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Open Document Format Alliance Refutes the Burton Group Report on ODF
Thursday, January 17 2008 @ 12:12 AM EST

The Open Document Format Alliance has released a paper [PDF] refuting the recent Burton Group's Report on ODF and MSOOXML. I asked for and received permission to publish it here on Groklaw. The ODF Alliance response takes 18 points from the Burton Group's Report and answers them point by point. I think you will enjoy it. And I have a few impressions of my own to share with you, and then you can tell me what you think of it all.

I put Erwin Tenhumberg's rebuttal in News Picks earlier and Ryan Paul's ars technica piece on the Burton Group's Report, both of which were critical of it, but this is by far the most comprehensive response.

I will be curious to see if the Burton Group corrects any of the factual errors now being pointed out, which seem abundant. And I will be curious to see if they do so before the February 2008 ISO ballot on OOXML. After all, one of the co-authors of the Report, Guy Creese says, "We’ve made the overview available for free (I must admit I'm not sure for how long), as we believe this topic warrants expanded industry debate before a February, 2008 ISO ballot on OOXML, and we want to help catalyze and advance the debate."

If that is the sincere goal, they surely desire to correct the many errors made so as not to mislead anyone, and *before* the ballot resolution meeting. Otherwise, if FUD is the goal, they will do so afterwards, if ever.

Hey. Call me cynical. I'm a New Yorker. We've seen it all. And I see Microsoft pushing this report. The Burton Group may not know any better, but Microsoft surely can't plead ignorance of the facts.

You know what I hope? I hope someone shows the Burton Report to the EU Commission investigating Microsoft's behavior with respect to MSOOXML and interoperability. Why? Because as I read it, it seems to be at least implying that people should use MSOOXML because Microsoft is a monopoly, one which doesn't share its proprietary extensions, and so no one can render their documents as well as Microsoft can. Is that not the exact focus of the EU investigation?

The thing about a standard is you want it to be universal. That's the ideal if you are talking about an *interoperability standard*, and the hope behind any such standard. Proprietary, by definition, means it isn't universal. And in a standard regarding interoperability, it's shooting yourself in the foot. And that, of course, is what's wrong with MSOOXML.

That's not all that's wrong. I'd like to give you just a few of my impressions after reading the ODF Alliance paper, in my own simpler language, on points 1-6:

1. Burton's argument is that MSOOXML can "more faithfully recreate the look and metadata" but this is technically nonsensical. Both ODF and MSOOXML are formats, not applications. Only an application can recreate the look and metadata of a document. Microsoft Office can do that if Microsoft wants it too, but sometimes it doesn't want it to, as in the recent Office 2003 SP3 incident, or any time it decides not to support legacy features, like Microsoft recently stopping support for VB scripting in Office 2008 for the Mac. Now what are Mac users supposed to do? That's precisely the problem you have when you rely on or are dependent upon any proprietary vendor, and standards are supposed to free you from such events.

2. Burton claims Microsoft's OOXML is more extensible. But ODF is just as extensible as MSOOXML, except that there are no proprietary extensions that keep others from being able to interoperate. See number 1.

3. As for Burton's idea that OOXML's support for "custom schemas" makes it somehow "more ecosystem- and application-oriented than ODF", I'll translate what comes across to me as signifying codespeak, wink wink, or maybe that's how analysts talk. It's saying, to my eye, that because Microsoft is a monopoly and has a dominance, and because it has its own secret proprietary schemas, only it can possibly work well, so everyone should just opt for that. That, of course, leads us back to number 1 again, and also to the new EU Commission investigation of Microsoft as to whether it is deliberately refusing to let competitors interoperate sufficiently with its "custom schemas".

If so, if you enable a monopoly to remain one, are you helping yourself and your business, or just the monopoly? I think you have to ask yourself, what is an interoperability standard for? Isn't it precisely to try for universality? We're not talking about sending a photo in any number of choices of format here. There, the recipient merely has to be able to look at it. With documents interoperability, you need a lot more than that. And if your goal is to be able to open, edit and save those documents no matter what you or others are using, then a monopoly stranglehold may not be in your best interest, only in the monopoly's. See number 1.

4. Burton claims that calling it "Office Open XML" is being done by IBM and Sun to remind folks "of its origin in proprietary Microsoft Office file formats." They seem to imply it's some kind of dirty trick. That's the name Microsoft itself gave it. It might be a warning bell when analysts get facts wrong. How can they reach reliable conclusions from wrong facts? You might consider that enough to stop reading the Burton report.

5. As for Burton Group's allegation that folks are using the transition to XML to "more effectively compete with Microsoft Office," one simply has to ask, even if it were true, "What's wrong with that?" I certainly am not competing with anyone, and I care deeply about ODF. Why? I want to be able to share documents with family members and have them be able to read them, edit them, save them, and send them back to me, and vice versa.

Anyway, as in point 4, Burton has it backward. ODF vendors were the trailblazers here. Keep in mind, the ODF standards process began over 5 years ago in OASIS, and it's already an international ISO standard. Microsoft is following along with a spoiler candidate.

6. Burton calls ODF "somewhat simple" compared to OOXML. Smile. Being simpler than Microsoft's 6,000-page initial offering is probably not hard to accomplish. Nor is it a bad thing in a standard. Call it a feature, not a bug. You want people to be able to use the standard, after all. Many of the comments that the National Bodies' technical committees offered had to do with the sheer impossibility of even evaluating something so long and complicated in a short space of time. And they are technical experts. So, again, Burton Group has it exactly backward, I'd say.

They must not be tech guys. As the ODF Alliance puts it, "XML is simple. HTML is simple. Moreover, Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP), Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP) and other essential IETF standards are explicitly named that way because of their simplicity." Another word for simple, they suggest, is elegant: "There are considerable liabilities associated with unnecessary complexity: increased development and maintenance costs, increased difficulty to program, more complex (and therefore possibly negative) security implications, and generally buggier implementations."

