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MS: OK. OK, we'll set up an "OS" project to build an ODF killer. Er, we mean translator.
Thursday, July 06 2006 @ 09:09 AM EDT

Now that others have built a translator for ODF/Open XML interoperability after the Commonwealth of Massachusetts put out a call for one, Microsoft announces it would like to sponsor an "Open Source" project to build one of its own. What need is this filling? I'd say Microsoft's need to stay in the game. Can there be any other reason to duplicate work that has already been done?

I'm not sure why Microsoft is announcing an "Open Source" project, though. What do they need that for? The press release clearly says that "Microsoft is developing the translation tools in collaboration with the France-based IT solution provider Clever Age and several independent software vendors, including Aztecsoft in India and Dialogika in Germany." PR, maybe? Clever Age, indeed.

I see the same strategy that we saw in the Adobe PDF dispute:

In an ongoing dispute with Adobe, Microsoft said earlier this month it had canceled plans to include an automatic way to save documents in the popular Portable Document Format in Office 2007, due out to consumers in January. Instead, users will have to download separate, free software to save documents created in Office products such as Word and Excel as PDFs....

The spat with Adobe, which developed the popular PDF technology, comes as Microsoft is preparing to launch its own competing format for saving documents that cannot be easily modified. Microsoft's technology is called XPS, which stands for XML Paper Specification.

Microsoft had previously said Office 2007 would be able to save documents as PDFs. But Microsoft claimed it dropped plans to include the format after Adobe asked it to charge customers for the ability to save Office documents in either the PDF format or Microsoft's new, competing XPS format. Microsoft says it refused.

So, Microsoft will let you download Adobe's PDF, if you absolutely insist, and install it yourself, but alternatively you can just use Microsoft's competing software, with its built-in competing PDF-like tools, making Adobe obsolete.

Zap. Buh-bye, Adobe. Is Microsoft clever, or what?

Ditto with ODF. Here's the choice it is trying to posit: You will have to download their ODF translator yourself and install it. Or, just stick with Microsoft's one-stop competing solution that is built in to their software offering. Considering Microsoft's monopoly position, and my mom's and most governments' typical technical skills, guess what Microsoft hopes moms and governments will choose? I see a plan in not building the ODF translator into Microsoft's software. So truly clever. It looks open. But it's marginalizing ODF. I think the press release might better have been titled, "Microsoft announces what it hopes will be its ODF killer."

Here's how the press release begins:

Microsoft Expands Document Interoperability

Company to sponsor open source project for Open XML-ODF file translation to deliver more choice for government customers and their constituents.

REDMOND, Wash. — July 5, 2006 — Expanding on its customer-focused commitment to interoperability, Microsoft Corp. today announced the creation of the Open XML Translator project. The project, developed with partners, will create tools to build a technical bridge between the Microsoft® Office Open XML Formats and the OpenDocument Format (ODF). This work is in response to government requests for interoperability with ODF because they work with constituent groups that use that format. In addition to being made available as free, downloadable add-ins for several older versions of the Microsoft Office system, the translation tools will be developed and licensed as open source software. The translation tools will be broadly available to the industry for use with other individual or commercial projects to accelerate document interoperability and expand customer choice between Open XML and other technologies.

“By enabling this translator, we will make both choice and interoperability a more practical option for our customers,” said Jean Paoli, general manager of interoperability and XML architecture at Microsoft. “We believe that Open XML meets the needs of millions of organizations for a new approach to file formats, so we are sharing it with the industry by submitting it, with others, to become a worldwide standard. Yet it is very important that customers have the freedom to choose from a range of technologies to meet their diverse needs.”

If Microsoft had a "customer-focused commitment to interoperability", why is the EU Commission about to fine it millions per day for failure to provide the necessary tools to allow competitors to interoperate? Think it through, people. And ask yourself: has Microsoft said their Open XML will not have proprietary extensions? If not, what might the plan be, do you think?

Microsoft is unable to hold itself back from telling us how their solution is "better" than ODF. Interoperable with an inferior product, to hear them tell it. The press release continues:

Open XML and ODF were designed to meet very different customer requirements. By developing the bidirectional translation tools through an open source project, the technical decisions and tradeoffs necessary will be transparent to everyone — Open XML and ODF advocates alike. The Open XML formats are unique in their compatibility and fidelity to billions of Office documents, helping protect customers’ intellectual investments. Open XML formats are also distinguished by their approach to accessibility support for disabled workers, file performance and flexibility to empower organizations to access and integrate their own XML data with the documents they use every day. In contrast, ODF focuses on more limited requirements, is architected very differently and is now under review in OASIS subcommittees to fill key gaps such as spreadsheet formulas, macro support and support for accessibility options. As a result, certain compromises and customer disclosures will be a necessary part of translating between the two formats.

Ah. I see they didn't join the OASIS committee handling ODF for nothing. Did I tell you or did I tell you? ECMA, by contrast, just rubber stamps submissions and sends the Microsoft XML proposed "standard" on its merry way, or so I hear. Here's how ECMA describes itself [PDF, p. 20]:

"Offers industry a 'fast track', to global standards bodies, through which standards are made available on time....

Offers a path which will minimise risk of changes to input specs."

OASIS, in contrast, is truly open, and it's not controlled by one vendor, nor is it a fast track to speed submissions through. That's not a bug. It's a feature, particularly if what you are looking for is something that is truly an open standard, not Brand X "open".

So, I translate this part of the press release as Microsoft saying their ODF interoperability tool won't work as well as their own competing XML offering that requires no downloading or installation. Can a leopard change its spots? They know now that governments are serious about open standards, and so they are doing the minimum they think it takes to seem to qualify, while simultaneously spreading some FUD. How do you like this next paragraph, hilariously titled "Interoperable by Design":

Interoperable by Design

Today Microsoft Office Word, Excel® and PowerPoint® already include built-in support for dozens of formats to enable interoperability across products. In addition to the default Open XML file formats, the 2007 Microsoft Office system will include a new menu option that points users to add-ins for PDF and XML-based formats such as the XML Paper Specification (XPS), and now ODF as well. Because these add-ins are available online from a download service, customers will have easy access to the latest industry file format options along with the comprehensive Open XML formats.

“Interoperability is a key priority of the government in the e-governance paradigm. Our ability to meet the needs of citizens will be greatly increased by the interoperability and integration of open, XML-based standards,” said M. Moni, deputy director general of the National Informatics Centre, who is spearheading the process of e-government standards in India. “It also empowers citizens to use the software of their choice. So, we are very pleased to see Microsoft take a responsible and open, yet practical, approach to our interoperability requirements.”

As you can see, they will merely point users to add-ins. If you want an ODF translator, get it and install it yourself. PDF too. There are practical consequences, as RedMonk's Stephen Grady explains:

Q: Ok, so what about that limitation? What's the catch with the ODF support?

A: Well, let's say that you're the State of Massachusetts and you're going ahead with your support for ODF as part of your open standards agenda. If your agenda is pro-open standards, rather than anti-Microsoft, as I believe it is having heard former MA CIO Peter Quinn speak, this is potentially great news. But one would think that for Microsoft Office as an ODF platform to function effectively, you'd have to be able to change the default "Save As" behavior on a system-wide basis.

Otherwise, when one of your workers fired up Word, wrote a memo, and simply clicked Save it would output as either binary Word or MSXML depending on the version. Which would result, I'd think, in chaos particularly in larger institutions. We've even had that problem at RedMonk with some of us on Word and some of us on OO.o. Expecting users to remember to manually select "Save As ODF" each time they need to create an ODF document - which in enterprises that mandate ODF will be every time - is not realistic.

As I understand it, however, having queried Microsoft on this (and they should feel free to correct me if I got it wrong) changing the default "Save As" behavior is not possible. Well, technically it's possible, but not without locking virtually everything else in the File menu down; a solution that is not likely to be acceptable to wide audiences.

This means that while users will in theory be able to consume ODF assets, and eventually author them, the support within Office will be biased towards Microsoft's own format. While that's understandable for competitive reasons, it's less than ideal for customers.

