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ODF Lies and Whispers

There is an interesting disinformation campaign being waged against ODF. You won’t see this FUD splattered across the front pages of blogs or press releases. It is the kind of stuff that is spread by email and whispers, and you or I rarely will see it in the light of day. But occasionally some of it does cross my desk, and I’d like to share with you some recent examples.

First up is this instance, from a small Baltic republic, where a rather large US-based software company was recently arguing to the national standards committee for the adoption of OOXML instead of ODF. Here are some of the points made by this large company in a letter:

There is no software that currently implements ODF as approved by the ISO

(They then link to Alex Brown’s comment from Wikipedia). I think this demonstrates the triangle-trade relationship among Microsoft, Alex Brown (and other bloggers) and Wikipedia, by which Microsoft FUD is laundered via intermediaries to Wikipedia for later reference as newly minted “facts”. No wonder one of Microsoft’s first actions during their OOXML push was to seize control of the Wikipedia articles on ODF and OOXML via paid consultants. In any case, Alex’s claims were rebutted long ago.

ODF has a number (more than a hundred) of technical flaws which haven’t been addressed for 3 years despite change requests addressed to OASIS by countries such as Japan and United Kingdom. There are discussions between OASIS and ISO/IEC JTC 1 SC 34 regarding true ownership of ISO ODF, which is a reason why the flaws in ISO ODF aren’t being addressed. In a recent SC 34 meeting in Prague a new ISO ODF maintenance committee has been formed because ISO / IEC 26300: 2006 is not being presently maintained.

This is not true. First, the ODF TC has received zero defect reports from any ISO/IEC national body other than Japan. Second, we responded to the Japanese defect report last November. Amazingly, Alex Brown is implicated in this FUD one as well. It was false then and it is false now. At the exact time Alex was quoted in the press as saying the the ODF TC was not acting on defect reports (October 8th, 2008), we had in fact already sent our response to the defect report out to public review (August 7th, 2008) and then completed that reivew (August 22nd), after quite a bit of active technical discussion with the submitter of the original defect report (Murata Mokoto). How Alex translated that into “Their defect reports are being shelved” and “Oasis has not been acting on reports of defects” is beyond me. It must be particularly embarrassing that Murata-san wrote to the OASIS list, within days of Alex’s FUD, “I am happy with the way that the errata has been prepared.” How could Alex be ignorant of these facts? Why was he lying to the press? How is this conformant with his leadership role in JTC1/SC34 and his participation in BSI? Also observe the triangle-trade route of FUD in this case from Alex to Doug Mahugh to Wikipedia, this time for negative edits in the OASIS article.

IBM currently recommends not using OASIS ODF 1.1 and to instead use OASIS ODF 1.2 which is currently not complete and will not be complete and ISO certified before 2010/2011. OASIS on the other hand have started work on ODF 2.0 which will not be backwards compatible.

This is an odd one, demonstrably false. IBM Lotus Symphony supports ODF 1.1. We have no ODF 1.2 support at present. I wonder where they came up with this one? It is totally bizarre. Although we have started to gather requirements for “ODF-Next”, the contents of that version, and to what degree it will be backwards compatible, has not even been discussed by the TC, let alone determined. So this is pure FUD, trying to make ODF sound risky to adopt, and then lying about IBM’s support for it, and our position on ODF 1.2.

The list goes on, including claims that no one supports ODF 1.0 or ODF 1.1, etc., but you get the gist of it. The particulars are interesting, of course, but more so the reckless disregard for the truth, and the triangle-trade relationship between notable bloggers, Wikipedia, and Microsoft’s whisper campaign.

Another current example is part of Microsoft’s attempt to duck and cover from criticism over their interoperability-busting ODF support in Office 2007 SP2. I’ve heard variations on the following from three different people in three different countries, including from government officials. So it is getting around. It goes something like this:

We (Microsoft) wanted to be more interoperable with ODF. In fact we submitted 15 proposals to the ODF TC to improve interoperability, but IBM and Sun voted them down.

Nice story, but not true. Certainly Microsoft submitted 15 proposals. But they were never voted on by the TC, because Microsoft chose not to advance them for a vote. They opted not to have these proposals considered for ODF 1.2. It was their choice alone and their decision alone not to put these items up for a vote. I would have been fine with whatever decision Microsoft wanted to make in this situation. I’m not criticizing their decision. I’m just saying we need to be clear that the outcome was entirely due to their decision, and not to blame IBM or Sun for Microsoft’s choice in this matter.