I know. It's funny to go through the strained, totally backwards list, but it's worth reading the whole ODF Alliance response. There are other outright mistakes in the Burton Report, which would be worse if they are deliberate. Who knows? But it's totally false to say that "it wasn't possible for Microsoft to embrace ODF". They were on the OASIS Board of Directors, for heavens' sake, as ODF was being developed. They chose not to get involved for their own reasons, I suppose, but to say it wasn't possible is not true. They can even now, if they wished to. In fact, some country comments on MSOOXML asked them to please just merge the two, ODF and MSOOXML, so as to avoid two standards for the same thing.

As for the claim that ODF is "less compatible with the earlier binary Microsoft file formats", ask yourself why that might be, if it is so. For that matter, why can't MSOOXML do it either without extensions? If ODF was allowed to use those same extensions, it is just as capable of representing legacy binary formats. Ask Microsoft why they won't let that happen. Then read my point number one again and ask yourself where your best interest lies.

It occurs to me that this is a good place to tell you that Groklaw volunteer grouch and I have just redone Groklaw's ODF-MSOOXML permanent page, where you can find many resources and links to more information on this subject.

Just as a proof, here's a screenshot of the Burton Group website, where they call MSOOXML the same name that they scold Sun and IBM for using, Office Open XML:


Open Document Format Alliance Response
to the Burton Group's Report

The Burton Group has recently released a report entitled "What's Up, .DOC? ODF, OOXML, and the Revolutionary Implications of XML in Productivity Applications"1, written by analysts Peter O'Kelly and Guy Creese. This report makes a number of erroneously negative and unbalanced statements about the Open Document Format (ODF), many of them quite puzzling to us.

The Burton Group chose not to review their report before publication with the ODF Alliance, the foremost industry organization, with 480+ members in 53 countries, supporting the Open Document Format for governments. Had they done so, we would have brought to their attention a number of factual errors in the report, pointed out what in our opinion were weaknesses in the logic, and noted places where they may have inadvertently been misled by their sources.

The analysis that follows provides, on a page-by-page basis, 18 flaws with this report that we have identified so far. We raise, and clarify, these issues for the benefit of others, especially for the government officials with whom we work closely, who are evaluating their options to gain control over their documents and may be confused by some of this content.

1. Page 5 says "...[L]ibraries and large businesses, faced with storing and using years of Microsoft Office legacy documents, will prefer OOXML, as OOXML can more faithfully recreate the look and metadata (such as spreadsheet formulas) stored in Microsoft's binary file formats."

This statement confuses file formats and applications. Surely, OOXML cannot faithfully recreate the look of anything. It is a file format, not an application.

Microsoft Office is the application that interprets OOXML, and it can also render legacy binary file formats, except when Microsoft decides to remove support for them, as Microsoft recently did with Office 2003 SP32. There can be further problems when Microsoft decides not to support legacy features, such as when they removed support for Visual Basic scripting in Office 2008 for the Macintosh.3

The authors fail to note that no other application supporting OOXML has been able to faithfully or fully recreate the look of Microsoft's legacy binary documents. So the statement that OOXML a file format is the solution for rendering legacy documents is simply false.


2. Page 5 asserts that OOXML will win because, “...OOXML is an extensible standard. It allows vendors and enterprises to extend the standard within an OOXML-defined framework... This built-in ability to augment the OOXML standard is a safety valve for future innovation, allowing new features to be added without forcing vendors to invent yet another separate file format or wait for standards bodies to give their approval.”

Why does the report argue that OOXML is preferred over ODF for extensibility reasons, but fail to mention that ODF's extensibility features are just as rich? This lack of balance is disconcerting. ODF has extensibility features that are just as powerful as OOXML's, and, what is more important, ODF's features are based on existing industry standards, such as the W3C's RDF and XForms.

Further, it is not clear to us what the statement about not waiting for standards body to give their approval means. Surely the authors are not suggesting that we repeat the problems of some earlier efforts where multiple "user defined extensions" to a standard meant that we really didn't have a standard at all?

3. Page 5 also discusses OOXML's support for "custom schemas" and suggests that "OOXML is more ecosystem- and application-oriented than ODF."

We think it is unwise to consider exclusively Microsoft's particular "custom schema" feature. We should instead ask what the underlying business problem is that we are trying to solve.

For example, if you wish to programmatically update a stock price in a document (what the paper suggests is solved by custom schemas) then there are many other approaches, from custom spreadsheet functions, to document transformation, to DOM manipulations, to tagging, to mapping to an XML database, and so on. The underlying problem is how to take what is ordinarily unstructured document content and impose an organization's structured view on it. Suggesting that only Microsoft's custom schema support solves the problem, while ignoring ODF's support for alternative and standards-based approaches to the same underlying business task, is misguided, in our opinion.

In particular, the paper fails to note ODF's XForms support and how it can be used to enable users to add data to a document in a user-defined schema and then submit it to a web service. XForms is a W3C standard. 4 Here again, a sense of balance is missing, as is consideration of fully capable modern programming techniques that employ ODF to solve real business problems.

4. Page 5 says of the OOXML standard, in a section pointedly called "What's In a Name?: Innuendo," that "IBM and Sun reference it via its Ecma name of "Office Open XML" (as reminder of its origins in the proprietary Microsoft Office file formats)."

This is a curious statement, but there is no need to suggest the name is used for some


propagandistic purpose. Many people call the standard “Office Open XML” because that is in fact its correct name, both in ISO, and in Ecma, and even its legal name as used by Microsoft in their own Open Specification Promise. 5

Speaking of names, nothing is said about Microsoft choosing a name for their specification which was obviously destined to cause continued confusion with ODF's first implementation, Open Office. 6

5. Page 12 says, "...[M]any Microsoft competitors have attempted to exploit the transition to open, XML-based file formats in order to more effectively compete with Microsoft Office. While some of its competitors have very little hope of establishing successful products that directly compete with Microsoft Office, they may still seek to disrupt Microsoft's business by making Office less profitable, thus depriving Microsoft of opportunities to use Office profits to subsidize product development efforts in other market segments."

The report seems to suggest that it is somehow improper to compete against Microsoft. We find that view puzzling and confusing. ODF vendors are not "exploiting" the transition to open, XML-based file formats. They were the source, the vanguard of the transition to open, XML-based file formats, having initiated standardization of ODF within OASIS over 5 years ago. Also, according to the authors' own statements earlier (bottom of page 6), OpenOffice has had 100 million downloads compared to Office's 500 million estimated users. How can it be said that there is "very little hope of establishing successful products that directly compete with Microsoft Office"?