But wait a sec. I just read a review of Vista that seemed to me to be saying that the new version of Word won't be backwards compatible in all respects:

A welcome new feature detects and removes unwanted comments, hidden text, or personal information to ensure that sensitive information doesn't escape when documents are published. Word allows you to open and edit older Word files, but saves them in a new file format by default. As you would expect, the new format is not backwards compatible. This is an important consideration if you need to exchange files with others who may not have made the upgrade.

Let me please be the first to point out what the lack of backward interoperability with older versions of Word will mean for the blind. First, there are no assistive technologies available for Vista, yet, because Vista isn't ready. So there will be a gap for the blind. Then, on top of that, judging from this review, they will be faced with an unhappy choice: either upgrade to Vista where there is as yet no software that works for them to translate to speech, and hope other companies write something quick, or stay with what they have, which works well on older versions of Word, but at the cost of being unable to interoperate with documents created by Vista. I note that Microsoft's Brian Jones says that the ODF translator tools will be available on the following schedule:

The Word tool should be available by the end of this year, with the Excel and PPT versions following in 2007.

Didn't Microsoft tell us how vital it is to be backward compatible? Wasn't that why their XML was "better" than ODF? My stars, it's hard to keep up with Microsoft's public face.

The blind have another option. They can stay with the Microsoft software they have now and use the community-developed ODF translator, which means governments can immediately choose to go with ODF solutions and the disabled will be able to participate. You can hit the ground running. Or, with OpenOffice.org, you can function smoothly with ODF, and you can interoperate with Word also, speaking of one-stop solutions. You don't want to have to be retrained? If you read the review, you saw that Vista means you'll have to be retrained anyway, because it's so different from what you are currently using:

To try and make features easier to find and minimize on-screen clutter, Microsoft has replaced the traditional menus and toolbars with the "Ribbon," an interface device that presents commands (buttons, icons and options) under a set of tabs.

As an example, Office Word 2007 offers tabs for writing, inserting, working with tables, altering page layout, conducting mailings, and more. Excel, on the other hand, serves tabs for creating worksheets, inserting charts, applying formulas, and more. In theory, only relevant tabs appear when they can support the immediate task at hand. Thus, as an example, Excel's chart commands only appear when you're working with graphs.

Ribbons will likely be easier for novices to learn, but may prove frustrating for experienced users that are accustomed to the original MS Office interface. As it stands, it takes time to learn exactly which commands reside on which ribbons, and, for now, ribbons can't be customized to your liking (WYGIWYG - What You're Given Is What You Get).

While the new interface may or may not improve productivity in the long term, there will definitely be some short-term learning and adapting for everyone. Fortunately, experienced users will still be able to apply familiar keyboard shortcuts.

So, you might consider choosing a solution that doesn't come from a company that talks out of both sides of its mouth. I'd say that's not a good sign. And keep in mind also that Vista will make Windows Genuine Advantage a mandatory feature, so your software will be calling home with your personal data unless or until Microsoft unilaterally decides to phase it out, unless the two class-action lawsuits regarding WGA are successful in shutting this feature down sooner. Governments too might wish to consider the WGA factor quite seriously when making a decision. Nothing in any FOSS software that I know of ever calls home. For one thing, there is no home. Linus and the Free Software Foundation don't care what you do with GNU/Linux software. Use it in freedom, your privacy intact. They don't snoop on you or collect data about you. It's a major value-add in FOSS software, most particularly for governments. As for individuals, this security expert advises individuals to avoid Vista, due to security concerns:

A security expert believes that home computer users should give Windows Vista a wide berth if they're concerned about malware and other security issues. Microsoft has marketed Vista as the long awaited watertight version of Windows that will address the security concerns of past Windows releases, which now require a multi-tiered armoury of security tools to keep hackers at bay.

Graham Clulely, senior technology consultant at email and web security provider Sophos, believes that Windows has become an unsuitable operating system for unsophisticated home users who are unable to stay abreast of the security requirements necessary to safely go online. What's more, Clulely does not expect this to change with the release of Vista.

Not wishing to offend anyone, but judging from public statements by some politicians recently, sometimes government users aren't technically so clueful either. It's something to consider.

As for developers, if you've always wanted to give Microsoft a leg up in the competition against FOSS, here's your chance. Besides, is there a developer anywhere who doesn't love to reinvent the wheel? That way, governments like Massachusetts, Belgium and Denmark won't keep walking away from Microsoft products. If you share Microsoft's goals, then do give them a hand pronto. Be aware it's under the BSD license, though, so you're helping for free, but the code can be taken proprietary and used by anyone that wishes to make some money from your work in a closed source product, and there is no requirement that they contribute back any code. You get to contribute, but they don't have to reciprocate, so there is no common pool of code for all to benefit from. Also, note this quotation from Microsoft's Jason Matusow in Peter Galli's coverage in eWeek:

While there was no licensing conflict that prevented BSD code from being included in a project licensed under the GPL (GNU General Public License), "the challenge becomes that the GPL then trumps the other license on a going forward basis for that project," he said.

Galli presents some info about why Microsoft is announcing an "Open Source" project:

Jason Matusow, Microsoft's director of standards affairs, noted that Microsoft was not contributing code or providing architectural guidance for the Open XML Translator project....

"Predictable timelines, milestones, deliverables, documentation and testing are things that don't automatically happen. If you look at any of the big, successful open-source projects, they achieve commercial quality because there are commercial players behind them with funding and professional development," Matusow said.

There had also been no regulatory pressure on Microsoft to develop these translation tools, he said, adding that the discussion about interoperability had been going on in Europe for a number of years, "and we take our responsibilities and obligations very seriously on any of these topics of what happens with the government."

In other words, the motivation for the creation of these translation tools was "not about an overwhelming response from enterprises and other customers seeking ODF support," but rather to respond to governmental concerns about being able to communicate with constituents that might choose to make use of the ODF, Matusow said.

May I ask why, if Microsoft thinks that "big, successful open-source projects" achieve success only when "there are commercial players behind them with funding and professional development" it has chosen not to contribute code or architectural guidance to the Open XML Translator project? By the way, Microsoft's view is mistaken. GNU/Linux was a huge success before any large commercial players got involved. That's why they got involved.

Here's the info on where developers who are out of their cotton-pickin' minds can go to write some code for Microsoft:

Working With Industry Partners

Microsoft is developing the translation tools in collaboration with the France-based IT solution provider Clever Age and several independent software vendors, including Aztecsoft in India and Dialogika in Germany. A prototype version of the first translator added to Word 2007 will be posted today on the open source software development Web site SourceForge (http://sourceforge.net/projects/odf-converter), under the open source Berkeley Software Distribution (BSD) license, where anyone can submit bugs and feedback or contribute to the project. The complete version of the Word translation tool is expected to be available free from the download site by the end of 2006, with add-ins for Excel and PowerPoint expected in 2007. Older versions of Office will have access to the translation tool via a free Compatibility Pack, which also provides free updates to enable Open XML format support.

“OpenXML represents a paradigm shift not only in its architecture but also in the customer needs it serves, opening organizations’ existing documents to take advantage of new content management and collaboration scenarios that weren’t possible even as recently as a few years ago ,” said Frédéric Bon, CEO of Clever Age. “Through the documentation Ecma International is creating and work such as the Open XML Translator project, customers will soon have the confidence that Open XML and ODF formats can coexist and new document scenarios will flourish. We are looking forward to working with the community of developers and businesses interested in XML documents.”

Ongoing Commitment to Interoperability

As demonstrated by the recent announcement of the Interoperability Customer Executive Council and the significant industry contributions to the Open XML file formats from leading institutions like the British Library and Apple Computer Inc. at Ecma International, Microsoft is broadening its long-term investments in and attention to interoperability across industries and platforms through such avenues as product design, collaboration agreements with other companies, standards and the effective licensing of its intellectual property. Additional information about Microsoft’s customer-focused interoperability commitment, including an open letter titled “A Foundation for the New World of Documents” by Chris Capossela, corporate vice president of the Microsoft Business Division Product Management Group at Microsoft, may be found online.

