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CCIA Explains Interoperability Limitations With MS's XML
Thursday, November 10 2005 @ 07:39 AM EST

The Computer & Communications Industry Association prepared a paper [PDF] in July of 2004, "Microsoft's approach to Disclosures of XML File Formats for Word 2003 and Excel 2003," in which it explains the interoperability limitations with Microsoft's XML file formats, with examples. CCIA was one of the organizations represented at the Armonk meeting recently on ODF. I found it particularly helpful, because it uses an analogy non-programmers, such as myself, can understand. The trouble with technical discussions is, at some point, it's difficult to know who is right, if you don't understand the tech personally. But I think we will all have an easy time understanding what the CCIA calls Microsoft's "marzipan problem."

You can get the PDF yourself from CCIA's website or from Google's HTML version.

Here is the section that talks about interoperability issues and compares it to trying to follow a recipe:


XML is useful for interoperability only if the schema is completely specified and is agreed upon by all parties. If the schema is incompletely specified or if parties cannot agree on the definition and format of the fields, interoperability will fail.

However, even if all parties agree upon the schema format, another interoperability consideration is whether or not all parties have the ability to create and consume the data types stored in the fields. If all parties cannot create or utilize the data types stored in all of the schema fields, interoperability will fail.

Recalling the XML schema example with chefs and recipes, suppose that a cake recipe calls for "one cup of marzipan." Both chefs may agree that the recipe contains "marzipan" in the ingredients list, and that one cup is required. However, if the American chef understands what marzipan is and the European chef does not, the European chef will get different results.

Further, if marzipan is an invention of the American chef, and the American chef refuses to tell the European chef how to make it, the European chef will get different results, even though he knows that the recipe is supposed to include one cup of marzipan.

Microsoft's disclosure of the WordprocessingML and SpreadsheetML schema is inadequate for interoperability because it omits critical information necessary for full interoperability. While these schema may or may not be complete, there is a fundamental limitation in that some of the items stored in the fields of the schema are Microsoft-proprietary data, and Microsoft has not disclosed the information necessary for others to interpret and use those data. As a result, we have a "marzipan problem" -- no one but Microsoft is able to create and consume the data in some parts of the schema, making the schema unusable for full interoperability.

Returning to our example, suppose the American chef has a recipe for the world's best chocolate cake, and makes it widely available, allowing and even encouraging other chefs to read and share the recipe. However, the recipe contains marzipan, and the American chef does not tell anyone how to make marzipan. As a result, even though you have the recipe, and even if you have the American chef's permission to use the recipe, you still may not be able to make the cake correctly.

And as to their conclusion, here you go:

While Microsoft has released a definition of the XML schema used by their Word 2003 and Excel 2003 applications, these disclosures clearly lack information which is necessary for interested parties to achieve complete interoperability with Microsoft Office 2003's entire feature set. Despite the fact that Microsoft promotes these disclosures as a prime example of their interest in supporting interoperability, the disclosures are incomplete and therefore effectively unusable; as a result, they have very little value as interoperability tools. Further, if these disclosures are being promoted as interoperability tools, but if in reality they cannot be used as such, one might wonder about the true motivations behind the disclosures, and indeed if those motivations have anything to do with interoperability at all.

I didn't say it, folks. They did. And what I understand them to say is that if interoperability is your goal, Microsoft's XML is not what you want.


CCIA Explains Interoperability Limitations With MS's XML | 350 comments | Create New Account
Comments belong to whoever posts them. Please notify us of inappropriate comments.
Corrections Here
Authored by: digger53 on Thursday, November 10 2005 @ 07:51 AM EST
If any.

[ Reply to This | # ]

CCIA Explains Interoperability Limitations With MS's XML
Authored by: Stumbles on Thursday, November 10 2005 @ 07:51 AM EST
I think this kind of information coming from other sources than MA
will help show the MA Senators Microsoft is trying to pull the wool
over their eyes.

You can tune a piano but you can't tune a fish.

[ Reply to This | # ]

Off Topic here please.
Authored by: DFJA on Thursday, November 10 2005 @ 07:53 AM EST
Please make clinks lickable by following the instructions in Red, and remember
to set your post to HTML Formatted mode.

43 - for those who require slightly more than the answer to life, the universe
and everything

[ Reply to This | # ]

Marzipan is like the Java Trap
Authored by: DFJA on Thursday, November 10 2005 @ 08:09 AM EST
See The Java Trap by Richard Stallman for a further explanation. This seems to be essentially the same issue - in other words, the recipe fundamentally relies on something that is outside the recipe itself, but which is not Free.

43 - for those who require slightly more than the answer to life, the universe and everything

[ Reply to This | # ]

Is Marzipan a Good Example?
Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, November 10 2005 @ 08:14 AM EST
Let's see : I am from UK and I believe I know what marzipan is. It's a dry-ish
paste made from ground almonds and sugar that is put as a layer under the icing
of eg. Xmas cake. This is what anyone in the UK would understand.

