade to a newer format, keeping the merry-go-round of implementing new formats for everyone else going.

    2. It’s a convenient upgrade path. People feel compelled to re-save their documents and then that effectively cuts them off going back to other versions of Office and previous formats.

    The net effect, really, is that many people are just sitting on Office 97, and Office 2000 and not choosing to upgrade anything. Interestingly, a lot of the integration that Microsoft espouses between Office and programming environments like Visual Basic is keeping them there. They simply have no time or resources to re-test and re-code all their macros and mail merge integration with a new version or Service Pack of Office.

  • Anonymous 2008/03/12, 7:24 pm

    Does anyone actually read what MSFT says…
    and see the most obvious flaw in their statement?

    To me it was classic MSFT trick and so obvious and stupid that I expected everyone to jump on it right away. I failed to comment on it at the time because it was so obvious. Then I failed to comment because I started thinking that it is so obvious that I must be wrong about seeing what I saw there. Surely someone more experienced on legal issues than me would see it.

    I mean it is absolutely in clear language in the OOXML IP commitment.

    But now we have even SFLC analysis of the agreement which as far as I can see fails to see the most obvious trap. Either I am missing some legal detail or a lot of people seem to not actually read what is actually written.

    MSFT IP (intellectual property in the widest sense of words i.e. patents, copyrights, trademarks etc.) guarantee states that they give ***NO rights to any of their IP*** that is not necessary to implement to minimal *mandatory* part of the standard. In particular, they give no rights to anyone just because a legacy formats are REFERRED in the standard.

    The more stuff BRM moved to appendices or relegated to legacy status or optional parts of the standard, the happier MSFT was. Only they can ever implement the standard in full!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    No one else has any rights to even try to implement any of the functionality that is not spelled out in the mandatory parts of the standard in full. Note that any part that is not spelled out in detail is MSFT property and they agreement gives you no rights to even ask them how their various binary formats work or how MS workd 95 formats a list of items or whatever other thing that is defined by reference to how piece of software XXX works. The binary file formats are not essential part of the standard and even trying to reverse engineer them becomes even more illegal under many jurisdictions in Europe where many of MSFT most abusive behaviour was curtailed in small degree under certain protections w.r.t. rights to reverse engineer or reimplement things independently. Note that the legal status of MSFT binary format changes in each and every jurisdiction quite unpredictabibly if OOXML becomes law.

    Of course MSFT could eliminate this obstacle to acceptance to OOXML by simply giving blanket license, right to sublicense and agreement not to sue anyone for any implemenetatons of the OOXML standard.

    But then again, that would defeat their purpose of trying to make OOXML a standard….

    Remember, all the law applies all the time and I actually see OOXML giving MSFT more protections in some jurisdictions within EU that they never had before!!!!!!

    Am I really missing something or are legally minded people missing the big log in our common eye because of the forest of trivial detail?

    (Signature FFAQ98)

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