As you can see, Microsoft says it is all about interoperability, Microsoft's version of same. Let's be real. If Microsoft were really about interoperability, the EU Commission wouldn't need to fine them millions per day for failure to allow competitors to have the means to interoperate. My baloney meter is ringing off the hook. The EU Commission has concluded that Microsoft's software is not "interoperable by design," and that Microsoft is fighting to avoid letting it ever be that way. The company apparently would rather pay millions per day than comply with interoperability demands from the EU Commission. What should that tell you? But hey, that's in a courtroom. This is PR. Two different worlds.


  


MS: OK. OK, we'll set up an "OS" project to build an ODF killer. Er, we mean translator. | 335 comments | Create New Account
Comments belong to whoever posts them. Please notify us of inappropriate comments.
Off Topic
Authored by: DannyB on Thursday, July 06 2006 @ 09:20 AM EDT
Please post off topic posts here.

Please be sure to keep posts off topic.


--
Colorless green ideas sleep furiously.

---
The price of freedom is eternal litigation.

[ Reply to This | # ]

Just more EEE
Authored by: ray08 on Thursday, July 06 2006 @ 09:26 AM EDT
This is essentially embrace, extend and extinguish. Typical M$ M.O. I have a
much better idea: don't use Office 2007 (or any M$ Office product). End of
problem, and M$.

---
Caldera is toast! And Groklaw is the toaster! (with toast level set to BURN)

[ Reply to This | # ]

Corrections Here
Authored by: feldegast on Thursday, July 06 2006 @ 09:31 AM EDT
so they van be found

---
IANAL
The above post is (C)Copyright 2006 and released under the Creative Commons
License Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0
P.J. has permission for commercial use

[ Reply to This | # ]

MS: OK. OK, we'll build an ODF killer. Er, we mean translator.
Authored by: mini on Thursday, July 06 2006 @ 09:33 AM EDT
Regarding PDF, Microsoft has really painted itself into a corner:

Either it includes PDF, and prepares to face antitrust charges. Or it does not
include it, and prepares to face antitrust charges for the XPS format...

Now, including ODF would *not* be problematic in the same way.

But please, try to keep the PDF discussion separate - the issues are a bit
different.

[ Reply to This | # ]

MS: OK. OK, we'll build an ODF killer. Er, we mean translator.
Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, July 06 2006 @ 09:35 AM EDT
I hope that each and all webmasters will think thrice before offering the shiny
new Microsoft handcuffs, erm, I mean, FILE FORMATS, on a public website!

As for myself, I made a resolution:
*neither* of these new-fangled formats will ever get a place on my public
webserver!

[ Reply to This | # ]

They will do what they have to do
Authored by: freeio on Thursday, July 06 2006 @ 09:38 AM EDT
M$ is fully capable of meeting any ODF compatability standard, somehow. Perhaps
they do it in house. Perhaps they contract it out. Perhaps they use a
community project. As long as it meets their need of meeting government
purchasing requirements, that is enough.

You may remember their posix fiasco some years ago. They met the purchasing
requirements of posix compatibility, while making the use of this compatibility
so unlikely as to be laughable. This is a repeat performance - sing the chorus
one more time.

Those of us who migrated away from M$ years ago know that that it can be done,
and done well. Those who choose to migrate away from M$ today have a
well-beaten path to follow. Those who choose to stay with M$ will pay and pay,
for every last part and piece sent down from on high in Redmond.

I could not afford for my business to run on M$ software. The risk is too
great, and the cost is exhorbitant. Governments and businesses are discovering
this fact, and they either have to up their budgets again, or find something
else to use. Now is the time for the latter solution.

Cheers!

Marty

---
Tux et bona et fortuna est.

[ Reply to This | # ]

They're clever about it. But...
Authored by: KarlJorgensen on Thursday, July 06 2006 @ 09:41 AM EDT

They're being very clever about it - no doubt they'll use this whenever anybody anywhere wants to go for ODF: "Just install this, and you can continue to use our software! ... oh... by the way: But you've got to upgrade to Office 2007 first."

I will expect them to:

  • Use it as an argument for upgrading to Office 2007. After all, one of their biggest competitors to Office 2007 is themselves: people who haven't upgraded yet. They never had to, did they?
  • Milk this for whatever it's worth when it comes to discussing the EU fine: "But we are being interoperable!"
  • Ensure that the conversion is not 100%. Or at least give the appearance that data will be lost in the conversion. This will discourage people (and PHBs) from using it
  • Not save in ODF by default.
  • Make sure that people know that this is "unsupported" (to discourage PHBs from using it). Unless they're talking to somebody who wants ODF (Danish/Belgian government etc), where they'll make it a inherent positive feature of Office.
  • Buy time for their own "Open" XML format to make its way through the standard process. During this time there is ample opportunity for other shenanigans too, e.g. finding other ways of locking people into MS office.
  • Obey the ODF format - as much as they have to. Where the standard gives wiggle room and OpenOffice expects one thing, they'll (accidentally!) go the other way, thus making OpenOffice appear broken

So it appears that they are realising that customers want ODF. So they're giving in and allowing people to convert their documents. But they don't want to accellerate the process - the customers would run! It's damage limitation - they're looking for ways to stay in control. Control is important.

But then again, I've been wrong before...

[ Reply to This | # ]

MS: OK. OK, we'll build an ODF killer. Er, we mean translator.
Authored by: gtall on Thursday, July 06 2006 @ 09:42 AM EDT
There's another way M$ could go if they weren't so monochrome, publish the specs
on their own formats and promise to do so in the future...errr, there's an issue
with trust, but then that's surely their problem.

M$ does face a technological problem with file formats controlled by others;
those other formats might not be expressive enough or too clutzy to capture M$'s
docs. Also, the specs should change over time as the software changes. The
solution, however, should still be the same, publish their doc structure specs.


M$'s other problem might be that their doc structure is so convoluted that they
simply cannot express it in a set of formal rules. Surely the rules exist, they
write software that reads the docs, but that doesn't mean the software is
comphrensible. This would make sense if they have somehow mingled their software
document formats with their OS formats + software, which is what I suspect. If
so, they'll always have an incentive to denigrate any format not entirely
controlled by them. All the more reason their formats should be voided by any
means possible.

Gerry

[ Reply to This | # ]

As you would expect....
Authored by: DannyB on Thursday, July 06 2006 @ 09:51 AM EDT
Review of Vista that PJ linked to says...
.... As you would expect, the new format [Word] is not backwards compatible. This is an important consideration if you need to exchange files with others who may not have made the upgrade.
What, the reviewer thinks that I would expect that Word documents are not backwards compatible? What are they thinking of? :-)

---
The price of freedom is eternal litigation.

[ Reply to This | # ]

"ODF killer"? By no means
Authored by: Felix_the_Mac on Thursday, July 06 2006 @ 09:55 AM EDT
I think that classifying the move to create a translator as an ODF killer misses
the point.

Large users, especially governments, who are concerned about the long-term
accesibility of their documents are moving to adopt ODF.

The provision of tools, be they from Sun, MS or the OpenDocument Foundation,
that allows MS Office software to save documents in ODF format can only act to
ease the transistion to ODF supporting software.

If however you are hoping for the defeat of the MS Office as the dominant
productivity suite then, yes, you will be diappointed by any such software since
it allows forward looking organisations to adopt ODF whilst retaining MS
Office.

[ Reply to This | # ]

Menus / Tabs - What's the difference
Authored by: Gath on Thursday, July 06 2006 @ 09:55 AM EDT
Microsoft has replaced the traditional menus and toolbars with the "Ribbon," an interface device that presents commands (buttons, icons and options) under a set of tabs.

So you replace a menu button that drops down a panel full of buttons, icons and options with tabs that present a panel full of buttons, icons and options. How is this an advancement?

This qualifies for that oxymoronic saying, "It's the same, only different!". :->

[ Reply to This | # ]

It's going to be "open source" so it doesn't have to work
Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, July 06 2006 @ 09:55 AM EDT
If MS make the plugin and it doesn't work, then clearly they've sabotaged it.

