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Crocodile Tears

By now everyone on the planet with an internet connection knows about Rick Jelliffe, the blogger Microsoft offered to pay to make the Office Open XML Wikipedia page “more objective”. (It is unclear what criteria Microsoft uses to determine which bloggers are given free laptops and which ones get offered cash.) In any case, I suspect that objectivity, like love, is something that is better free than purchased.

Microsoft’s Doug Mahugh disclosed a portion of the proposal he sent to Rick, in a comment on Slashdot:

Wikipedia has an entry on Open XML that has a lot of slanted language, and we’d like for them to make it more objective but we feel that it would be best if a non-Microsoft person were the source of any corrections… Would you have any interest or availability to do some of this kind of work? Your reputation as a leading voice in the XML community would carry a lot of credibility, so your name came up in a discussion of the Wikipedia situation today.

The national coverage of what was eventually called “Wiki-gate” brought the inevitable reaction from Microsoft — IBM made us do it:

[Microsoft] Spokeswoman Catherine Brooker said she believed the articles were heavily written by people at IBM, which is a big supporter of the open-source standard — in USA Today.

So the question in my mind is this: How bad was the OOXML Wikipedia page before all the fuss started? All this Wiki-gate news hit on the 23rd, with Rick’s blog post. So let’s go back to the Wikipedia page previous to that, which would be the version of 18 January. Take a read. You can also take a look at the Talk page where the prior version was last edited on 21 September. You can read it here.

Is this something that one would say has “a lot of slanted language” and was “heavily written by people at IBM Corp”? Is this something that warranted extraordinary means to address? I’d be interested in what parts they believed were “heavily written”. What does “heavily written” even mean? This is quite an allegation.

How’s this for heavy: I’ll make you an offer you can’t refuse. I’ll do a review and fact checking of the 18 January version of the OOXML Wikipedia entry, and I’ll link to the review from the Talk page, so others can consider it and make the changes if they agree. I won’t charge you a cent. If you find this at all useful, you can donate a few dollars to the Free Software Foundation. How’s that, Doug?

  1. The first paragraph should say simply “Office Open XML”. It is a waste of time to argue about whether it is Microsoft Office Open XML, Ecma Office Open XML or ISO Office Open XML. At some point you may have one version in ISO while a revision is being worked on in Ecma. Just call it “Office Open XML” and it will cover all cases.
  2. Next sentence should say, “The specification was developed by Microsoft and others…”. You shouldn’t need to list them all here, but do list them under Standardization.
  3. Should say, “is the default format in Office 2007”, not just “is used”.
  4. “Microsoft maintains that its primary goal…” needs a reference to cite. Perhaps page 1 of the whitepaper.
  5. “The Microsoft Office Open XML format is Microsoft’s direct answer to the OpenDocument format” also needs a reference or should be removed.
  6. Standardization section would be better if written chronologically, start from the beginning and end at the end.
  7. Should say, “A liaison from the ISO/IEC JTC1/SC34 was appointed to help during…”
  8. Licensing — “There has been a lot of argument about…”. If there has been a lot, maybe someone should cite an example?
  9. Brian Jones is an expert in some things, but I am not aware of his legal credentials. So citing his legal analysis does not seem to be authoritative and I doubt he intended it to be taken that way. This citation should be removed.
  10. Overall, the Licensing section seems like it is missing what I’d consider the two most important links: Microsoft’s Open Specification Promise, and to the Baker & McKenzie analysis.
  11. I would move the packaging and relations text into its own article called “Open Packaging Conventions” or OPC. The basic structure here will be used in other Microsoft formats like XPS so it makes sense to centralize it in one place and reference it from here.
  12. Under Document Markup Languages, I’d drop the discussion of the 2003 formats. Move that to a different article if needed. Ditto for DataDiagrammingML.
  13. Under Criticism, there needs to be some references cited. There is no shortage of criticism and no shortage of references for that. If you want primary source material, I’d suggest GrokLaw list as the most comprehensive. It cannot simply be denied or ignored that there is a large amount of criticism out there. It will look silly for Wikipedia if OOXML is defeated in ISO and the day prior there was not even a mention of criticism on its Wikipedia page.
  14. Market Adoption — This section seems to be talking more about application support than adoption. I suggest it be renamed “Application Support” and “Adoption” be reserved for notable adoptions of the standard at the state or national level if/when they occur. OpenOffice’s support of WordProcessing 2003 doesn’t belong here, but Novell’s announcement that they will add OOXML should be here.
  15. A note throughout — this article could use some copy editing. As expected with any text written by several people over time, not all native English speakers, there are differences in levels of formality and a good number of language errors.