ODF is the source for new innovation and is set to further extend the value of modern technologies that have profoundly affected users of the Internet. For example, the Wikimedia Foundation, the technology arm of the organization that brought us Wikipedia, announced that they will use ODF to produce publication-quality documents from Wikipedia entries. 7

6. Page 13 says, "ODF is currently somewhat simple (and simplistic) compared with alternatives such as OOXML".

The rather negative term "simplistic" is asserted with no backing argument or evident motivation. In our opinion, this does little to establish a sense of objectivity in the report. We might also ask when did "simple" became bad thing in a standard?

XML is simple. HTML is simple.

Moreover, Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP), Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP) and other essential IETF standards are explicitly named that way because of their simplicity.


In our opinion, the best word to describe these global standards and ODF is not “simple,” but rather "elegant."

There are considerable liabilities associated with unnecessary complexity: increased development and maintenance costs, increased difficulty to program, more complex (and therefore possibly negative) security implications, and generally buggier implementations. A more balanced approach would have examined the negative effects of a more complex standard.

"As simple as possible, but no simpler" was Einstein's advice, and is worth heeding. You can always build complex applications from simple pieces, but you cannot easily build simple applications from complex pieces.

7. Page 13 says, "In terms of productivity application model concerns, ODF is primarily focused on content and presentation domains, and it is far less useful for scenarios requiring advanced structure and behavior capabilities. For example, ODF (currently in a 1.1 revision) supports a single table type for use within document, spreadsheet, and presentation applications"

The authors fail to make a convincing argument here, in our opinion. Taking a benefit of ODF and declaring that it is a liability, but without any argument, is puzzling. Most experts would say that, structurally, a table in a word processing document, a spreadsheet and a presentation share a number of factors in common that express their "tableness" such as an addressing mode by row and column, the ability to adjust row heights and column widths, the ability to have background colors, text content, etc.

Good analysis and and elegant design, (an art not a science, but still one with established norms) calls for common abstractions to be commonly represented. So the fact that ODF has a single table model is a virtue of the format, not a liability.

Note that there is nothing that requires the application to make a table in the user interface appear the same in all three applications. ODF is only defining the underlying storage model, and a table is a table is a table. There is no need for making this more complicated than necessary.

Conversely, examining why a single standard unnecessarily includes redundant representations of the same basic concept in three different areas would be very useful, if it can be justified. It would lend balance to the arguments presented. Such redundancy would tend to make a standard much longer than expected and increase the development complexity, unless you already happen to have an implementation.

8. Further on page 13 the authors state, "'s essentially impossible to get ODF proposals approved if they're not also supported in, and further noted that Sun closely controls (much as it also holds control over Java)."

This is demonstrably false, and the use of unnamed "vendors" as sources does not eliminate the


need for doing basic fact checking on such claims. Rumors and innuendo do not objective analysis make.

First, on the control aspect, note that ODF 1.0, the standard, is owned and controlled by OASIS, a standards consortium of over 600 member organizations. Sun is just one company among many members. Indeed, for most of the development of ODF, Microsoft was on the Board of Directors of OASIS.

Second, OASIS is a corporation. It is legally bound to its Bylaws. There is no arbitrary control by member corporations.

The ODF TC is co-chaired by an IBM employee and a Sun employee, and is regulated by the OASIS TC Process document, which is publicly readable by all8 and has clear rules of procedure and appeal.

The ODF TC has three subcommittees. The Accessibility SC is co-chaired by IBM and Sun, while the Formula Subcommittee and the Metadata Subcommittee are each chaired by individual members of OASIS who are not affiliated with any large corporations.

Voting rights in the ODF TC, for accepting or rejecting features, is currently as follows:

  • Sun -- 3 voting members
  • IBM -- 4 voting members
  • Individuals -- 3 voting members

This can easily be verified at the OASIS ODF TC website. 9

Is sharing the chair position on the TC and on 1 of 3 subcommittees considered "closely controlling"? Is having 30% of the votes considered "closely controlling"?

As for proposals being accepted into ODF, we note that all three major features for ODF 1.2, RDF metadata, OpenFormula, and enhanced accessibility, are new proposals which have not been yet implemented in OpenOffice. Moreover, the ODF TC is currently processing a set of features requested by the KOffice open source project. So the assertion that it is "essentially impossible" to get new features into ODF if they are not already supported by OpenOffice is not true. This error is unfortunate and needs correcting through rigorous fact checking, as do the others, in our opinion.

Oddly enough, this particular error occurs in several places. A search of the report for the word "control" shows it used six times, once in reference to "Chinese communists" and five times in reference to Sun Microsystems.

Note, however, that no mention is ever made of the strong direct control Microsoft asserts over OOXML, its having sole chairmanship of the Ecma TC45, and its having secured a committee charter that prevents any changes to OOXML that are not compatible with Microsoft Office.


Again, we're puzzled by the inaccuracy on one hand and the lack of balance on the other.

9. On page 14 the authors state, "Note that it wasn't possible for Microsoft to embrace ODF during this period, as Microsoft's investment in XML file formats was long underway before ODF became an OASIS standard in 2005 (and because of Microsoft's need to maintain compatibility with earlier Microsoft file formats)."

This contradicts the author's own presented timeline. The ODF Technical Committee was created in OASIS back in 2002. There was clearly ample opportunity for Microsoft to join and influence the evolution of ODF. Since Microsoft was on the OASIS Board of Directors, they had significant opportunity to both know about and participate in what was happening in the development of ODF. It's unfortunate that they chose not to lend their expertise to this industry community effort.

10. Page 16, says "Since ODF is less compatible with the earlier binary Microsoft file formats than OOXML, file format translations involving ODF can result in the loss of file fidelity, a constraint that limits ODF's utility for organizations that need to support file-based workflow involving Microsoft and non-Microsoft applications."

The statement that ODF cannot represent the contents of legacy documents with full fidelity is false. Further, it ascribes a fault to ODF as a format that is really an application issue.