If on the other hand, they sponsor an open source project, which then doesn't
work, the fauling is then that of the open source delvelopment process, and
provides MS with a new "fact" for everyone to "get".

I suspect that what they'll do is cripple it just enough so that it works, but
its a constant source of annoyance to anyone who uses it. Unlike, of course,
Microsoft's own format which will look realy good in comparison.

If they do this right, they can discredit open source and open standards both
while appearing to bend over backwards to comply.

Assuming we're daft enough to fall for it, that is...

[ Reply to This | # ]

"Linus doesn't care what you do with Linux"
Authored by: Felix_the_Mac on Thursday, July 06 2006 @ 09:58 AM EDT

I think that should actually read:

"The FSF doesn't care what you do with GNU"

[ Reply to This | # ]

Open XML advocates....
Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, July 06 2006 @ 10:00 AM EDT
I quote MSFT:

"...Open XML and ODF advocates alike...."

There is no plural for the number of "Open XML advocates", there is
only *one*, and that is MSFT.

[ Reply to This | # ]

Another little "gotcha"
Authored by: Jude on Thursday, July 06 2006 @ 10:04 AM EDT
Every time I have ever told Word to save a document in an file format other than
it's preferred file format, I have always gotten a warning dialog box that told
me that the file format I'm trying to use might not support all of the document
formatting features in my document. This warning seems to appear regardless of
the actual content of the document I am trying to save. It doesn't mean you
*will* lose anything, it just means you *might*. The only way to find out if
you *will* lose anything is to try it and see what happens.

This is a powerful disincentive to saving documents in file formats other than
the ones Microsoft wants you to use. If you want to avoid losing work, you have
to save twice: Once in Word's preferred file format, and again in the one you
want to use. Then, you have to re-open the document you just saved in the
alternate format and do a tedious check for unwanted changes. This is a heck of
a lot of nonproductive extra work. The upshot is that anyone who doesn't have
lots of spare time on their hands will end up saving in Microsoft's chosen file
formats.

This, in turn, helps Microsoft sell lots of upgrades. As soon as one person in
a company gets a new version of Word, they start creating documents that nobody
else can read unless they upgrade, too. The person who starts the chain might
not have even needed the new version, but ended up with it just because it was
the only one that was available for purchase.

Microsoft could use the to milk an endless revenue stream out of users even if
they never added any new features. All they have to do is make capricious
changes to file formats with each new version and prohibit further sales of
earlier versions. Product activiation can be used to prevent new installs of
old versions.

(Sorry about the verbosity, but I used two different meanings of
"format" and I wanted to distinguish them.)

[ Reply to This | # ]

MS: OK. OK, we'll build an ODF killer. Er, we mean translator.
Authored by: belzecue on Thursday, July 06 2006 @ 10:10 AM EDT
"To try and make features easier to find and minimize on-screen
clutter..."

Er... that would be the 'clutter' Microsoft put there in the first place. Funny
how the previous version's features become faults corrected by the next
version's features (snake eating it's own tail).

[ Reply to This | # ]

I don't see this as an ODF killer
Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, July 06 2006 @ 10:18 AM EDT

In the case of a Massachusetts or other groups that's decided on ODF as their preferred storage format for documents, either Word will be able to save in ODF in a reasonable fashion or it won't. If Microsoft, in their efforts to retain their desktop monopoly, makes it too much of a pain in the rump for users to conform to the standard, I'd say that they're shooting themselves in the foot.

When an IT group has marching orders to meet a standard, they'll pick the easiest means of doing that. All that it would take would be for a support manager to document how much time and effort is being wasted supporting the Microsoft kludge^Wplug-in and steps would be taken to get Word outta there. Especially in the situation where it's a government organization that's chosen this route (where changing the ground rules is tougher, especially when you take the sovereignty factor into account.). End-user complaints won't carry much weight. Just because it's called a personal computer doesn't mean that the end user in a govt. organization, or in a corporation for that matter, gets to use the computer any old way they like or have much (if any) say in what software is going to run on it. If the existing software doesn't meet the organization's requirements, it gets replaced [1].

So, let's see... in order to meet the requirements to save in ODF, I could:

  • Stick with expensive Microsoft Word that forces you to use a plug-in that you know darned well is NOT going to receive the same support as the mainline product. It doesn't take much imagination to predict what the dialogue between Microsoft support and a user who's experiencing problems with the plug-in is going to sound like. (Microsoft is already on record stating that ODF is an inferior file format because it's "slower". You can bet that any Microsoft sanctioned plug-in will perform like mollasses in January to "prove" their point.)
  • Start phasing out Word, department by department, for a software product that saves in ODF natively and costs far, far less to support.
Good gosh, my brain is beginning to hurt trying to make this decision. Please help!

--

[1] -- The majority of the time. I have been at organizations where truly awful software had, like a multifloral rose, insinuated itself so deeply into the organization that it would have been difficult (though not impossible) to tear it out and replace it.

[ Reply to This | # ]

OpenDocument Foundation
Authored by: Felix_the_Mac on Thursday, July 06 2006 @ 10:23 AM EDT
You reported back in May that, in response to the Massachusetts RFI, Gary Edwards of the OpenDocument Foundation told you that:
"The OpenDocument Foundation has notified the Massachusetts ITD that we have completed testing on an ODF Plugin for all versions of MS Office dating back to MS Office 97."

However, Andy Updegrove recently reported that the response to the RFI from the OpenDocument Foundation was, to say the least, puzzling:
Then there is the ODF Foundation's response, which somewhat surprisingly (to me, at least) begins awith the following Q& A:

1. What is the present state of efforts to create ODF plug-ins or converters for Microsoft Office, whether undertaken by respondent or others through projects with which the respondent is familiar?

This information is available under the terms of a confidentiality agreement.

What does that "O" stand for again? And why could no information on the status of development efforts be offered, given that Gary Edwards had instantly provided Pamela Jones at Groklaw with the followoing detailed status update when the RFI became public:

The OpenDocument Foundation has notified the Massachusetts ITD that we have completed testing on an ODF Plugin for all versions of MS Office dating back to MS Office 97....The testing has been extensive and thorough. As far as we can tell there isn't a problem, even with Accessibility add ons, which as you know is a major concern for Massachusetts.

Seems to me the formal response could have been a bit more detailed, given how much was already in the public record. As you scroll down the Foundation's submission, many of the responses that follow either reiterate the requirement for a confidentiality agreement as a precondition for disclosure of further information, or are more gnomic than illuminating. Hmmm.


I hope that our initial enthusiasm for the OpenDocument Foundation was not misplaced.

[ Reply to This | # ]

MS: OK. OK, we'll set up an "OS" project to build an ODF killer. Er, we mean translator.
Authored by: CnocNaGortini on Thursday, July 06 2006 @ 10:24 AM EDT
Microsoft is developing the translation tools in collaboration ...

The project home page says Microsoft will provide `` (Funding, Architectural & Technical Guidance and Project co-coordination)'', so I think it's stretching it a bit to say ``Microsoft is developing'' it. It looks more like ``Microsoft will provide some level of collaboration with someone else developing it'', which may be safer for them than allowing a free-range group to develop it.

[ Reply to This | # ]

MS: OK. OK, we'll set up an "OS" project to build an ODF killer. Er, we mean translator.
Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, July 06 2006 @ 10:25 AM EDT
I think MS management is too stupid to follow any strategy except the old one
taught to them by the old IBM. Just look at what IBM did with SGML back in the
mid 80's to see a parallel with ODF.

I take heart in the fact that IBM users wanted real interoperability and IBM
were so surprised when most of their carefully indoctrinated customers deserted
them for Open Systems.

So just keep hacking away at the keyboard and letting everyone know that
interoperability comes free with Open Source, and we will soon see the day when
MS suffers the same fate.

Stomfi

[ Reply to This | # ]

Rearguard actions
Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, July 06 2006 @ 10:34 AM EDT
Of course they're trying the usual (bad) stuff - but they're now fighting
rearguard actions. MS are still in the commanding position, they're not going to
crumble tomorrow, but the writing is appearing - letter by letter - on the wall.
They are having to listen, a position no dictator is comfortable with. They're
being forced to adapt, a position no monopoly has the skillset for.