That’s about it. I didn’t see anything all that unusual or extreme here. If anything I found it odd that there are no links in this article to anything critical of OOXML, even though Microsoft’s stated reason for contracting with Jelliffe was to correct bias in the article. What am I missing? Where is this horrible slant? If anything, this article is living in some dream world where OOXML is not being heavily criticized for being too large, too rushed and too poorly written. If an article with no links to criticism is considered “heavily written by IBM”, I’d hate to see what Microsoft thinks an objective article reads like.

{ 21 comments… add one }
  • hAl 2007/01/26, 4:26 am

    I have aditted the article in the past so I can relate to most of your points. Most of the them I already have once added or tried to add in the past.

    I did add Brian’s interpretation of the license as it seems relevant that an employee of Microsoft explains their intent with the licensing. That might give his statements legal weight as does the legal analysis document by Baker&Mackenzie which was produced for MS. I do agree that the CNS and the legal analysis of it are the most important.

    On the Groklaw article however we might disagree. I thinkl the critisism they put on the OOXML standard are mostly factually correct (allthough I think many minor issues are blown very much out of proportion) but Groklaw’s intent seems on influencing the ISO vote by mobilising it’s readers to address the voting bodies in ISO for voting against OOXML.
    That would seem a quite controversial standpoint which does not really needs support on wikipedia. There is a reference to the article though.

  • hAl 2007/01/26, 4:32 am

    Oh and I would like to add that I do not think IBM tried the wikipedia article on OOXML or ODF having watched it for about half a year.

    I know that David Wheeler of the OASIS technical committee on ODF did add some stuff on OpenDocument. I think MS would like to do simular but the wikipedia attitude towards billlion dollar companies editting articles seems to be very different and probably rightly so.

  • Rob 2007/01/26, 9:03 am


    I wouldn’t suggest that Wikipedia take a stance on whether or not OOXML should or should not be a ISO standard. We need a NPOV. But we should not hide the fact that this question is being hotly debated, and it should reference representative arguments on both sides.

    To do otherwise is like having an article on Bill Clinton that did not mention Lewinsky until the day after the impeachment.


  • Rick Jelliffe 2007/01/26, 9:22 am

    Rob, I was not offered a laptop or cash in return for my opinion, I was offered a contract to do a editing job. I have done lots of editing, it used to be my fulltime job at one stage. Your inference is insulting, and the kind of smear I am getting used to. I am surprised it comes from you though. What on earth are you thinking?

  • Rob 2007/01/26, 9:57 am

    Rick, Thanks for reading. I realize you have limited time to visit a lot of blogs, and a lot of “I’m offended” statements to distribute to various people writing about this incident. So, I do appreciate that you made a little visit here to share your thoughts.

    Doug Mahugh, in his excerpt on Slashdot did not really state what the method of payment would be, whether cash, whether check, whether you would bill him for hours, how the exchange rate would be determined, or whatever. But I don’t think the mechanics of the payment are really the interesting part of this deal.

    Doug said, “Your reputation as a leading voice in the XML community would carry a lot of credibility”. He did not say, “Rick is known as a good editor”. The salient feature he wanted to purchase (or “contract for” if you prefer) was your good name and reputation. If they merely needed technical editing skills, I’m sure they have a list of names already in their system they could have called on.