I think I can trace this FUD back to a May 13th blog post from Doug Mahugh where he wrote:

We then continued submitting proposed solutions to specific interoperability issues, and by the time proposals for ODF 1.2 were cut off in December, we had submitted 15 proposals for consideration. The TC voted on what to include in version 1.2, and none of the proposals we had submitted made it into ODF 1.2.

This certainly is an interesting statement. There is nothing I can point to that is false here. Everything here is 100% accurate. However, it seems to be reckless in how it neglects the most relevant facts, namely that the proposals did not make it into ODF 1.2 at Microsoft’s sole election. It is as if Lee Harvey Oswald had written a note: “Went to Dallas and saw a parade today. Tried to see a movie, but had to leave early. Heard later on the radio that the President was shot”. This would have been 100% accurate as well, but not the “whole truth”. In any case, the rundown of the facts in this question are on the TC’s mailing list.

So what is one to do? You obviously can’t trust Wikipedia whatsoever in this area. This is unfortunate, since I am a big fan of Wikipedia. I want it to succeed. But since the day when Microsoft decided they needed to pay people to “improve” the ODF and OOXML articles, these articles have been a cesspool of FUD, spin and outright lies, seemingly manufactured for Microsoft’s re-use in their whisper campaign. My advice would be to seek out official information on the standards, from the relevant organizations, like OASIS, the chairs of the relevant committees, etc. Ask the questions in public places and seek a public, on-the-record response. More people are willing to lie than face the consequences of being caught lying. That is the ultimate weakness of lies. They cannot stand the light of public exposure. Sunlight is the best antiseptic.

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{ 20 comments… add one }

  • Anonymous 2009/06/10, 02:08

    "No software that current implements ODF as approved by ISO" – your rebuttal seems to link to a story about validation, not implementation.

    Which key apps write out ODF 1.0 files?

  • Anonymous 2009/06/10, 02:49

    Rob keep up the good work. I am amazed how much one has to be on the ball as regards Microsoft. It shows how desperate a company is when they have to write the article to criticise something so they can refer to it as fact. I used to think Wikipedia was good too until I found out anyone can edit an article. It may be good as a reference but it certainly is not fact. So it is easy with Wikipedia to discredit someone or something as this shows.

  • Anonymous 2009/06/10, 03:46
  • Rob 2009/06/10, 07:57

    @Anonymous,

    To my knowledge, all major ODF editors will read a conformant ODF 1.0 document today. Some, like Office 2007 SP2, will do it poorly, but they all should handle it, since ODF 1.0 is a subset of ODF 1.1 and ODF 1.2. You can try this with OpenOffice and Symphony and KOffice, for example, giving it an ODF 1.0 document as input.

    Additionally, some applications like Google Docs write out documents with the ODF 1.0 version attribute set. So we have at least one editor that provides read/write support for ODF 1.0. My tests show that it can also import ODF 1.1 documents.

    Finally, you can still freely download and use earlier versions of OpenOffice, etc., that write out ODF 1.0 files by default, if that is your need. Whether this use is "supported" depends on your support contract, e.g., what deal you might have with Sun on earlier version of StarOffice, etc.

  • Anonymous 2009/06/10, 10:24

    Has anybody contacted this customer to put them right?

  • rodda 2009/06/10, 12:47

    Rob, thanks for keeping us informed on these issues. However, I would suggest that OASIS or another informed representative take action on the Wikipedia entry. As you know, the general public uses Wikipedia as a resource for information and the best misrepresentation of facts are those where information is excluded…as in this case.

  • Purple library guy 2009/06/10, 12:53

    Kind of brazen that Microsoft would push claims about no software implementing ODF, since surely OOXML is *much* more vulnerable to that criticism.

  • Anonymous 2009/06/10, 14:34

    I think this post captures the current state of Wikipedia regarding OpenDocument, etc,
    http://www.groklaw.net/comment.php?mode=display&sid=2009061001520015&title=Common%20Wikipedia%20game%20played%20on%20articles&type=article&order=&hideanonymous=0&pid=0#c761075

    Wikipedia is being gamed by Microsoft-linked people that abuse the anonymity.

  • Nick Demou 2009/06/10, 16:39

    > Here are some of the points made by this large
    > company in a letter

    Is there any independent confirmation that all those false claims were made by Microsoft? (Not because I don't trust Rob but because I want to be able to use information from this article to argue with people that don't trust him)

  • Anonymous 2009/06/10, 17:47

    There’s one issue on the ODF support in Office 2007 I don’t think anyone has really discussed – and it’s the issue that annoys me the most. I am working for an organisation that wants to provide interoperability between Office 2007, OpenOffice.org and other Office suites using the ODF file format. All we want is interoperability. As has been discussed ad nauseam the ODF support in SP2 does not provide that, so we can’t use it. However, there are so many other fixes included in SP2 that I have no choice but to install it and there is no way for me to disable or deactivate the “support” in SP2. And that’s my issue! We have happily been using the Sun ODF Plug-in, but now it has basically been rendered useless. Yes, there are convoluted ways to use the Sun Plug in with SP2 (http://blogs.sun.com/malte/entry/using_the_sun_odf_plugin), but that doesn’t cut it for the ordinary users – they double click on stuff.