I'm in my seventh (or eighth??) year of Linux-only workstations, and I suddenly
find I'm not a joke any more. This is (for the time being) enough. Giants don't
fall down overnight.

I am reminded of the position in photography - the hi-tech consumer industry of
the day - c.1900 (not personally - I'm ancient, but not that ancient) when after
the initial development phase Kodak (you press the button, we do the rest)
attained a near-monopoly position. 100 years later (at the end of the
pre-digital phase) they retained a strong. but not leading, market position with
Fuji at the top of the tree. Things move faster now, and I believe another 20
years will see a massive change. Some of Kodak's ploys in those early days bring
a smile of recognition to my face in the light of Microsoft tactics, but
international standards were established and bore the inevitable fruit.

biteydog (memo to self - sort out login sometime)

[ Reply to This | # ]

Disapponted with backward compatitbility with word
Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, July 06 2006 @ 10:40 AM EDT
Thats a dissappointment with word. Up till now I belived all word documents
would open in Office 2003, but with vista are you saying that it won't open?
Another disapointment I share is with Visio compatitibility. When a new version
of Visio comes out, MS makes them incompatible. Whats worse is that If I have a
full version of Visio 2000, I can't have visio 2003 viewer at the same time.
Isn't that terrible? No kidding, one day someone received a Visio 2003 file and
couldn't open it. I thought just download the viewer and it will work, but no it
wouldn't work because the person had a full version of visio 2000 installed. MS
is just about the money.

[ Reply to This | # ]

ODF plus extensions ...
Authored by: dkpatrick on Thursday, July 06 2006 @ 10:44 AM EDT
Maybe this is covered elsewhere. I just sat down to read the posts.

MS has a hand in the architecture. That includes hooks that allow
'extensibility'. MS provides a set of plugins that 'extend' ODF to support
MS-specific features, thereby proving that ODF is (per their contention) an
inferior offering.

The customer remains tied to MS Office because it requires MS extensions to ODF.

---
"Keep your friends close but your enemies closer!" -- Sun Tzu

[ Reply to This | # ]

MS: OK. OK, we'll set up an "OS" project to build an ODF killer. Er, we mean translator.
Authored by: John Hasler on Thursday, July 06 2006 @ 10:50 AM EDT
Making the plugin Open Source is consistent with Microsoft's attempt to confound
open standards with Open Source. There are organizations which refuse to use
Open Source due to its purported lack of support. "Disclosers" means
dire (but vague) warnings about potential data loss.

---
IOANAL. Licensed under the GNU General Public License

[ Reply to This | # ]

Bad analysis, PJ
Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, July 06 2006 @ 11:12 AM EDT
According to Brian Jones blog:

http://blogs.msdn.com/brian_jones/archive/2006/07/05/657510.aspx

"We already have the PDF and XPS support for Office 2007 users that
unfortunately had to be separated out of the product and instead offered as a
free download. There will be a menu item in the Office applications that will
point people to the downloads for XPS, PDF, and now ODF. So you'll have the
ability to save to and open ODF files directly within Office (just like any
other format)."

That means XPS will not be included by default, and thus your argument loses a
great deal of traction. While Microsoft's OpenXML format will be default,
that's to be expected.

[ Reply to This | # ]

Where is the center of the Universe?
Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, July 06 2006 @ 11:15 AM EDT

"I see a plan in not building the ODF translator into Microsoft's software. So truly clever. It looks open. But it's marginalizing ODF."

If you are looking at a Word centric computing system then the ODF translator is marginalizing ODF. If you are looking at an ODF centric computing system then the ODF translator is marginalizing Word.


--------------------
Steve Stites

[ Reply to This | # ]

Why would any open source developer do this?
Authored by: Sunny Penguin on Thursday, July 06 2006 @ 11:25 AM EDT
Does Microsoft provide a GPL version of MS office to start this project on?

---
"Numerical superiority is of no consequence. In battle, victory will go to the
best tactician."
~ George Custer (1839-1876)

[ Reply to This | # ]

phoning home
Authored by: nathan.sidwell on Thursday, July 06 2006 @ 11:41 AM EDT
"Nothing in any FOSS software that I know of ever calls home. For one
thing, there is no home."

not true. Major distros have an update feature that will prompt you with 'there
are updates, do you want them'. I know Redhat has this and so does ubuntu. I'd
be amazed if SuSE did not have it. Debian has the capability.

Of course this is under my control -- I can specify how often I'd like to check,
which servers I'd like to check, and whether I want any of the updates. Plus I
can uninstall them.

[ Reply to This | # ]

Danish reaction - Good or bad for MS?
Authored by: elhaard on Thursday, July 06 2006 @ 11:45 AM EDT
According to this article in Danish Computerworld, the Danish "Ministry of Science is pleased by Microsoft's U-Turn".

The article is in Danish, of course, so I'll just translate a few highligsts:

"It is gratifying that Microsoft takes this step towards opens standards. The lack of support for the ODF format [sic] in Microsoft's Office-suite has been a specific point of criticism from our part", says head of section Adam Lebech from IT & Telestyrelsen under the Ministry of Science.
You have to note that this is a civil servant making statements, not the Minister. On the other hand, Mr. Lebech is probably going to have a great deal of influence on the choice of open formats for government use in Denmark.

Manager of Strategy and Policy at Microsoft Denmark, Anders Nørskov, says:

Our customers in especially public government has asked for this feature. Public authorities in several countries have an increasing demand for the ability to communicate using more formats, and we will support those wishes. [...] We want to give public authorities the ability to service their citizens in those formats that the authorities want to use for communication, whether it is PDF, ODF or Open XML.
As you may know, Denmark is soon going to decide which open formats should be used for communication with and between government authorities. The first meeting about that is in August.

I read the new attitude from Microsoft as that they are fearing that their Open XML is not going to be one of the formats chosen in this process - partly because it isn't final yet, but mainly because there is doubt about its openness. They may have learned from Massachusetts that they will not succeed by just telling their customers "this is open enough for you".

The question is whether this is a good or bad move for Microsoft? On one hand they assure that they wil still be able to sell software, if and when ODF becomes the new standard. On the other hand, this move might clean away the last obstacle for choosing ODF.

Perhaps Microsoft has just realized that ODF is going to win?

Elhaard

---
This comment is licensed under a Creative Commons License (Attribution 2.0). Share & enjoy!

[ Reply to This | # ]

MS: OK. OK, we'll set up an "OS" project to build an ODF killer. Er, we mean translator.
Authored by: ThrPilgrim on Thursday, July 06 2006 @ 11:50 AM EDT

Open XML and ODF were designed to meet very different customer requirements.

This is true. The first requires that the customer gives their sole to Microsoft, the second dos not

[ Reply to This | # ]

WHO won't distribute WHAT now?
Authored by: rocky on Thursday, July 06 2006 @ 11:53 AM EDT

Now Pot, be careful how you talk about Kettle.

As you can see, they will merely point users to add-ins. If you want an ODF translator, get it and install it yourself. PDF too.

Let's change which particular items are being referred to and see if it sounds different. "As you can see, they will merely point users to add-ins. If you want [DVD support], get it and install it yourself. [MP3] too." Does that sound like a different operating system now?

These are things that are talked about as features in the FOSS world. Modularity, interchangeable add-ins, the ability to incorporate only the things you need to keep down the bloat and file size... These are all things that I have heard extolled as virtues of the open source model, where it's not just one huge, monolithic application. You don't like them as add-ins??? I mean what would you LIKE them to do? They can't re-release the current versions of MS Office, reprogrammed with these incorporated. Then they would have two different versions of MS Office out there, and what would people do who already have the first version? An add-in is obviously the best way to do it.

I dislike MS for a lot of other reasons, but don't pick on them for something as incorrect as this.

[ Reply to This | # ]

Translator != Pluigin
Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, July 06 2006 @ 12:09 PM EDT
They've annouced this as a translator -- that doesn't mean it's necessarily
going to be available as a plugin to use from within Word itself. It could very
easily be that you have to save your work in their "Open XML" format,
close the file in Word, then run the translator, find and open the file and tell
it to translate it and save the result in ODF. I could see them making this a
very clunky (i.e. inefficient and hard to use) interface...