ODF, using the defined extensibility mechanisms in the ODF standard, can represent everything in Microsoft's legacy binary formats. What in practice makes this difficult is that the proprietary legacy document formats are poorly documented and have been historically withheld from competitors.

On the other hand, OOXML itself cannot represent all legacy formats without extensions. Extensions are required for features such as scripts, macros, DRM, etc., as the authors point out earlier in the report in reference to .XLSM documents. But if ODF can use extensions, it is just as capable of representing legacy binary formats as OOXML is.

11. Page 17 says of the OpenDocument Foundation, that "It was unable to successfully address requirements for capabilities related to workflows with Microsoft Office applications, however, and parted ways with the OASIS ODF-TC after it failed to gain approval for several proposals designed to make ODF more capable for addressing full-fidelity file format operations involving Office clients."

This statement is misguided in its omissions. First, the authors failed to note that the ODF TC evaluated the Foundation's proposals at great length, and were not persuaded that these changes would in fact bring the fidelity benefits claimed by the Foundation. Second, even some former Foundation members, when put to a vote, disapproved the proposal. Third, the vote was not against interoperability. It was an evaluation by the technical experts on the TC that the proposal would not work.


This was clearly a controversial issue. Why was only one side presented? Where was the balance? Where was the confirmation from multiple independent experts?

It would have been interesting for the report to give a historical examination of compatibility of Microsoft's legacy document formats between the various implementations of Microsoft's own software. Have users always had full-fidelity compatibility between these releases? Also of interest might be an analysis of what happened to users who decided to employ Microsoft's Office 2003 XML format, now deprecated.

12. On page 17, the report says, "Despite all of the debate and controversy surrounding ODF and OOXML, it's important to recognize that the standards organizations are working as designed, and that both the standards and the organizations are constructively evolving as a result." And later on that same page, "It's likely ISO will revise its procedures to prevent similar disruptions in the future, so in some respects the OOXML episode will produce some useful stimulus/response improvements within ISO."

This statement misses the point. The question is not whether the organizations' procedures are perfect or not. No matter how well intentioned a process is, loopholes can always be found. Sometimes they are small, sometimes they are huge, but in all cases exploiting those loopholes is nothing less than contradicting the spirit of the process. The authors fail to consider the numerous articles highlighting how those loopholes have been exploited, and the spirit of the process subverted by stacking committees, by offering marketing consideration to business partner members who voted in favor of OOXML, and by overloading fast track processes with proposals that are of extraordinary and unsuitable length.

The statement that this is all useful and constructive because it will be a stimulus to improvement within ISO is patronizing of ISO. It ignores the basic issue: wouldn't it have been better to have avoided the extreme exploitation of process loopholes and followed the path of previous interpretations of the spirit of the processes as others have done in the past?

Also see the article "Sweden's SIS Declares OOXML Vote Invalid - Will Change Vote from Yes to Abstain - Updated. 10

13. At the bottom of page 17, the authors present a list of prior protocol and API disputes with Microsoft, such as VIM, IDAPI, OpenDoc, etc., and suggest, "In these and other earlier encounters, when Microsoft's competitors sought to collectively compete with Microsoft by leveraging standards, the everybody-but-Microsoft standards have generally failed to achieve significant market momentum."

The examples given are ancient history. Also, note that VIM (1993), IDAPI (1992) and OpenDoc (1992) were not formal standards. The report fails to note that the market has evolved in the past 15 years and that that customers are better educated in the liabilities of vendor lock-in, and are now more aware of the important role that open standards play in ensuring


interoperability. Whereas 15 years ago, it was enough to require the use of COTS software, today procurement is increasingly requiring the use of open standards.

In our opinion, it would be far better to look at the example of Internet and web standards to see how Microsoft's competitors, and Microsoft itself, have succeeded. ODF has the potential to be the same competitive force for office productivity applications, using the same standards-based approach.

14. On page 18 the authors introduce a section by saying, "If productivity application evolution had peaked around the feature set of Office 97, and if there weren't exabytes of files captured in earlier Microsoft Office file formats, it's possible that ODF could have succeeded as a global standard for productivity application file formats."

This point is not argued, it is just asserted, without any supporting evidence. We suspect that many of the arguments being made today in the report for Microsoft and against ODF would also have been made in 1997 had we been in that situation then. The network effects were smaller, but they were big for the time.

15. Later on page 18 the authors state, "OOXML will be more pervasive than ODF for several reasons. It's a better form-follows-function fit for most productivity application usage patterns".

This is a bold claim without argument or analysis to back it up, as far as we understand it. On what basis is the assertion that more than 50% ("most") uses of documents cannot be represented in ODF? We believe, for example, that the entire Burton Group report could be represented in ODF without any loss in fidelity. Do the authors believe that more than 50% of the documents in use, today and legacy, are more complex than their 37 page report?

16. Further on page 18, the authors note, "OOXML will gain market momentum as vendors such as Altova and Mindjet introduce products that support OOXML. Altova, the leading vendor of tools for XML-focused developers and designers, added OOXML to its XMLSpy product line in 2007."

This statement misrepresents market momentum by citing niche application support. While they may be fine products, will it really be the case that an XML programmer's editor and mind map software will drive the adoption of an XML office document format like OOXML?

Will someone in a university or a business office adopt OOXML as a word processor format because they can edit it in Altova? That would be remarkable, considering the relatively small percentage of all end users who edit XML at that level. MindJet already supports the legacy binary Office formats. By what mechanism does MindJet supporting OOXML cause someone to move to OOXML?

Certainly, if a user wants to move to OOXML, having this support removes a potential obstacle to migration. But it alone can do nothing to cause market momentum. We believe, in fact, that


many users will simply stay with the .doc, .xls, and .ppt formats if they wish to use Microsoft formats, as was recommended by the recent Becta report in the UK. 11

17. Page 19 says that "ODF represents laudable design and standards work. It's a clean and useful design, but it's appropriate mostly for relatively unusual scenarios in which full Microsoft Office file format fidelity isn't a requirement."

The authors here contradict their own argument. On page 8 they stated, "In many cases, the productivity application file is ephemeral, used only to present and capture user actions for business transactions that are ultimately captured in enterprise systems rather than stand-alone productivity application files (that is, the files are destroyed when the transaction is complete and captured in other systems of record)." We believe, and follow the practice of, authoring a document in ODF and publishing it as a PDF file. For us this is a not an "unusual scenario" nor does it necessarily involve "full Microsoft Office file format fidelity."