    In any case, no offense intended by me to you. Personally I think you should be offended at Microsoft for assuming that you could be bought in this way. But that’s just the way I see it.

    In any case, the thrust of the article is not another rehash of the ethics of Wiki-gate. Others have done that to death. The point was to look at the OOXML page from the eve of this story breaking, and try to figure out what all the fuss was about. How biased was the article? Why did Microsoft think it was slanted and “heavily edited by IBM”? What issues were in it that required the “reputation” of “a leading voice in the XML community” to correct?

  • Rick Jelliffe 2007/01/26, 11:07 am

    Rob, no, no, thanks for reading me. I realize you have little time left from being snide and dismissive at the moment.

    Are you really sure you want to say that Microsoft has paid for my opinion: i.e. that I would change my opinion to suit them or whoever paid me?

    And, if you are, is this an official statement from your position with IBM?

    Remember, you made this comment at the start of a blog item protesting that IBM people have not engaged in “slanted language” to make things they disagree with look bad. I am worried it will make you look a total prat. If you are pissed off about what that MS rep said about IBM, take it out on her or them, not me.

    My opinion on a lot of related issues is on record for a long time, and we can do consistency checks if you like. Why would I openly bring up this contract in public if there was a hint of improprietary?

    In any case, the Wikipedia entries relate to fact not opinions. I put the mention of my “credibilty” down to 1) flattery (Doug is trying to get me to do the job), 2) that when edits or potential edits were discussed or disputed by Wikipedia editors, I wouldn’t automatically be dismissed as a mere MS hack, but be recognized as someone with my own POV. (You can ask Doug what he meant.) There is absolutely nothing sinister in that, and you owe me an apology.

  • Rob 2007/01/26, 11:34 am

    Rick, I have a great deal of respect for you and your contributions to XML and standards. But if you post another comment like that, I will delete it. It does little credit to you, and I have no desire to host a forum for your own self-destruction. Get some sleep, have a nice weekend, maybe some time away from the computer, and look at things with fresh eyes next week, OK?

    To my knowledge this blog does not contain any statement by me that you have accepted any money, or that you have offered to change your mind or opinion on anything.

    Please, anyone let me know if you see it written otherwise.

  • Andrew 2007/01/26, 12:00 pm

    Rob, I think your post was a constructive and well-considered response to the issue of whether or not the wikipedia article in question was slanted.

    The comments section, though, is turning into a slap-fight. I would suggest that people focus on the content of your edits to the wikipedia article and spend less time worrying about people’s reputations.

  • r3m0t 2007/01/26, 2:16 pm

    Well, Rob, you work at IBM, so why not just straight out say that you don’t know of any Wikipedia editing drive?

  • Rob 2007/01/26, 3:12 pm

    Has an “editing drive” been alleged as well? I thought the accusation was that it was “heavily edited by IBM”? Or does that mean the same thing? In any case, after reading through the article I saw no signs of anything unusual. Do you? Does anyone?

    That is why I called this post “Crocodile Tears”. Microsoft seems to be weeping all over the place about how unfair Wikipedia has been to them, and how IBM has been manipulating the article, and then I go and look, expecting to see some massive anti-Microsoft tirade, and I just see an ordinary tech article on Wikipedia. The faults were minor enough that I was able to write them up in a couple of hours and submit them to Wikipedia, at no charge.

    Where there is so much smoke and no fire, I suspect that only smoke was intended. So the question is: what story came out this week that Microsoft did not want to get attention?

  • [Beta] 2007/01/26, 6:37 pm

    Rick, I’m unsure as to how you’ve read anything into what Rob has been saying about the unusual nature of hiring a respected member of the XML community.

    From your comments above I have to worry that Microsoft has found a way to direct the pro-ODF community into a flurry. And you’re not really helping them with asking Rob on his personal blog whether his statements are officially IBM or not.