[ Reply to This | # ]

Notice who they said ODF is for...
Authored by: karl on Thursday, July 06 2006 @ 12:20 PM EDT
PJ, when you parsed it, you didn't mention: Company to sponsor open source project for Open XML-ODF file translation to deliver more choice for government customers and their constituents.

So they're specifically saying it's for government. Yet another angle they're playing to minimize any likelihood of an open standard getting widely used for word processing documents.

I can't really blame them for having the thing default to saving to a proprietary format. Just like if you rip a CD in Windows Media Player, by default, it rips to WMA and if you rip a CD in iTunes, by default it rips to AAC.

That's pretty much the way everyone pushing a specific format plays the game. As long as you can switch your music player to rip in mp3 by default, it's fine. Of course with Word they'll probably NOT provide a way for you to save ODF by default, just one more action from a plethora of actions to attempt to ensure you're locked into not just Office, but ever-newer versions thereof.

[ Reply to This | # ]

why is it open source?
Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, July 06 2006 @ 12:29 PM EDT
Maybe the big plan is to add in some bugs, and say that the "OPEN SOURCE
ODF TRANSLATOR" is buggy :)

Afterall, it sounds much better than saying

"Microsofts own implementation of ODF" is buggy.

If an angry customer tells them that this stuff doesn't work, the m$ marketdroid
will just say: are you sure you need this buggy Oss odf translator? Why don't
you just save in Office Open XML.

[ Reply to This | # ]

Same old MS
Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, July 06 2006 @ 12:31 PM EDT
The MS/Adobe dispute sounds remarkably like the Netscape/MS conflict - and
remarkably like the very behaviour that lead to an antitrust suit.

[ Reply to This | # ]

Microsoft: Insecurity By Design
Authored by: Prototrm on Thursday, July 06 2006 @ 12:31 PM EDT
Microsoft has a bad habit of adding features to both its operating system and
Office suite that very few people want or need, features that only end up
serving the needs of malware writers around the globe. These are probably the
"features" that MS is referring to when it says that ODF is
deficient.

These features are often ill-conceived, poorly executed, and released without
proper testing. Is it any wonder that people prefer to stick with older versions
of its products, rather than upgrade? I'm quite happy with Office 97, myself.

The day-to-day needs of the vast majority of the world are simple, and
straight-forward. Software to meet those needs should be well-thought-out,
stable, well-tested, secure, *and unchanging*.

The only thing constant change accomplishes is additional vulnerabilities (at
least with Microsoft products). I have a feeling that Microsoft's decision to
support PDF's and ODF's via an external plug-in is going to open up a real
beaut!

[ Reply to This | # ]

Microsoft's Public Face
Authored by: BassSinger on Thursday, July 06 2006 @ 01:06 PM EDT
PJ wrote: "...My stars, it's hard to keep up with Microsoft's public
face."

That is because you never know upon which of them you are gazing.

---
In A Chord,

Tom

Proud Member of the Kitsap Chordsmen
Registered Linux User # 154358

[ Reply to This | # ]

MS: OK. OK, we'll set up an "OS" project to build an ODF killer. Er, we mean translator.
Authored by: gbl on Thursday, July 06 2006 @ 01:14 PM EDT
Two points...

First, didn't MS claim last month that there was no customer demand for this facility?

Second, let's all admit that WYSIWYG was a neat idea but was possibly the worst possible way to create a word processor. I've spent the past 20 years using Latex (which uses a simple markup language) for everything that could not written using plain ASCII text. The idea of having to write a 400 page book in Word would send me insane...

---
If you love some code, set it free.

[ Reply to This | # ]

Open-Source?
Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, July 06 2006 @ 01:57 PM EDT
This "open-source" EULA will foreseeable be restrictive beyond
imagination, among it regulation like

- not allowing to modify the code and
- not allowing to distribute it
- not allowing to talk, think or write about it
- not allowing to work on or with any remotely likely product

Clearly, that the same will go for the said EULA itself, too, ...

[ Reply to This | # ]

So MS does not want customers in Mass. gov.
Authored by: Sunny Penguin on Thursday, July 06 2006 @ 02:16 PM EDT
It seems MS does not want customers.
If Microsoft does not want to support required formats, they are not required to
do so; Customers are not required to purchase MS office.
I am sure every other office suite will support ODF.

Microsoft is like the two year old, who takes his toys and goes home when he
does not get his way.

---
"Numerical superiority is of no consequence. In battle, victory will go to the
best tactician."
~ George Custer (1839-1876)

[ Reply to This | # ]

Plugin for Word is deficient
Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, July 06 2006 @ 02:17 PM EDT
It seems this converter is deficient for real use of ODF. The Word 2007 plugin
says it can only import the ODF read-only and by translating it to OpenXML which
is a potentially lossy operation. To save the ODF document, it needs to be
exported to a new filename.

This means that you can't use Word 2007 to work on a ODF file, as each time you
need to make a change, you chew up the document. It's not a workable solution
as-is.

[ Reply to This | # ]

A Tactical Retreat to a Prepared Position
Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, July 06 2006 @ 02:25 PM EDT
"Microsoft Falls Back Again: Announces ODF Plugin - In the latest in a series of concessions to the rising popularity of ODF, Microsoft announced yesterday that it has quietly been supporting the development of its own set of plugins to enable conversion of documents to and from Microsoft Office to software products that support ODF. The news is being treated in the press as "new news," but in fact Ray Ozzie let slip mention of the project last October" - Consortiuminfo.org standards blog
[my emphasis - giafly]

"Microsoft dragged into accepting ODF - Keeps its distance - Microsoft is reluctantly lending its name to a project for interoperability between Office 2007 and desktop productivity software using a non-Microsoft supported file format." - T he Register

"Microsoft's ODF shotgun wedding - Microsoft clearly didn't want to support ODF. The fact that they now do, however, is a sign that they have realized that ODF is less of a threat than they once thought." - ZDNET

[ Reply to This | # ]

FOSS can (and sometimes does) phone home
Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, July 06 2006 @ 03:27 PM EDT
While it wasn't for all of FOSS, Red Hat used to force you to register your
boxes with their Red Hat Network to get updates. I just got a notification a
little bit ago that they're retiring one of my registrations that I hadn't used
for years. Go right ahead. It's been years since I did anything with that, but
it does seem to me that they did have information that they could use to
identify your box.

Also, just to be clear, there is also something in Fedora (and hopefully
available in other distros too) that you can turn on that will check for updates
automatically via a cron job. However, the very very large distinction between
this and MS' hairbrained antics is that this is optional and not hidden from you
(if you know where to find it, i guess). I think it's also turned off by
default. It also only updates packages that you have installed or installs
packages only if required as a dependency. They don't tell you what you'll
install and don't push anything down on you. They do mess things up once in a
while, but it usually gets fixed. Another difference is that this newer update
method (yum), doesn't need any registration with Red Hat... so at most all they
have is time and IP info - if you're not on a mirror.

I said above that I hope this is available in other distros because it is a nice
automation feature for someone that doesn't want to have to remember to run yum
update every day or every week or whatever.

Also, you'll note that firefox 1.5 does phone home by default to check for
updates.

[ Reply to This | # ]

Try to kill PDF? Its been tried before
Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, July 06 2006 @ 03:44 PM EDT
In the past there has been an attempt to introduce a competing standard for PDF.


Anyone remember WordPerfect's Envoy? It was WordPerfect's attempt to offer
something similar to PDF - you could download the viewer for free, and with
additions from WordPerfect, create Envoy files from any application via a
printer driver. Even the viewer looked very similar to the early (Version 2.0)
Acrobat Reader.

Needless to say, it didn't work. PDF won that battle, and due to the fact that
PDF is so widely used already, I think MS trying to introduce their own standard
to compete with PDF is just going to be an uphill battle at this point.