Further, what does "full Microsoft Office file format fidelity" even mean? This seems like a circular argument, that ODF is only useful in cases where you are not using Microsoft Office file formats.

18. On page 21, the authors claim, "Even Adobe's own Buzzword service will likely add support for OOXML--again, if only for Office 2007 file compatibility."

This tells only half the story, again. Adobe has stated publicly that it plans on adding ODF support. 12 The cherry-picking of statements, ignoring positive facts about ODF, while speculating on positive futures for OOXML, is puzzling and goes against the paper's claimed position of objectivity and vendor neutrality.

There are also issues not raised that cause concerns. For instance, why is there no discussion on accessibility issues raised by the disability community with respect to office documents? These issues have raised worldwide consciousness of the impact of information technology decisions and standards on the lives of people with disabilities. We hope it is not because the authors did not wish to acknowledge either (1) the issue's importance, or (2) that ODF v1.1 has established a new high water mark for document formats, a high water mark that should not be allowed to recede with the acceptance of anything less from any other office document format. 13

We believe every statement in this report should be re-examined to ensure that it is fully balanced and has taken in the views of all relevant stakeholders. In this quick review, we believe we have shown that the analysis is incomplete, at times misguided, and selective. Please review this paper critically along with "Achieving Openness: A closer look at ODF and OOXML" 14 and come to your own conclusions.


1 Ccs/WhatsUpDoc.aspx

Microsoft-Takes-Heat-for-Office-2003-SP3-File- Format-Blocking/

3 54320/2006/12/microsoft.html

4 MarkUp/Forms/

5 osp/default.mspx

6 blog/2007/ 01/amusing-but-still-confusing.html

7 http:// wiki/Wikis_Go_Printable

8 process.php

9 committees/membership.php?wg_abbrev=office

10 articlebasic.php?story=20070830155109351

11 download.cfm?resID=35275

12 special/buzzword/faq.html

13 index.php?option=
com_contect&sectionid=14&task= view& hidemainmenu=1&id=371

onlamp/2007/06/14/ achieving-openness-a-closer-


Open Document Format Alliance Refutes the Burton Group Report on ODF | 224 comments | Create New Account
Comments belong to whoever posts them. Please notify us of inappropriate comments.
Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, January 17 2008 @ 12:16 AM EST
As needed

--Bill P, not a lawyer. Question the answers, especially if I give some.

[ Reply to This | # ]

Off Topic
Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, January 17 2008 @ 12:18 AM EST
Check the red stuff, the Important Stuff, and the HTML Howto, if you need help.

--Bill P, not a lawyer. Question the answers, especially if I give some.

[ Reply to This | # ]

News Picks commentary
Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, January 17 2008 @ 12:19 AM EST
Please remember to use the News Picks title as your comment title, if you're
starting a new thread.

--Bill P, not a lawyer. Question the answers, especially if I give some.

[ Reply to This | # ]

Obviously paid off
Authored by: DarkPhoenix on Thursday, January 17 2008 @ 12:35 AM EST
It's so obvious that the Burton Group report was funded indirectly by Microsoft
it's not funny. How else to explain the combination of historical revisionism,
the lies, the ignoring of facts, and all the other tricks in this report
designed to make it look like OOXML is a far far better standard than ODF will
ever be.

And yes, it's rather hilarious to see a supposedly unbiased research group claim
that being locked into Microsoft products is a fantastic advantage.

Please note that sections in quotes are NOT copied verbatim from articles, but
are my interpretations of the articles.

[ Reply to This | # ]

Not even MS does MS legacy docs
Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, January 17 2008 @ 12:49 AM EST
The authors fail to note that no other application supporting OOXML has been able to faithfully or fully recreate the look of Microsoft's legacy binary documents. So the statement that OOXML a file format is the solution for rendering legacy documents is simply false.
I would remove the word "other" here, and say that no application (including MS Word) can fully read legacy doc formats. Of course, legacy version of MS Word can read their one particular version of doc file, but even that is usually buggy.

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"His products were failures, his future seemed bleak!"
Authored by: kawabago on Thursday, January 17 2008 @ 01:18 AM EST
With a nod to Bette Midler. In the face of the first credible competition to
Microsoft's supremacy in over a decade, what does Microsoft do? Call out the
idiot brigade to tout the virtues of Microsoft's monopoly. It actually looks
like Microsoft doesn't even understand why there is a move to XML, they're just
doing it because everyone else is. Yup, that's innovation Microsoft style!

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More effectively compete with Microsoft Office
Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, January 17 2008 @ 01:31 AM EST
A few major points here for the Burton Group to consider.

1. ODF was first as an ISO standard. It is actually OOXML which is trying to
compete with ODF.

2. As PJ says, what exactly is wrong with anyone competing with Microsoft?

3. Even if it were true that Sun (and not OASIS) had created ODF specifically to
put a spoke in Microsoft's wheels, how could it possibly be a sane scheme to do
that since it depends on Microsoft deciding to fail to support ODF? In other
words, if ODF is successful, and Microsoft lose profits because Microsoft have
no support for ODF in Microsoft's Office product ... exactly who was it that
decided to omit that support? Sun? I don't think so. Since when have Sun
dictated what Microsoft do with Office?

Some of the logical disconnects in the Burton report are simply amazing.

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Authored by: sproggit on Thursday, January 17 2008 @ 01:47 AM EST
Why does this story remind me of "The Emperor's New Clothes"?

Someone at Microsoft has decided that if they buy a large enough number of
schills who then all repeat the same nonsense, so the world at large will
believe it, because all voices to the contrary will be drowned out.

I've worked with consultants from the Burton Group in the past and found them to
be hard-working, exceptionally knowledgeable, un-biased and utterly
professional. As another post observes, this does seem to be a rather blatant
case of a consultant being bought off. In this sense, what we have here is
nothing new - this is just the same technique used with Maureen O'Gara in a new
guise. We've moved from 'journalists' to 'consultants'.

"Nothing (new) to see here. Move along, move along."

