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The Embrace, Extend, Extinguish of ODF Begins? - Updated
Saturday, May 24 2008 @ 07:21 AM EDT

On the same day that I read that the South Africa standards body has filed an official appeal against the approval of OOXML with ISO/IEC, I find Patrick Durusau has written the following outrageous words [PDF] regarding Microsoft's announcement it will support ODF, and trust me when I tell you the opening is just a taste:
The so-called document format standards war between OpenDocument and Open XML has ended "not with a bang, but with a whimper." Or more plainly stated, Microsoft has robbed opponents of Open XML of any colorable claim that any war was taking place....

Signs the document standards war was entirely fictitious have been around for quite some time. Where was Microsoft opposition to OpenDocument in standards bodies such as OASIS and ISO?

Fictitious?! Perhaps Mr. Durusau is not aware of what happened in Massachusetts. Microsoft started fighting against ODF back in 2005 there, and Groklaw covered every major incident as it happened. You can begin in 2005 and work your way up. I believe Peter Quinn could fill him in on what happened there when Microsoft woke up to ODF's potential and decided to start to fight. And fight they did.

When Massachusetts announced it would accept ODF and Microsoft's Open XML was not on the acceptable list, here's the letter Microsoft's Alan Yates wrote [PDF] to then Secretary Eric Kriss, protesting the exclusion of Open XML, despite it not being a standard at the time or even trying to be, and asking that the definition of acceptable "open formats" be rewritten to include "openly licensed and widely deployed" de facto standards like Open XML. But that was just the beginning. (David A. Wheeler answered that letter on Groklaw.) To pretend Microsoft never fought against ODF because it did it in a different way than what Durusau lists, inside OASIS or ISO, is at best naive. At best. Besides, Microsoft doesn't care if ODF is an also ran, because Microsoft has the monopoly advantage. Here's a good jumping off point, the transcripts of some of the public meetings in Massachusetts. It's an ugly tale, and methinks Mr. Durusau needs to spend a little more time studying it, unless the problem isn't a lack of information.

He also says, as "evidence" of an "anti-Microsoft campaign" that "the same comments were filed in ISO by different national bodies, along with no suggested repairs to fix those errors." If you go to our ODF/OOXML page, you'll find all the countries' comments, and you'll see that it isn't true. There were many, many suggestions for fixes, a good many of which were entirely ignored. You'll see, for example, that numerous bodies said OOXML wasn't suited to the Fast Track process. Considering the final draft still isn't published, despite the rule requiring it to be distributed a month after the vote, and considering not even Microsoft pretends to support it currently, I'd say that the comment turned out to be correct. If there were many comments that were similar, it's likely because more than one national body noticed the same egregious flaws. Why didn't Durusau? Instead of noticing or caring a whit about the problems in OOXML that in the view of so many disqualify it as a standard at this time, he instead suggests [PDF] we welcome Microsoft in OASIS, and says Microsoft should put up web sites about how to use ODF with Microsoft products. Well. He notices one problem in OOXML, that it doesn't match Excel, and he suggests OASIS fix that for Microsoft:

For example, Microsoft is joining the ODF TC at OASIS. An easy first step would be to begin working on the formulas work in the TC. ODF 1.2 will include formula definitions, but those in Open XML don't match those used in Excel 2007 and the collective user community doesn't need another set of incompatible definitions. Members of the ODF TC should work very hard to make Microsoft members feel welcome and to get the formula work aligned with a set of common definitions.

You may recall Wheeler drew attention to the problem recently, and Rob Weir explained it in detail. Here Durusau acknowledges that it's a problem, all right, but he suggests OASIS get busy fixing it. Some issues I see with that:

  • Why can't Microsoft fix it itself?
  • If ODF folks have to fix Microsoft's problems for them, how does he think Microsoft is equipped to help ODF? Who's helping whom?
  • Besides, Microsoft announced support for ODF 1.1, not 1.2.
  • And how does Microsoft dare to offer a standard that doesn't match its own product and then ask the community to fix the mismatch? If OOXML isn't ready for prime time as a standard, why in the world is Durusau pretending it qualifies while simultaneously asking for help to make it work?
  • How is it OASIS's job to match a Microsoft product to a Microsoft standard?
  • Finally, since OOXML allows proprietary extensions, what assurance is there that Microsoft itself will support the work done for it, without branching off into proprietary extensions where all the OASIS worker bees can't follow? Did Microsoft join OASIS to get free labor?

One more warning sign. Alex Brown announces in a comment on his blog the following:

Anybody can debate the JTC 1 Directives, but making changes to them is the preserve of the National Body participants in JTC 1. It is maintained just like any other JTC 1 standard. Typically the NB delegations participating at this level contain the most senior and wisest ICT standards people the NBs can muster.

Currently there is some ongoing activity to revise the JTC 1 Directives (a Special Working Group).

Uh oh. Say. How about letting us know who is on that "special" working group? We'd like to judge their wisdom for ourselves, thanks. He says this is the way to influence ISO:

The way to influence anything in International Standardisation is through a National Body (in the UK, BSI, for example). Typically there are various routes in that are less demanding tha[n] committee membership (in the UK one can join a represented user group like UKUUG or XML UK and to be able to channel views into the relevant technical committee for example).

Here's the JTC 1/SC34 page, where you can find the list of participating and observing countries. If you click on the country link, you'll find contact information. Perhaps your country would be willing to send a letter of support, even if it doesn't wish to officially appeal itself.

I believe Sun pays Durusau to work on ODF as the OpenDocument Editor, OASIS TC. Sun? What's up with that? Seriously. What's going on here? If this is who is steering ODF in OASIS, I'm extremely worried. And if there is a secret working group rewriting the directives, while Microsoft and Alex Brown both say they want ODF transferred to ISO for ongoing maintenance, I'd say the Embrace, Extend, Extinguish of ODF has officially begun.

Update: Oh, by the way. Remember how the Czech Republic supported OOXML with all its might and main, changing from Disapprove in September to Approve after the BRM? Who can forget their hilarious words:

During processing the standard proposal ISO/IEC DIS 29500 CNI was observing the maximum openness and transparency of the whole process and created conditions allowing every interested person to join the expert discussion. All received suggestions were carefully discussed and their enlistment into the standard proposal considerably contributed to the improvement of its technical expertise.

Guess what just happened according to Dow Jones?

The Czech government and Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) signed a cooperation accord Thursday on licensing and supply....

Deputy Interior Minister Zdenek Zajicek said the arrangement would save the government about EUR28 million.


Do you remember this old joke?

Q: How many Microsoft employees does it take to change a light bulb?

A: None. They just change the standard to "Dark".

It's not so funny now, is it, now that it seems to be coming true.

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