[ Reply to This | # ]

An example of potential third party interoperability via ODF
Authored by: Trollsfire on Thursday, July 06 2006 @ 03:50 PM EDT

I was at an annual local users group meeting for a (nameless here) software program where the discussion included exporting the program's output (text, tables, and graphics) into various formats. Despite this being a proprietary, closed source application, the developers present were aware of FOSS projects, including Mozilla and Firefox among the icons of HTML viewers along with Internet Explorer and Safari.

I was especially pleased, in the discussion of exporting to office applications, that OpenOffice.org was included. As of now, this program does not export directly to ODF formats (has a single file or set of numbered files in a directory output paradigm), but they are working on adding it.

The part I found most interesting was that the developer was not looking forward to having to do another implementation to export to Office Open XML to get more direct export to Word. In fact, he was aware of work on the plugins which would allow Word to read ODF files, and mentioned they would be really useful; if they worked well, then the software would just be able to use the ODF export code and have Word open that.

Ah, the beauty of open, documented standards for allowing information exchange. Also, even closed source companies understand this usefulness.

--Trollsfire

[ Reply to This | # ]

Mendacity
Authored by: grundy on Thursday, July 06 2006 @ 04:06 PM EDT
I have disliked MicroSoft since the letter about "their" BASIC, and so
have not seen any of their statements, except those that were being discredited.
Does anyone have an example of MicroSoft actually telling the truth?

[ Reply to This | # ]

  • Mendacity - Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, July 06 2006 @ 04:13 PM EDT
  • Mendacity - Authored by: John Hasler on Thursday, July 06 2006 @ 06:48 PM EDT
Stephen O'Grady
Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, July 06 2006 @ 04:50 PM EDT
redmonk's Stephen 0'Grady on the announcement:

http://www.redmonk.com/sogrady/archives/001877.html

[ Reply to This | # ]

Open source?
Authored by: TerryH on Thursday, July 06 2006 @ 05:05 PM EDT
Since the Open Document Foundation plugin was apparently not made available
under a free license or via an open development process, isn't Microsoft getting
the jump on ODF by announcing this as an open source project?

Seems like a real PR coup, if I have my facts right.

As annoying as I find Microsoft, I hate them less than I like open source -- if
they do indeed produce an open source plugin, then it's hard to fault them for
that.

The logical response will be to publish the ODF plugin online with source, of
course. But that's really too bad, because that'll put them in the "me
too" position, when it really should've been the other way around.

Seems like Microsoft has found a way to make a media coup by being more open
than their opposition. That's an unfortunate strategic mistake for ODF. Makes me
wonder why they made that mistake, actually (maybe some of the source code
wasn't available for a dependency? It's even possible that they were relying on
MS binaries).

OTOH, you should always give a powerful enemy somewhere to run other than over
you. Letting Microsoft win a PR battle by choosing to use free-licensing and
open source may be a good thing in the end. Maybe they can learn new tricks
after all.

It's about time -- they'll die if they don't. And I suspect somebody in MS
management knows that. The problem for them is how to change while saving face.
If they can do it while knifing a competitor in the back, they'll obviously
prefer that style of operation.

[ Reply to This | # ]

BSD=>GPL
Authored by: rsteinmetz70112 on Thursday, July 06 2006 @ 05:31 PM EDT
Just as there is nothing stopping someone from taking Microsoft BSD licensed
tools and making them proprietary. There is also nothing prohibiting someone
from taking the Microsoft BSD licensed tools and making a GPL version. The GPL
"fork", if that is what it truly is, would probably need to be ported
to Linux anyway. New BSD enhancements could just as easily be ported as well.

The problem will be if Microsoft comes up with another license trick, like their
"free patent license", precluding use in GPL software.

---
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 | # ]

MS: OK. OK, we'll set up an "OS" project to build an ODF killer. Er, we mean translator.
Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, July 06 2006 @ 06:01 PM EDT
Microsoft's formats and protocols are like the old IBM S/360 channel cables; about 47 pins, worked very well when you had the right socket for the plug, no-one could make a plug to fit a socket.

The rest of us use standard 3-pin plugs nowadays. ODF for reviseable form; PDF for published form. Both unencumbered standards; you can in principle go to a library, pull a book off the shelf, work out what they mean, how to write a program to extract meaning from a batch of documents.

Windows looks more like a games console by the day. Pros need their freedom; Linux looks best for that.

[ Reply to This | # ]

This is a knife that cut both ways
Authored by: PolR on Thursday, July 06 2006 @ 06:25 PM EDT
Many large organisations that contemplate going to OOo are caught between a rock
and a hard place concerning the migration strategy.

The rock is a small number of users that rely on some esoteric functions of
Office that have no exact counterpart in OOo. They are power users, so they
stretch the functions to their limit and the OOo counterpart wouldn't do for
them. They also have very specialised job, so the esoteric functions are
essential to them. If the transition requires everybody to use OOo, these users
will rebel, saying they can't do their job anymore, and they could be right.

The hard place is the file compatibility of the MS Office format with OOo. It is
good, but not perfect. If the transition allows some users to keep MS Office
while the rest of the organisation uses OOo, then the standard format for the
organisation has to be Microsoft, otherwise documents can't be shared. Not only
the benefits of ODF are gone, but the annoyance from the occasional file
compatibility mismatch will be at its maximum. There will be lots of useless
help desk calls and frustration from OOo users with MS Office documents. The
temptation will be to blame OOo for it.

A converter will solve that problem. It is now possible to allow power users
using MS Office while making ODF the standard file format. Power users would be
allowed to retain MS Office but would they told to convert to ODF anything they
need to share outside their limited pockets of MS Office. If there are
compatibility mismatch, the hotline will teell them this is the fault of the MS
Office converter and they can use OOo for anything that don't rely on esoteric
functions of MS Office.

All of the sudden the roles are reversed. OOo is the standard and MS is in its
ghetto. They better have the converter right, because the blame will fall on
them.

More importantly, senior management can be presented with a credible low risk
migration strategy that can handle both compatibility and power users. The last
roadblock to adoption is cleared.

I am in the opinion of Andy Updegrove in the newspick article. Microsoft is
retreating. This must mean there are more ODF appetite from governments than
what is publicly announced.

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The BBC's Take: Microsoft Opens Up To File Styles
Authored by: ankylosaurus on Thursday, July 06 2006 @ 06:31 PM EDT
http://news.bbc.co.uk/ 2/hi/technology/5153350.stm :

Users could be in for less frustration as Microsoft makes flagship programs handle rival ways of saving documents, spreadsheets and presentations.

...

The prototype of the first tool to translate between formats will be made available as a free download on 6 July.

...

The Microsoft-led project is being carried out with three other companies - French firm Clever Age, Aztecsoft in India and Dialogika in Germany.

---
The Dinosaur with a Club at the End of its Tail

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32 bit, you say?
Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, July 06 2006 @ 08:20 PM EDT
Has anybody picked up on the fact that the ODF converter's sourceforge project
pages only list a 32 bit Windows version yet?

What happened to 64 bit? Does this mean that people with 64 bit Windows
installations won't be able to convert their documents to ODF?

Hmm...

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Microsoft, Adobe, and PDF export
Authored by: brian-from-fl on Thursday, July 06 2006 @ 08:21 PM EDT
But Microsoft claimed it dropped plans to include the format after Adobe asked it to charge customers for the ability to save Office documents in either the PDF format or Microsoft's new, competing XPS format. Microsoft says it refused.

I cannot imagine Microsoft refusing to charge for something when given the opportunity. I strongly suspect that you would sooner see a pride of vegetarian lions than a Microsoft that didn't try to squeeze every last 1/100th of a penny out of every person on the Earth.

I think that there is a lot more to this than meets the eye. There are quite a large number of PDF writers on the market, some freely available (such as one of my past favorites, dvipdfm) and others share-ware, cripple-ware, or full-fledged commercial software. Why should Microsoft's arrangement be any different? And why would anyone take Microsoft's statement at face value when 99.9% of its other statements are so hotly contested? Why, indeed!