Or perhaps there is. [Something new, that is]. Microsoft's willingness to buy
new friends seems to be really finding new levels. Journalists. Consultants.
State Governance (CoM). Small African Countries. I guess this just goes to show
us how amazingly lucrative a monopoly can be.

Appreciate that this is unkind, but it's definitely worth our keeping an eye on
the Burton Group now. If they are publicly traded as a company, maybe we can
glean more from SEC filings about any upturns in revenue...

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  • Trends - Authored by: NeilG on Thursday, January 17 2008 @ 02:32 AM EST
  • Trends - Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, January 17 2008 @ 07:24 AM EST
    • Trends - Authored by: deck2 on Thursday, January 17 2008 @ 11:34 AM EST
      • Trends - Authored by: Winter on Thursday, January 17 2008 @ 11:46 AM EST
        • Trends - Authored by: Peter Baker on Thursday, January 17 2008 @ 05:52 PM EST
        • Trends - Authored by: Anonymous on Friday, January 18 2008 @ 12:26 PM EST
OOXML Guaranteed to lag behind the MS Office
Authored by: darkonc on Thursday, January 17 2008 @ 02:49 AM EST
"Note, however, that no mention is ever made of the strong direct control Microsoft asserts over OOXML, its having sole chairmanship of the Ecma TC45, and its having secured a committee charter that prevents any changes to OOXML that are not compatible with Microsoft Office."
I take this as reading that a feature cannot be added to OOXML unless, and until, Microsoft has already added this feature. On the other hand, Microsoft can add features to MS Office that are not in MS Office.

IN other words, OOXML is guaranteed to lag behind (and, thus, be incompatible with) MS Office from time to time -- if not permanently. (it actually looks like the proper answer is "permanently".)

It, similarly, means that anybody who attempts to keep in lock-step with Microsoft's modifications to their Office 2007 (and later) format, would easily find themselves outside the OOXML patent protection envelope -- and, thus, at extreme legal risk. They would not have any such protection until

  1. Microsoft gave permission to add such new features to OOXML, and
  2. Microsoft extended their patent protection to this newer version (which, I understand, they're not required - or promising - to do).

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

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Open Document Format Alliance Refutes the Burton Group Report on ODF
Authored by: Ian Al on Thursday, January 17 2008 @ 04:36 AM EST
From World Wide Words;

In informal British English, something or someone who has gone for a Burton is missing; a thing so described might be permanently broken, missing, ruined or destroyed. The original sense was to meet one’s death, a slang term in the RAF in World War Two for pilots who were killed in action (its first recorded appearance in print was in the New Statesman on 30 August 1941).
Now, don't any of you dare claim that the phrase has anything to do with the Burton Group report.

Ian Al

When nothing else makes sense, use Linux.

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Tried to find the Burton report
Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, January 17 2008 @ 04:37 AM EST
I found their download page (
where they describe the report "about the relative merits of OpenDocument
Format (ODF) and Ecma 376 Office Open XML (OOXML)"

Notice how they preamble the OOXML with an ECMA number.
ECMA is important.

Notice how they don't preamble ODF with its ISO number.
ISO is not important. Not today.

I clicked the download link to find that I may read it gratis, but I will not be

First Name * Required
Last Name * Required
Title * Required
Organization * Required
Country * Required
State/Prov * Required
City * Required
Phone * Required
E-mail * Required
Annual Revenue * Required
more * Required

Even if they abstained from requiring also my money I gave up.

No report read.

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Freudian slip
Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, January 17 2008 @ 06:11 AM EST
"There are considerable liabilities associated with unnecessary complexity: increased development and maintenance costs, increased difficulty to program, more complex (and therefore possibly negative) security implications, and generally buggier implementations."
Are they talking about MS' OOXML here??

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  • Freudian slip - Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, January 17 2008 @ 06:31 AM EST
Burton is based in Midvale, UTAH. Anyone remember Gary Larson's "Midvale School for the Gifted",
Authored by: SirHumphrey on Thursday, January 17 2008 @ 06:50 AM EST
where the kid is PUSHING as hard as he can against a door marked PULL?????????

I was sitting in a coffee room one day, when a girl did the same thing. However
as soon as she realized her error, she slapped her forehead and said "D'oh.

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Open Document Format Alliance Refutes the Burton Group Report on ODF
Authored by: Steve Martin on Thursday, January 17 2008 @ 07:09 AM EST

Item (17):

ODF represents laudable design and standards work. It's a clean and useful design, but it's appropriate mostly for relatively unusual scenarios in which full Microsoft Office file format fidelity isn't a requirement.
Perhaps I'm just dense. Isn't the object to be able to represent the document contents, rather than maintain fidelity to a particular file format? The point of ODF is not to be faithful to another file format, it's to be able to contain the contents of that document in a form that is open and vendor-neutral.

And as an aside, just when is it necessary to maintain "full fidelity" to one particular vendor's file formats? Answer: when one is using that vendor's product, which reads and writes in a proprietary format. Can you say "vendor lock-in"?

"When I say something, I put my name next to it." -- Isaac Jaffe, "Sports Night"

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Interesting position on cross-subsidy
Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, January 17 2008 @ 07:21 AM EST
Burton Group are reported to say:

While some of its competitors have very little hope of
establishing successful products that directly compete
with Microsoft Office, they may still seek to disrupt
Microsoft's business by making Office less profitable,
thus depriving Microsoft of opportunities to use Office
profits to subsidize product development efforts in other
market segments.

Isn't this the textbook definition of abuse of monopoly
power - using profits from a product which dominates its
market to subsidise products in other markets?


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  • I should hope so! - Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, January 17 2008 @ 09:07 AM EST
Quotable Quotes
Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, January 17 2008 @ 07:21 AM EST
Oddly enough, this particular error occurs in several places. A search of the report for the word "control" shows it used six times, once in reference to "Chinese communists" and five times in reference to Sun Microsystems.
Hmmmm, where have we seen that technique before???

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Any chance the Burton Group hired Ken Brown?
Authored by: PSaltyDS on Thursday, January 17 2008 @ 07:34 AM EST
At several points while reading about the Burton Group report I was put in mind of the "Gang that couldn't write straight" at the Alexis de Tocqueville Institute, and their foot-gun toting leader, Ken Brown.