I would not however think of measuring it in a cup - it's a bit too solid for
that, like clay. You would need to press it in very hard to fill a cup
properly, and then you have some difficulty getting it back out.

So what is marzipan in the US?

[ Reply to This | # ]

Martha Stewart's Marzipan
Authored by: rsteinmetz70112 on Thursday, November 10 2005 @ 08:16 AM EST

Makes 2 pounds

1 pound almond paste

1 box confectioners’ sugar

1/4 cup light corn syrup

Vegetable shortening, for hands

1. Combine almond paste, confectioners’ sugar, and corn syrup in a large
mixing bowl. You may need to work the mixture with your hands to ensure that it
is well mixed. To prevent the mixture from drying as you work with it, rub hands
with a light coating of vegetable shortening. Wrap tightly in plastic until
ready for use.

Rsteinmetz - IANAL therefore my opinions are illegal.

"I could be wrong now, but I don't think so."
Randy Newman - The Title Theme from Monk

[ Reply to This | # ]

Interoperability and the disabled
Authored by: dyfet on Thursday, November 10 2005 @ 08:19 AM EST
There are many people who I recall earlier commented on the ease of extracting and converting the text portion alone from an xml document into a audio file (text2ogg, etc). However, this is an incorrect way to look at the problem. Most disabled individuals do not actually wish to linearly listen to a multi-hour voice rendering of some government published document, just as most people would choose not to read such a document linearly cover to cover.

The idea behind XML schemas for the disabled involves providing formats that not only include the voice representation of the text, but also a structure or outline of the material that offer a means to navigate the content intelligently. A book for example may be divided into chapters and sections, pages, etc, and these elements a user may wish to access directly. Existing XML schemas that have tags which can describe such elements and document structure are particularly useful.

One of the more common shemas proposed for disable use is Daisy, which is an XML format built in part from SMIL (the very same XML multimedia which ODF also can embed and that Microsoft denies exists :) with some additional structural tags to make voice based navigation more logical. Transposing a document such as ODF, with tags for chapter and section headings, etc, into something like a navigatable Daisy talking book I imagine should be quite duable even with XSLT.

Microsoft XML includes undisclosed binary fields embedded in their XML document. If these fields are of a structural nature, then those structural elements cannot be transformed. That I think goes to the heart of the CCIA argument as it may apply to disabled access. However, the patent licensing issue creates an additional barrier, because it claims rights over even accessing the meta data and structure tags themselves. That would require the state to aquire products on terms and licensing conditions that are set by Microsoft.

[ Reply to This | # ]

Microsoft is a CCIA member.
Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, November 10 2005 @ 09:53 AM EST
Microsoft is a member of CCIA, so it can't possibly be accused of bias against Microsoft. CCIA is telling it like it is. I wonder if this means Microsoft will be pulling strings behind the scenes at CCIA like at Massachusetts. http://www.ccianet.or g/modules.php?op=modload&name=Members_List&file=index&POSTNUKESID=8d 9865f30b07d47103816539baf67e2a

[ Reply to This | # ]

CCIA Explains Interoperability Limitations With MS's XML
Authored by: rsteinmetz70112 on Thursday, November 10 2005 @ 10:17 AM EST
This is exactly what we need, a detailed exposure of Microsoft's FUD. It will
allow Microsoft to be questioned about their claims of interoperability.

I do wish there had been a little more explanation of XML and an example of the
specific Microsoft tags which are not fully specified, proprietary or open, but
that can wait for another day.

Rsteinmetz - IANAL therefore my opinions are illegal.

"I could be wrong now, but I don't think so."
Randy Newman - The Title Theme from Monk

[ Reply to This | # ]

Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, November 10 2005 @ 11:11 AM EST
Funnily enough the biggest problem to me was over understanding the idea of
"cups" in recipes.

This does fit in with the idea, though, If you are trying to be understood
across lanuages or cultures the standards you use need to be just that,
standards. You cannot therefore use arbitary cups and so Americans use
standarised ones.

However, these mean little to those of us outside the USA and so a standard unit
of weight of volume would have greater understanding.

Am I to understand therefore that MS are using non-standard cups and no one
knows what they mean?

[ Reply to This | # ]

marzipan even worse
Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, November 10 2005 @ 11:20 AM EST
What if the american chef releases the recipe wiht the sole intention of forcing
others to buy the secret marzipan from him? The marzipan comes with an eula that
prohibits yoou from selling any other form of chocolate unless it containes the
secret marzipan. Vendor lockin!!

Here you have the best chocolate in the world. You have the recipe, the US chef
advertises that fact.... making consumers believe the only reason you do not
make this chocolote is because you do not want to.