    You’ll find that most edits on Wikipedia get re-edited, whether you’re some hick from TX, or the founder of Mensa. That’s just how it shapes itself.
    If you’d wanted to edit the article without your good name being questioned you should have done it before Microsoft required the help.

    Rob, I see you’ve signed up to Wikipedia, I’m unsure as to what the best recommendation is. Even if you edit both articles fairly you’ll get called on it. You’ll see one of two headlines: “IBM comes to Microsoft’s rescue on Wikipædia” or “IBM creates anti-MS articles on Wikipædia”.

    So far I’ve found your posts very well thought out and informative. Thanks!

  • Rob 2007/01/26, 7:07 pm

    Hi Beta,

    Thanks for writing. My approach to providing feedback to Wikipedia is to post my comments on this blog, in form of a review, and then to add a link to my review on the Talk page for the Wikipedia article (there is a discussion page associated with every Wikipedia article called a “Talk” page). I did that in this case and I’ve received no criticism on it so far.

    This allows me to make my comments available for the consideration of the volunteers editing the article, but does not involve me actually making the edits. They are free to take, modify or disregard any suggestions I make. This seems to be the approach the Wikipedia experts are recommending.

  • t 2007/01/27, 8:14 am

    But what is the point of OOXML anyway?

    If someone does implement this tome, and doesn’t support the microsoft legacy or propritary stuff (WMF, VML, and handling “do like word 8” tags), it isn’t going to be a useful reader or editor for Office 2007 documents. But only Microsoft CAN support this extra junk.

    As I posted over at Mr. Jellife’s blog, O07 documents are an improper superset of the OOXML standard (after he noted OOXML was the “native format”).

    Insofar as O07 and it’s killer license is OOXML plus any quirks, ideosynchrocies, legacy code, proprietary formats, etc. it is not going to be either open nor interoperable. And open OOXML program could generate (maybe) something which would render correctly in O07, but I see no requirement O07 generate something which will render correctly by any other OOXML implementation even if it outputs all the correct tags.

    So what then of places like a government agency that wants something open and standard – they will have a standard which is open, and some software from Microsoft which is the only implementation, but has already extended and extinguished it before it has been embraced. So you end up with lots of fog and smoke – an office suite that doesn’t work well with anything else, but emits an “open” XML skeletal document framework but the meaty part is still completely proprietary.

    So is anyone going to demand that O07 and later when used where standard software is required comply with the OOXML spec AND NO MORE when saving documents? Or will it be compliant if it is just something like:

    (normal DTD headers, OOXML doc)
    (normal closure).

    All being within the OOXML specification but completely closed.

  • Rob 2007/01/27, 10:29 am

    Hi T, Thanks for writing.

    Document and application conformance is defined in the OOXML specification. It comes down to this: document conformance is defined as syntactic conformance. In other words the XML parts must be valid to the given schema. Application conformance is defined as a consumer of OOXML not giving an error when reading a conformant document, and a producer of OOXML being able to produce a conformant document.

    So the value of the word “OOXML conformant” is rather weak, since even the most trivial application can pass. For example, I’ll claim that the world’s smallest strictly conforming OOXML consuming application is the shell command:

    mv foo.docx /dev/nul

    That said, the ODF definition of conformance is not much more elaborate either. The lesson is not to be fooled by claims of “conformance” in either case.

    What we really need, on both the ODF and OOXML side, is a “certification” program, where more in depth tests of functionality, adherence to details of the specification, and interoperability are tested.

    Andy Updegrove has a nice list of ways in which certification programs have been run.

    Remember, a specification or even a standard by itself does not guarantee interoperability. It is certainly an important enabling factor, but errors in implementations or ambiguities or in the specification can lead to interoperability problems.

  • Anonymous 2007/01/27, 12:52 pm

    Rick: How do you read a verbatim quote of the offer you were given as some kind of attack? I know you’re a bit sensitive due to all the recent attention, but I don’t think it’s Rob’s fault.

