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Five (Bad) Reasons to Approve OOXML

  1. If you don’t approve OOXML, Microsoft will walk away, and you’ll never hear from them again. Forget the fact that OOXML is already an Ecma standard (Ecma-376), and cannot be taken away. Forget the fact that Microsoft has other formats lined up for ISO approval in the near future, like XPS or HD Photo. Microsoft wants you to think that if you don’t give them exactly what they want, now, they will walk away from ISO and you will be the worse from it. We need to encourage Microsoft for their abuse of the standardization process, in hopes that their participation will evolve in line with our hopes, and not our fears, that they will improve on the standardization side, while curbing the abuse side. Of course, the encouragement could be misinterpreted to mean the opposite, and we could get more abuse, and even lower quality standards. I guess that’s the risk we’ll just need to take. By similar abuses of logic small children hold their breath until their faces turn blue, thinking they can scare adults into giving them what they want. It doesn’t work there either.
  2. If you approve OOXML, you can have the privilege of spending the next 5 years in the glorious work of fixing thousands of defects in the text. You can get a seat at the table, fixing bugs that should have been fixed in Ecma before OOXML was even submitted to JTC1. Forget the fact that maintenance in JTC1 is a ponderous, time consuming activity, where individual defects are enumerated, changes proposed, discussed, voted on, etc. Forget the fact that the recent BRM showed that you can’t really get through more than 60 defects in a week-long meeting. Forget the fact that fixing defects in Ecma, not JTC1, would be far faster and easier due to the lighter-weight process Ecma imposes on their TC’s. Forget that Fast Track is intended for mature, adopted standards not for ones that will require a “Perpetual BRM”. Forget all that. You want a seat at the bug fixing table? You got it.
  3. Billions and Billions of legacy documents. Well, actually these legacy documents are not in OOXML format; they are in the legacy binary format. And no mapping has been provided from the legacy formats to OOXML. But there are billions and billions of these legacy documents. That must be important. So vote Yes for OOXML because there are billions and billions of documents in some other format that is nebulously related to it.
  4. More standards are better. More standards means more choice, means more decisions, means more consultants, means more money paid to XML experts. You’ll sooner find the American Dairy Council recommending less milk consumption than a standards professional calling for fewer standards. So ignore quality, maturity and need. More standards are a good thing. Like Blue-ray and HD DVD.
  5. ODF will be better if OOXML is approved. In OASIS we’re too stupid to look up legacy features or Excel spreadsheet formulas in Ecma-376. We would have never thought of that. We believe the only way to make ODF better is to make it more like OOXML. That is why we would like to encourage nice little JTC1 countries like Kazakhstan to vote YES for OOXML. As soon as OOXML is approved, then magically, it becomes useful to us. But the exactly same text, not approved by Kazakhstan and JTC1, is not useful to us at all. It is all or nothing. There is nothing in the middle. Rather than taking a useful, high quality text, and approving it on its merits, we are asked to approve a specification with thousands of defects, and by our approval we transform it into something useful to ODF.
{ 7 comments… add one }
  • orlando 2008/03/24, 2:57 pm

    Thanks Rob for your reasons. Very insightful post.

    Seeing how far has this fast-track fiasco reached .. i can’t stop to wonder :

    We are in 2008 ( eight years after 21th century beginning ). This [OOXML] is what we [the world] deserve as a average ISO international standard deliverable?

    Are we re-entering the dark ages?

  • Waleed Oransa 2008/03/24, 4:37 pm

    Very impressive summary Rob,
    I can add one more: if you approve OOXML you catually approve a specification which doesn’t achieve any of the goals stated in the proposed standard draft. For example: The full compatibility with the current MS office binary format can not be implemented using the current proposed specification, only MS can implement it! You will feel much better with OOXML than with ODF. Huh ?

  • Rob Brown 2008/03/24, 7:01 pm

    Hi Rob,

    I had a very enlightening conversation with my wife’s father over the weekend: he’s just bought a combo VHS player/DVD recorder box, and wanted to know about recordable DVD formats. I really didn’t know what to tell him; I’ve found that DVD+R works best in my DVD player, but I know someone else who swears by DVD-R.