By the way, I am not aware of any fancy linkage and table of contents functions in OpenOffice.org 2.X's PDF export. But for sending documents to those who are OOo-less (and likely clueless as well!), it works wonderfully well, is so easy and convenient to use, and produces PDFs that are perfect (to my own eye, so far) renditions of what OOo would have printed directly.

I suspect that Microsoft can do whatever it wants, but unless its own tightly controlled formats are rejected, then the playing field is remarkably level.

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Before the trolls complain ...
Authored by: tanstaafl on Thursday, July 06 2006 @ 08:44 PM EDT
... some FOSS _does_ call home, but ALL of those callbacks, to the best of my
knowledge, are done ONLY with prompts. In fact, the ones of which I am aware
(Mozilla, Netscape, and perhaps Firefox - don't remember) either make the
callback modules optional, or give the user an obvious opportunity during
installation to _not_ intall them. And it's kind of hard to sneak data off the
system of a suspicious user when the sourcecode is readily available for
examination and independent re-compilation.

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MS: OK. OK, we'll set up an "OS" project to build an ODF killer. Er, we mean translator.
Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, July 06 2006 @ 09:14 PM EDT
No matter how you slice it, the media will view this as Microsoft making MS
Office into an MS Office killer.

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MS: OK. OK, we'll set up an "OS" project to build an ODF killer. Er, we mean translator.
Authored by: Anonymous on Friday, July 07 2006 @ 03:58 AM EDT
"As I understand it, however, having queried Microsoft on this (and they
should feel free to correct me if I got it wrong) changing the default
"Save As" behavior is not possible."

I'm confused... how can this be impossible? They did it for .doc, didn't they?

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MS: OK. OK, we'll set up an "OS" project to build an ODF killer. Er, we mean translator.
Authored by: Anonymous on Friday, July 07 2006 @ 05:21 AM EDT
Ask anybody who has ever tried to open one of Microsoft's own 'MS Works'
documents in 'MS Office' about interoperability.

I really don't need to say any more.

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...customer disclosures...?
Authored by: Anonymous on Friday, July 07 2006 @ 05:35 AM EDT
"As a result, certain compromises and customer disclosures will be a necessary part of translating between the two formats."

What will customers have to disclose? License codes? Social security numbers? Agreement to EULA?

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Just a few matters
Authored by: Wesley_Parish on Friday, July 07 2006 @ 07:44 AM EDT

Firstly, I had gathered from Brian Jones' blog that MS Office Open XML was basically a distillation of the previous Microsoft Office file formats. What you're quoting re:

"Open XML and ODF advocates alike. The Open XML formats are unique in their compatibility and fidelity to billions of Office documents, helping protect customers' intellectual investments."

by Paoli versus
"As you would expect, the new format is not backwards compatible. This is an important consideration if you need to exchange files with others who may not have made the upgrade."
leaves me puzzled. What do they mean this time by "backwards compatible"? I know why their format specification documentation is so big - it's because there's a lot of detail that in the ODF format definition is dealt with by previous format specifications. So if their Open XML is a distillation of all previous MS Office file formats, it should be backward compatible.

Secondly, I've got a copy of MS Office 95, together with a copy of MS Windows 95 - came with an old computer I was given - and I might compare and contrast the possibility of incorporating this plugin into stuff that old. MS Office has a somewhat specified Applications Programming Interface, and I may as well test it to see how it plays with stuff that old.

Am I having fun yet? Is it net fun or gross fun?

---
finagement: The Vampire's veins and Pacific torturers stretching back through his own season. Well, cutting like a child on one of these states of view, I duck

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Funny ACT response (Latest News Picks)
Authored by: RichardR on Friday, July 07 2006 @ 03:52 PM EDT
The Latest News Picks section features a response by the ACT (apparently some
kind of MS echo tube), with the following gem:

'Mandating the use of a single standard throughout all government agencies and
offices will hamper innovation and government effectiveness.’

Um, can these clowns give even the remotest hint of a viable explanation *why*
this should be the case - in the face of mountains of evidence (sorry Darl) that
the exact opposite is true?
Just how innovative and effective would society be if for instance several
southern US states would decide that Spanish, not English would be the primary
language - and, of course, several states along the Canadian border could choose
French. And lots of neighbourhoods in big cities would from now on handle their
local government affairs (including written documents) in Chinese, or Jiddisch.

Now exactly *how* would that improve innovation and government effectiveness? By
having to employ a huge army of translators to sort of guarantee that the US
doesn't fall apart at the language seams?

And if we look at the technical realm, why do you think almost all of the world
has adopted the SI (metric) system? Because it's open, simple, and makes sense.
And even today, the differences between the (American) imperial system and the
metric system still make the exchange of technology, and subsequent innovation,
more difficult, not easier. Sometimes, these differences even cause severe
embarrassment, as with the Mars lander which (IIRC) was programmed to descend in
(kilo)meters, but got the altitude data in feet. So it tried to touch down
softly about 10,000 feet above the actual surface of our neighbour planet ...
oops.

Yep, many, many competing (and proprietary) standards, a wonderful idea. Because
you want to be different, just like everybody else.
Or perhaps because there's a monopolistic company, owning and controlling what
is effectively and market-wise today's single(!) closed and secret standard for
document exchange? And this company would rather see Babylonic confusion of
tongues than having to bow their head to a single, open standard they didn't own
or create?

Richard Rasker

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Standards, ODF, and GSM (Oh, my!)
Authored by: brian-from-fl on Friday, July 07 2006 @ 11:01 PM EDT

From Spin doctors rue U-turn on open formats

'Mandating the use of a single standard throughout all government agencies and offices will hamper innovation and government effectiveness.’

Hmmmm. The U.S.A. has supported open, and incompatible, cell phone standards. European governments have mandated cell phone standards. Now, in which of those two general markets are cell phones more advanced, more useful, and more innovative?

For the benefit of those who are visiting Earth from a distant galaxy, I'll state what is obvious to this planet's residents. The answer is, of course, Europe. Apparently, that group of vistors include the ACT folks referred to by the link above as "spin doctors".

(I don't pretend to know much about the cell phone compatibility and innovation situation in Asia or Africa, so feel free to teach me!)

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Microsoft "incompetence"
Authored by: darkonc on Saturday, July 08 2006 @ 02:14 PM EDT
You notice that Microsoft is, uhm, "incapable" of producing a plugin which actually works, in spite of the fact that there's been a BSD-licensed plugin which had more functionality since last fall.

---
Powerful, committed communication. Touching the jewel within each person and bringing it to life..

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Assistive technologies for the blind
Authored by: Anonymous on Monday, July 10 2006 @ 05:50 AM EDT
MS quite often points out its own weaknesses by trying to project them onto competitors. In this case it's the poor state of adaptive technologies for MS Office. Currently, they only exist in spite of MS, due to troubles with MS chronic lack of documentation, hidden APIs, and changing APIs. That's all been covered in articles posted here and needs no elaboration.

What is at risk here, is that these third party developers of adaptive/assistive technology currently need the MS Office market. Currently, it's essential for their business survival. Not until there is a tipping point at which they can live or, later, thrive on non-MS productivity software can they afford to neglect MS Office.

Unfortunately these teams are quite limited and already pushing close to the Red Queen's situation where all resources are consumed in keeping up with the satus quo.due to the problems mentioned above. Any remaining man hours that can be alloted for non-MS Office work can be quickly eliminated if it uses the same tactics as with W95/NT vs Apple and OS/2: In order to recieve a seal of approval from MS for W95 software, a version for NT had to be produced. And in some cases, part of this agreement had the explicit prohibition of porting the application to competing operating systems. That is also a tactice used by MS against OEMs and the lid has barely been cracked on that case even in the courts, let alone the press, for fear of retribution.

In meatspace, we also saw this scenario play out some years ago, when MS bought up most of the top tech lobbyists and put them on retainer (so they cannot work for competitors). And in Borland, where top developers were poached and then sent out on extended holidays.

We can expect MS to try the same thing to simulteously attempt a jumpstart of its stillborn beast, MS Vista, as well as throw a wrench in the gears for assistive technology developers by requiring that they spend staff time on MS Vista apps to the exclusion of other platforms.

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