    Rob: The attention definitely wasn’t Microsoft’s idea. Rather, it was probably me, the random nobody who posted this to Slashdot who helped it get so much attention. This apparently ballooned into an AP article, which is why everyone covering tech apparently looked into it until they decided that it was basically a non-story.

    All: On that note, I would apologize to Rick. I misunderstood his original blog posting and thought they were already paying him. As we should all know by now, they were merely considering the idea that he might be paid to do it and he didn’t actually do any edits.

    But if I seem to be hostile, it’s not because I’m affiliated with any of the companies with a stake in this. Rather, it’s because I hate vendor lock-in, no matter whose it is.

    But just so you all know, the noise on this doesn’t come from Microsoft or IBM, it comes from little nobodies like me who want real competition and better software products.

  • Anonymous 2007/01/27, 2:37 pm

    I have actually refrained from editing wiki-type pages specifically because of these kinds of issues. I would actually prefer to have something closer to open directory, where you bring your concerns to the attention of a gatekeeper, who can modify or not modify the affected sections.

    Rick, you are well-respected and believed to be relatively neutral in this debate. I’d like it to stay that way, just so we have someone who can serve as a sanity-check.

    Going back to the topic of this posting, it really *is* difficult to see what biases Microsoft is protesting here. The article (both archived versions) appears to be balanced and fair, even if it does fail to include references and fails to maintain the “encyclopedia point of view” in its writing.

  • hAl 2007/01/27, 6:22 pm

    Hmmm, I see you picked up on the fact I stated earlier that both the specs have no real minimum requirement whatsoever for files to conform.

    I like your idea of certification but to be honest both specs aren’t ready for it yet. At this time certification will probably only favor the parties already dominating the market. Although it is a bit sad to say a bit of anarchy is not so bad mayby. It will probably trigger a lot of new software to be created without the hinderence of things like certification.
    I do think that when both the specs mature a bit more in the coming years and the flaws are editted out and the marketplace get clearer we might need something like certification as companies will definitly seek assurance that application provide certain levels of support for the standards.

    It will also be a time of mixed formats with binary and xml formats mixing more and more and that will also have a lot of interesting aspect that are hardly looked at yet. I think the next few years the used formats will diversify and then in a few years there will be come more of a convergence.

  • Anonymous 2007/01/30, 8:33 am

    Number 3 in your list of corrections (“Should say, ‘is the default format in Office 2007’, not just ‘is used’.) is factually incorrect.

    Only Word, PowerPoint, and Excel use these formats as their defaults. Microsoft Office consists of over twenty applications, many of which still use proprietary formats. These include widely-used desktop applications such as Access, InfoPath, OneNote, Outlook, Project, Publisher, and Visio.

  • Anonymous 2007/01/31, 2:00 am

    “many of which still use proprietary formats.”

    Also incorrect. OneNote has created a number of new underlying proprietary file formats, instead of using the shared drawing library of Office 2007.

    They don’t even rationalize. Why create a new vector drawing layer, when you’ve got one already?

    For you, it’s perhaps of little importance. But actually this speaks volume on Microsoft insistence on creating new and undocumented file formats over and over again.

    Why they do that? Because it’s simpler for them. Just like targeting a single platform instead of several, it’s just easier. Compare this with what the the OpenOffice guys deal with.

    -Stephane Rodriguez

  • Anonymous 2007/01/31, 2:19 am

    What it also shows is very dysfunctional teams at Microsoft. The OneNote team chose to create new file formats because, in essence, they did not want to work with other teams in the Office product group, such as the team responsible for the shared drawing library. Perhaps that’s as simple as refusing to take a dependency.

    OneNote’s PM Chris Pratley disclosed the issue on his blog last year, but never went to explain what was going on.

    And that ends up in products themselves.

    Next time you try to copy/paste vector drawings from OneNote over to Word and vice versa and notice how little functional it is (spoiler : the vector drawings are pasted as a static bitmap), perhaps it’s time to wonder what they were thinking, and whether OneNote is worth the troubles…

    -Stephane Rodriguez

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