    It was enlightening because, as a geek, I am used to dealing with the odd incompatibility issues and don’t think much of it. But to non-techie types, it’s both very frustrating and totally incomprehensible. Why would there be multiple things called “recordable DVDs” which are not recordable in all recorders, and not playable in all players? This customer doesn’t want “choice” in DVD standards, he wants something that works!

    Document format incompatibility is old news, of course – everyone knows that if you’re receiving documents by e-mail that you can’t open, then the correct response is to upgrade to the latest version of Microsoft Office.

    How great it would be if, in some future world, there would be meaningful document compatibility (even at the cost of “customer choice”).

  • Rob 2008/03/24, 8:45 pm

    @Rob, Here is how I understand the writable DVD problem, from a standards perspective.

    Start with the readable DVD format. Why is that universally understood? Because there was a strong motivation for content producers (movie studios) and device manufacturers (consumer electronics) to agree on a single format. That leads to nice consolidation around that standard at all levels.

    Now writable DVD’s? Well, movie studios really have no incentive to encourage that, do they? In fact, they fear that. So the “grand alliance” that pooled patents, etc., to produce a single format falls apart, because there is no common interest anymore.

    In other words, the existence of multiple standards in that domain is a failure of standardization.

  • orlando 2008/03/24, 8:45 pm

    excuse me

    what OOXML do you refer?

    as far as i know, there is *no* final text of this draft specification to review nor approve

    ECMA and Microsoft are still changing conformance terminology, creating annexes, creating schemas, deprecating/transitioning clauses, reorganizing the text in parts, creating/deleting standards parts, deleting duplicated normative text, fixing and changing XML of examples , adding +400 pages of rushed changes decided in BRM ( some of them with errors, like the mangled BRM resolution mentioned here… and the resolution of date handling that doesn’t match the “…V9.doc” document referenced ) + 98% ( 2000 pages ~ +800 comments ) of not consensued nor discussed changes ( approved by 4 national bodies in BRM, two of them O members), etc, etc

    Many of this rushed changes are re-introducing errors, problems and inconsistencies.

    So, this OOXML or DIS 29500 draft is , in this moment, vaporware.

    How easy is to get an ISO brand, you just overflow NBs with lot of pages + lot of changes to review in a very tight schedule … the result: to avoid problems, NB officials say: “no one is fired to approve a Microsoft proposed standard” ( Czech’s Jirka Kosek approach)

    Orlando ( from Argentina ) ( my NB lacks expertise in XML , but at least is honest and doesn’t approve a non existent text, like some Microsoft/ECMA pawns )

  • Anonymous 2008/03/24, 11:19 pm

    It’s blu-ray, not blue-ray.

  • Jeff 2008/03/30, 8:17 am

    Neville Chamberlain, please call your agent.

    Seriously. If the Number One reason for approving OOXML is that if we don’t, MS will walk away from the standards table, fine. Let’s get some competent public relations, some industry solidarity built up. We know that on a scale of 1 to 10,000, that OOXML rates a 37, but we’re too ‘pragmatic’ to care about principles or telling the truth ourselves (that it’s a junk standard that can’t be implemented by anybody except MS).

    Or, we’ll give MS a counteroffer. OOXML can be ratified if – IF – Microsoft can show a conforming independent implementation which relied exclusively on publicly available information (not even ‘just the draft standard’) for implementation.

    This really *is* “fish or cut bait” time, people. Either we want a standards process that means something – is defensible and worthy of respect – or we’re going to lower ISO and the industry to the level commonly described as Ecma – “never met a standard it wouldn’t approve”. This *is* 1938, ISO is the industry equivalent of Chamberlain, and OOXML *is* the Munich Agreement. Do we really so want “peace in our time” that we’re willing to give away – not even sell, but give away – our basic principles in the idiotic hope that the bully will somehow stop punching everybody into the ground?

    Color me disgusted. The world *is* watching.

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