Presure rizes and ou are forced to buy the marzipan from the us chef because of
consumer demand. Here the recipe is used as a blackmail tool

[ Reply to This | # ]

office 2003 isn't office12 xml
Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, November 10 2005 @ 11:49 AM EST
"the disclosures are incomplete and therefore effectively unusable"
What parts are incomplete (Word2003)? If I save a document in Word2003 XML, I
don't see any strange items or tags that refer to strange disclosure.

The xml schemas of both office versions are also different.
Does this report also apply for the new office12 XML?

[ Reply to This | # ]

CCIA Explains Interoperability Limitations With MS's XML
Authored by: bsstmiller on Thursday, November 10 2005 @ 11:59 AM EST
I have been thinking about what would make a good example. Nuts and Bolts. The
nuts represent the file format, the bolts the software interacting with the
file. I would take 5 UNF (unified fine thread) threaded nuts and bolts and
paint all the nuts dark green. I would then paint the 5 bolts different colors:
Red, Yellow, Pink, Purple, Bright Green. I would then take one UNC (unified
course thread) nut and bold and paint them both MS Blue.

All the UNF bolts will work together. The UNC MS Bolts won't.

[ Reply to This | # ]

How to Explain Open Formats to a Politician
Authored by: grundy on Thursday, November 10 2005 @ 02:00 PM EST
Start with several different printers' renditions of a
standard accounting form, in which the layouts are all
the same but the size, binding or material are different.

Show these as different applications applied to an open
standard format. Note also that the numbers may be
applied to the forms with many different implements.

[ Reply to This | # ]

Big deal, 99.9% of documents do not contain code
Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, November 10 2005 @ 02:11 PM EST
Reading between the lines of the CCIA's conclusions, one could understand that
if Microsoft when designing office 2003 had found a secure, legal and practical
way to include specifications for embedded program code and
blobs in their wordprocessing xml schema, they would be fully endorsed by the

[ Reply to This | # ]

Are we really surprised?
Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, November 10 2005 @ 03:48 PM EST

Folks were shouting about the closedness of Microsoft's XML format when it was first announced. To me, those proprietary porions of their XML schema should be a show-stopper for any application creating publicly consumed data.

Microsoft should play the game the way the rest of us have to. Back when I worked for an organization that was working under a variety of Federal government contracts, we submitted deliverables according to the government's needs, not our needs. There were even documentation standards for certain govt. organizations that differed from site to site. It didn't matter. We adapted to their requirements when submitting product to them. The contracting agency was the customer. They paid for the product. They were the boss(es). We would have found ourselves out of work within a year if we'd gotten arrogant as certain large software suppliers have.


[ Reply to This | # ]

I am surprised
Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, November 10 2005 @ 03:52 PM EST
This topic is supposed to be about standards. Some things I have no problem
with: when grandmother Jones teaches little Jimmy Jones how to bake and says,
"Mix in a tea-spoon and a half of sugar - heaped up like this" that's
just fine; but if Jimmy grows up to be a civil engineer and says, "Order
enough cement for 1 mile 3 furlongs of road, 5 yards 2 feet 3 inches wide and 7
3/16 inches thick," I would presume that he learnt his trade from the
original McAdam. If he was building his road in Germany, they would not let him
touch a shovel.

Why has almost everyone who has commented on cups of marzipan, making all sorts
of comments about units, failed to make the obvious comment: measurements should
be stated in international standard units - the only such set of units is SI

I wonder if some of the current American units even exist: the pound is legally
defined to equal exactly 453.59237 grams; does America actually have a one pound
weight to that degree of accuracy? If you follow the calibration trail from a
retailer's scales back to the international standard, at what point does the
calibration certificate become expressed in SI units? How many people outside
the US know how much an American fluid ounce is?

The US got to the moon with pounds and nautical miles, do they still do the same
for the ISS?

If the use of OpenDocument XML is to be encouraged because it is an
international standard, then the use of SI units should be even more


[ Reply to This | # ]

M$ is the new IBM
Authored by: Graves on Thursday, November 10 2005 @ 09:56 PM EST

Don't you think M$ is playing the same games IBM played in the 1980's? We are
IBM! No-one will defeat us! You will bow before us and take what we give you!

And what happened? IBM posted the biggest ever corporate loss world history ($5
billion I think, but that was before Enron, Worldcom and all that).

M$ will get what is coming to them with ALL of this behaviour.

You just have to sit back, relax, and enjoy the show :)


[ Reply to This | # ]

Authored by: findlay on Friday, November 11 2005 @ 02:50 AM EST
I knew StrongBad would find his way into this mess somehow. The routine might go something like this, but sadly I'm out of comedic inspiration and couldn't really keep the parody going that well anyway. Enjoy it if you can. (-:

Dear StrongBad,
Why doesn't marzipan tell everyone what she's really made of so the world can interoperate? We're highly amused and skeptical of MS' smoke-and-mirror illusion of a standard.
Sincerely, John Q.

Well, Mr. Johnny Q. I think Marzipan is full of banannas.

Wir müssen wissen. Wir werden wissen.

[ Reply to This | # ]

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