    If Microsoft wants to implement inoperable ODF support, it’s really their choice. The issue is that I as a consumer cannot choose not to use their support and opt for a competitor’s.

    I want to use the Sun ODF Plug-in, so Microsoft, please give me a way to get rid of yours!

  • Anonymous 2009/06/10, 19:47

    What resources are available for testing how well a document complies to ODF standards?

    If a Free (freedom) suite of program(s) is available, how hard would it for the program to identify the items that are outside the standard?

    Could such a suite of programs then take the conformance + non-conformance profile, and estimate its likely origin?

    And for the really tricky part, could such a suite of programs estimate how well such a document might fare if imported into a specified version of a specified program? (For example, note what extensions in a document would be ignored by the application.)

  • Rob 2009/06/10, 21:23

    @Nick, I'm not going to reveal my sources, but if you have a good reason for needing this information, send it to me in an email, and I'll pass it on to my source and them decide whether to respond.

    @Anonymous,

    Have you seen OfficeShots.org? They are attempting to provide the ability to see how the same document would appear when loaded in the various ODF editors. There is some talk of also having it run the ODF Online Validator against the document as well. So I think that gets us a bit closer. If you also had a database of known interoperability problems, and what applications exhibit them, then you could give a report for a given document: "Will work in OpenOffice 3.1, Symphony 1.3, KOffice 2.0, but will lose formulas in MS Office 2007 SP2". In theory this is possible.

  • Ian 2009/06/11, 10:24
  • Rob 2009/06/11, 13:39

    @Ian, well that stumps me. I thought I understood what conflict of interest was. But I guess I do not. Is it really permissible for a person to edit an article which tells the history of events in which they were a direct, active and leading participant? Unbelievable. If I want to read autobiography I'll go to the bookstore, not Wikipedia.

  • bob_sutor 2009/06/12, 07:06

    Has Wikipedia itself been notified of how it is being manipulated here? I think having multiple people let them know of the problems might help.

    Bob Sutor

  • Anonymous 2009/06/12, 09:08

    The manipulations he did on the opendoc-pages are speaking for themself.
    I would suggest to just revert his manipulations.

  • Bern 2009/06/14, 23:12

    @Purple library guy: Yes, I would say that OOXML *is* much more vulnerable to criticism over the fact that there are zero implementations.

    However, if you read the Wikipedia article on OOXML, you'll note that it quite neatly conflates OOXML, ISO/IEC 29500:2008, and "Microsoft Office 2007 file format". So one gains the impression that OOXML is not only ISO-approved, but supported *everywhere*! I mean, even OpenOffice.org is listed as opening OOXML files!

    So another side to the same FUD story, really. Especially when you look at the list of "supporting applications" in each article. The ODF article has thirteen apps in a dot-point list. The corresponding OOXML list has no less than 48 entries. So reading the Wikipedia articles, you get a somewhat skewed impression of the support for each of the formats.

    Curiously, the reference cited for stating that Office 2007 SP2 supports ODF, is a link to an ODF Alliance fact sheet listing all the things that are wrong with the Office 2007 implementation.

    Reading the edit history for the articles is kind of fascinating, in a train-wreck kind of way… :-P

  • Răzvan Sandu 2009/06/15, 07:17

    IMHO, what we really miss is a Windows piece of code (both graphical & command line) that will MASS TRANSFORM Microsoft documents into valid ODF ones.

    The wizard present in OpenOffice.org is a good start, but not enough.

    My opinion is that only by "flooding" the market with correctly-formated ODF documents, dimishing the Microsoft quota, we will drive interoperability (because we will create *business concern* for being interoperable)…

  • TomS 2009/07/09, 20:08

    In the interest of posterity, thanks for documenting the issues. Your patience is amazing and appreciated.

    a minor spall chucker correction:
    Line reads "completed that reivew (August 22nd)"
    change reivew –> review

  • Quiliro Ordóñez 2012/07/30, 20:49

    Wow! It is impressive the amount of money Microsoft invests in disqualifying people that support freedom. In my country they do it very diplomatically but they still do it. I think that the best way to back up their standard is by making it better and more open instead of attacking freedom.

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