Any chance the Burton Group hired or referred to them for "facts"?


"Any technology distinguishable from magic is insufficiently advanced." - Geek's Corollary to Clarke's Law

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Authored by: SirHumphrey on Thursday, January 17 2008 @ 07:44 AM EST
Spock: Hamlet, Act 3, Scene 1.
Gorkon: You have not experienced Shakespeare until you have converted him from
the original MS_XML.
Chang: taH <treat as Word 95>pagh </treat as Word 95> taHbe'

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Did anyone actually manage to get access to that report?
Authored by: Peter Baker on Thursday, January 17 2008 @ 07:47 AM EST
I have tried several times to gain access to the site to have a look at the
actual document, mainly because I wanted to include it in an email to the office
of Neelie Kroes. It appears, however, that the Burton Group site technology is
about as deficient as their analytical skills.

I was already in touch with the office of Neelie Kroes since the events at ISO
(I hope that has at least contributed a little bit to them restarting
investigations - I must have added to quite a volume of email :-) and the
response indicated that they are indeed listening. Being able to send them the
Burton report plus the various rebuttals would be nice as it would ensure their
dossier is complete. If anyone has that Burton PDF I would appreciate hearing
of it - I would set up a temp email to receive it.

= P =

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"First implementation OpenOffice"?
Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, January 17 2008 @ 08:11 AM EST
IIRC, there were two or three applications that rendered the ODF1.0 standard
before OOo did.

The starting point for ODF was the XML format used by OOo but the consultation
had to extend it beyond what an Office package needed into what librarians
wanted, what archiving requires, what translations need etc. By the time this
was done, OOo, which has its own goals, had moved on from the format it had
submitted and the ODF had moved from that point too.

And they didn't meet up.

OOo also had to wait until what it saw as it's flaws or upgrades were done to
solve its' solutions before much effort was put in to re-doing the OOo format so
it followed the ODF1.0 spec.

Other applications either had less visibility or more people working on changing
the format, so these were not as disadvantaged as you would suspect with respect
to OOo.

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Design goals for ODF were better
Authored by: Peter Baker on Thursday, January 17 2008 @ 08:53 AM EST
The single simplest difference between ODF and MSOOXML is that of purpose, and it explains everything else.

ODF was designed as a standard to promote interoperability, which almost by definition defines openness and collaboration as critical design process components.

I cannot see MSOOXML as anything but a spoiler (even the most charitable explanation cannot be more than me-too, which is also pointless). No amount of "independent" studies and FUD can hide that it's a typical Microsoft reaction when faced with a threat to its monopoly, and I find it interesting because it betrays an astonishing lack of confidence in the ability of their products to stand up against competition.

The latter is the most significant factor of all - Microsoft appears to totally lack the confidence to compete on level ground. Start thinking about that. If that isn't a moral booster I don't know what is.

= P =

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opendoc MS Diversion
Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, January 17 2008 @ 09:56 AM EST
I seem to remember that OpenDoc was a joint IBM APPLE MicroSloth project.
and that MicroSloth used opendoc to divert everybody while the did their own
thing; soon dumping opendoc and competitors behind their curve.

I did not yet look for the relevant links

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But who will read the ODFA report?
Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, January 17 2008 @ 11:18 AM EST
Does this report do anything more than preach to the converted?

Do organizations that create articles for the general public, like ziff-davis,
care about the ODFA? Or do they just rubber stamp msft statements?

I often get the idea that although these types of reports are well reasoned; the
only people who read them are the groklaw croud.

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Let's see what their boss says
Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, January 17 2008 @ 02:32 PM EST
Famous last words: "I am the manager of that service and the analysts (Guy Creese and Peter O’Kelly) that wrote the document are in CCS. I stand behind the document, Guy and Peter, and Burton Group fully."

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KISS of death (I wish)
Authored by: sleadley on Thursday, January 17 2008 @ 02:49 PM EST
While reading PJ's summary of point #6
Burton calls ODF "somewhat simple" compared to OOXML. Smile. Being simpler than Microsoft's 6,000-page initial offering is probably not hard to accomplish. Nor is it a bad thing in a standard. Call it a feature, not a bug. You want people to be able to use the standard, after all. Many of the comments that the National Bodies' technical committees offered had to do with the sheer impossibility of even evaluating something so long and complicated in a short space of time. And they are technical experts. So, again, Burton Group has it exactly backward, I'd say.
I was struck by the similarities to the sentiments in Tony Hoare's ACM Turing Award Lecture, "The Emperor’s Old Clothes", about standards design. This sentence summarizes the essence of his argument:
I conclude that there are two ways of constructing a software design: One way is to make it so simple that there are obviously no deficiencies and the other way is to make it so complicated that there are no obvious deficiencies.
He then makes the argument that if you chose the second path, you are in for a world of hurt. Obviously, Microsoft has chosen to ignore the wisdom of the sages (Keep It Simple Stupid [and we're all stupid when faced with a 6000 page spec]) and blundered down the second path.

Scott Leadley

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Some Observations
Authored by: tredman on Thursday, January 17 2008 @ 05:56 PM EST
Just a few:

1) The authors of the Burton report.
If I had been reading a fictional novel, the name Guy Creese would have jumped
out at me as being the villian, or at least a smarmy character. I'm sure Mr.
Creese is an intelligent and wonderful person, but that right there sets up
certain expectations.

2) The arguments.
I'm sorry. May just be me, but the original report, and this rebuttal, are
total snoozers for me. I really don't see anything new. The Burton report
parrots everything that Microsoft and their surrogates have been saying for
years about every file format and application. The rebuttal efficiently and
deftly shoots those arguments out of the water.

I will congratulate ODFA for putting together a very thoughtful and concise
debunking of the misstated facts at hand, but it's all old hat, and getting a
little tiring. Maybe that's Microsoft's strategy; just to make us throw up our
hands in the air and give up.

3) The misdirections
Like every other argument put forth by pro-OOXML debaters, the thing that irks
me the most about the original Burton paper was the perhaps intentional blurring
of the lines between format and application. If you remove every point that
brings Microsoft Office into the picture, there's not much of those 37 pages
left to read. I appreciate ODFA trying to straighten everything out and clear
the air, as it were, but the (un)intentional misdirection is really

4) The independence
There's no way you can tell me that the Burton firm has no association with
Microsoft. Entirely too much bias, and too many MS talking points to be the
corporate equivalent of a fanboy. Probably after this paper, Burton became one
of Microsoft's bestest buddies, though. Along the same lines, the paper seems
to be as much about bashing Sun as it is boosting Microsoft.

5) Reminiscing
I love the comment about VIM, IDAPI and OpenDoc. What happened to them
ultimately was the same thing that happened to every other project MS works on
that has no competition; it flounders and disappears.

Have you ever noticed that some of MS's most successful projects, in terms of
exposure and development resources, are the ones that have stiff competition?
Heck, MS Office wouldn't be where it is now if it weren't going toe to toe with
WordPerfect, Wordstar and Lotus SmartSuite. It's no coincidence that any real
feature development and improvement on Office stagnated between the time that WP
et al went down and Star/OpenOffice appeared. Same with IE. Take a look at
years between Netscape's demise and the rise of Firefox. And I'm sure that all
focus will fall on Exchange if somebody like OpenXchange or Kolab start to
really make inroads towards corporate groupware.

6) Sun's control over
All I've got to say on that one is that introductions are in order. Pot, this
is Kettle. Kettle, Pot. You're both black. Deal with it.

7) Microsoft's involvement in the process
Every time MS's involvement in the OASIS standards process is brought up, I
can't help but scratch my head. They knew from the beginning that the object of
OASIS certification for ODF was to submit it as a proposal to ISO. There was no
secret about that. Yet not only did Microsoft not participate in the process,
they made no effort at all to derail it. Evidence of that was in the
overwhelming support of the ISO countries to ratify ODF. While history has
shown us that it's not uncommon for MS to be late to the party by not
anticipating technology trends, it still leaves me a little flummoxed. I've
never been able to figure that one out.

8) "'s important to recognize that the standards organizations are
working as designed..."
Wow. I Have they been watching the same standards process we have?
ODFA hits the nail on the head that backdoors into the process will be found,
but it seems at this point that the only ones finding and exploiting the
loopholes are Microsoft, so much so that you have technology experts around the
globe raising the question as to how relevant ISO certification is anymore,
absent some kind of radical overhaul.

9) OOXML is a better fit
I thought it was interesting that ODFA chose the response they did instead of
going for the throat. That kill shot is simple that OOXML is a better fit
because Microsoft holds a monopoly on the desktop market, and because it
illegally leverages it, it can force whatever format it wants to down the
public's throat.

It may even come to pass that the public won't even have a say in the success or
failure of OOXML. Microsoft has always put all of it's resources into wooing
developers. They knew that because of their products being bundled into new PCs
they had a captive audience in the form of end users. From the beginning, they
bet their entire company on the fact that whoever controls the developers,
controls the software world, sort of a bastardization of the other Golden Rule
(he who owns the gold, makes the rules). For a long time, this was the root of
their pervasiveness. Ask any DOS or Windows developer during the 80's, 90's, or
early this century, and almost all of them will tell you that MS's development
environments were more robust and featureful than any other software they

Even considering that the Windows API was a horrible, bloated mess that
intimidated even a stout developer (Microsoft has a habit of making things in
their API more complicated than they need to be), their tools were second to
none. Of course, that was also in the days of Borland/Inprise's Turbo C and

Like I noted before, you can see where, when Borland/Inprise finally started to
become less relevant, the evolution of Visual Studio seemed to grind to a halt.
Most developers were not at all happy about the upgrade from Visual Studio 6.

Long story short (too late) is that if the OOXML document is too unwieldy for
developers to do anything with, and ODF is a more attractive option for
companies to build tools around, MS's format may end up committing seppuku all
by itself.

Andy, if you're still reading this far into my drivel, perhaps you would be the
most qualified to answer these questions: If the BRM comes and goes, and all
the comments are addressed by Microsoft (at least enough of them to change
votes), wouldn't the ISO version become a distinctly different creature than the
ECMA version? Would that also mean that OOXML would have to go back to ECMA to
be brought in line with ISO? If ECMA does the same thing, could we be seeing
either a tennis game of back and forth adjusting between ISO and ECMA (which
would turn the standard proposal into a rather wicked moving target), or two
distinctly different, and possibly incompatible standards?

BTW, yes, I realize that ECMA is essential a rubber-stamp situation, but I'm
being charitable today and giving them the benefit of the doubt.

"I drank what?" - Socrates, 399 BCE

[ Reply to This | # ]

Simple, elegant
Authored by: bigbert on Thursday, January 17 2008 @ 06:34 PM EST

print "Microsoft is an abusive monopolyn"


#include <stdio.h>

printf ("Microsoft is an abusive monopolyn");

<<Ducks and runs>>

Surfo, ergo sum.

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The Burton Group thinks Googlers do not use Google Apps
Authored by: belzecue on Friday, January 18 2008 @ 12:50 AM EST
According to The Burton Group, in this Infoworld article:

"Even at Google's offices, Apps is used internally only as a collaboration add-on to Microsoft Office, the report says."
This statement is demonstrably false. From the Google Apps blog (August, 2007):

At Google, it's common to use our own products internally. In software industry parlance, we "eat our own dog food." (We like to think that Google products are tastier than kibble, but we'll leave that alone for now.) This is especially true for Google Apps. We use the same product as customers like Arizona State University and Prudential Preferred. As you can imagine, few tools in the corporate world are more important than email, calendar, instant messaging and document editing, so a vote of confidence from our co-workers means a lot. Since we use all of the Google Apps every day, we experience first hand what works and what doesn't, and we can apply that knowledge to making the products better.

Here are some statistics: 87% of Google employees worldwide used Docs & Spreadsheets in the past week and 96% have used it in the past month. Googlers have created and shared more than 370,000 documents and spreadsheets and they create more than 3,000 new ones each day. In fact, I wrote this blog post and shared it with colleagues using Docs & Spreadsheets just a few moments ago. If it works for us, it might just work for you too.

Researching facts is not one of The Burton Group's strong points.

[ Reply to This | # ]

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