decoration decoration

When you want to know more...
For layout only
Site Map
About Groklaw
Legal Research
ApplevSamsung p.2
Cast: Lawyers
Comes v. MS
Gordon v MS
IV v. Google
Legal Docs
MS Litigations
News Picks
Novell v. MS
Novell-MS Deal
OOXML Appeals
Quote Database
Red Hat v SCO
Salus Book
SCEA v Hotz
SCO Appeals
SCO Bankruptcy
SCO Financials
SCO Overview
SCO v Novell
Sean Daly
Software Patents
Switch to Linux
Unix Books
Your contributions keep Groklaw going.
To donate to Groklaw 2.0:

Groklaw Gear

Click here to send an email to the editor of this weblog.

To read comments to this article, go here
A Few Facts As Antidote Against Microsoft's anti-ODF FUD Campaign
Thursday, May 07 2009 @ 02:39 PM EDT

The best antidote against FUD is facts. FUD only works when people don't know any better. So, given some recent anti-ODF FUD in the air, I thought it would be useful to provide some facts.

First, I'd like to show you who voted Yes to approve OpenDocument v1.1 as an OASIS Standard in January of 2007. ODF v1.2 is already being adopted by some now, of course, as development has continued, but Microsoft chose to stick with v1.1, so let's do the same. I think you'll find the list dispositive as to who is sincere in this picture. Next time you read some criticism of ODF, then, you can just take a look at the list and ask yourself what it tells you. And if you are a technical person, here's ODF v1.1, so you can compare any claims of deficiencies. Here's Groklaw's chronicle of the OOXML/ODF saga, where you can find many resources, including a chronology of events from 2005 to the present.

ODF v1.1 is the version that Microsoft chose to "support" in its latest Office SP2, which Rob Weir pointed out doesn't seem to actually achieve interoperability, when others -- even Clever Age, which Microsoft funded -- do. In fact, it seems to be moving in the opposite direction. Rather than fix the problems that have surfaced by responding to what is essentially a bug report, Microsoft chooses to attack the messenger and ODF, going so far as to call for Rob Weir to step down as co-chair of the ODF Technical Committee. Is the penalty for disagreeing with Microsoft a smear campaign and loss of a job? I remember what Tim Bray told us happened to him:

In 1997, as a result of signing a consulting contract with Netscape, I was subject to a vicious, deeply personal extended attack by Microsoft in which they tried to destroy my career and took lethal action against a small struggling company because my wife worked there.
To his credit, he continued to criticize OOXML, the process, even after that, but not everyone would. I remember the attack on Peter Quinn too, when he dared to choose ODF for his group in Massachusetts. And I certainly know what I've been put through since starting Groklaw. Why is it even appropriate for Microsoft to try to get anyone removed from any job or position because of criticism of their software or standard?

No. Really. I'd like Microsoft to explain that to us. I think they owe everyone an explanation.

But let's get to the facts. Let me show you who voted Yes, who voted No, and who Abstained, shall I, when ODF v1.1 came up for a vote in January of 2007? I have compiled a list to publish here, to make it easy for you, but do feel free to check my list against the OASIS list.

Here's who voted Yes:

AOL, Adobe, AMD, AmSoft systems, AmberPoint, ABA, Argonne National laboratory, Ars Aperta, Axway Software, Beijing Sursen International, CSW Group, Changfeng Open Standards Platform Software, Commonwealth of MA, Comtech Services, Cordance, EMC Corporation, France Telecom, Fujitsu, GS1 US, GM, Gesellschaft fur technische Kommunikation, Google, HP, IBM, IEM, ISO/IEC JTC1/SC34, Idiom Technologies, Intel, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Jotne EPM Technology, Justsystem Corporation, LA County Information Systems Advisory Body, LMI, MTG Management Consultants, Maricopa County, Miley Watts, NIA (National Information Society Agency), National Archives of Australia, National Center for State Courts, Netherlands Tax and Customs Administration, Neustar, Nokia, Novell, OIOXML eBusiness Standardization Group, Open Applications Group, Open Geospatial Consortium, Inc., Oracle, Ping Identity Corporation, Property Records Industry Assn., Public Works and Government Services Canada, Red Hat, Siemens AG, Simula Labs, Society for Technical Communications, Software & Information Industry Association SIIA, Sun, TAC AB, Boeing, The OpenDocument Foundation, US Dept. of the Interior, US IRS/ Internet Development Service, USAMC Logistics Support Activity, U. of CA, Berkeley, Verva-Swedish Administrative Development, Warning Systems, Inc., and XMetaL.
Here's who Abstained:
No one.
Here's who voted No:
No one.
Here's who didn't vote, among others:
There was one comment, from Harm-Jan van Burg, the Netherlands:
I hope that the efforts to find solutions for a true and open documentformat that includes Microsoft will continue.
I take that to mean there were efforts under way already. Would you say that the list of those who voted Yes is made up of technical nincompoops? Is that Microsoft's position? Now, why is it significant that Microsoft didn't bother to vote? Because now, years later, a Microsoft employee is claiming that a problem in ODF was known in 2005, and ODF should have fixed it for v1.1. Some questions arise:

Could Microsoft have said so in 2007? Yes.

Could it have voted No? Yes, it could.

Could it -- to really stretch out -- have offered to help fix it, so that "solutions for a true and open documentformat that includes Microsoft" could be successful? Yes. It could.

Or did it take advantage of what it read in 2005 to send out Office SP2 in a form that is reportedly less interoperable, relying on being able to claim that it's not their fault, but that ODF v1.1 is imperfect and it's not Microsoft's fault if following an imperfect standard leads to imperfect interoperability?

Ask yourself: what are standards for? What is the entire point of them? Is it not interoperability? Let's review the OOXML purpose statement, written by Microsoft:

ISO/IEC 29500 defines a set of XML vocabularies for representing word-processing documents, spreadsheets and presentations. On the one hand, the goal of ISO/IEC 29500 is to be capable of faithfully representing the preexisting corpus of word-processing documents, spreadsheets and presentations that had been produced by the Microsoft Office applications (from Microsoft Office 97 to Microsoft Office 2008, inclusive) at the date of the creation of ISO/IEC 29500. It also specifies requirements for Office Open XML consumers and producers. On the other hand, the goal is to facilitate extensibility and interoperability by enabling implementations by multiple vendors and on multiple platforms.
But, you may say, how can you blame anyone for following a standard and ending up with non-interoperability if the flaw is in the standard? If the "flaw" is known since 2005, and everyone else has figured out a way to deal with it to achieve interoperability, or chose to support v1.2, how can you *not* blame them? They do write software, do they not? Is that not the business they are in? And did they not swear to high heaven that interoperability was their sincere goal? Since they are and were a member of OASIS during the development of v1.1, did they not have ways to help out and make sure the "flaw" was fixed instead of remaining silent until 2009, and mentioning it to justify their flawed product?

But did Microsoft really follow the standard to the letter? Rob Weir points out this, and since I've provided the link to ODF v1.1, you can check his words:

Excel 2007 SP2 does not write out document[s] that conform to the ODF 1.1 standard. The ODF 1.1 standard requires cell and cell range references to be in a particular notation. Excel does not adhere to the required notation. See any document written out by Excel 2007 SP2 and compare to the ODF standard, sections 8.1.3 and 8.3.1.
Jomar Silva, who attended the BRM for Brazil and is with ODF Alliance, read Weir's article and here is his description of what Weir found:
The technical details are all on Rob’s blog, but in summary, when opening an ODF spreadsheet (.ods file) using Office 2007, it simply removes all existing formulas without telling anything to the user, leaving only the values in cells (results of formulas evaluation, previously stored in the document). If a user wants to test the ODF support in Office, and without giving due attention, save an existing spreadsheet, will overwrite the document removing all the formulas (as if you were writing a table). I saw absurdities in life, but nothing compared to this.

When using Office 2007 to generate a new worksheet, the formulas will be stored in a way that only will be understood by Office 2007 (or by CleverAge, an MS Office plug-in to support ODF, developed as Open Source and sponsored by Microsoft), eliminating the possibility that any other existing application could be used to usefully read the document.

While the first problem simply throw out all the business intelligence inside the spreadsheet (formulas), the second locks in the user on Office 2007 forever (we have seen this movie before…).

The justification that could be used by Microsoft about it, is the lack of spreadsheet formula definition in ODF 1.0/1.1. Interesting to note that in ODF 1.2 (which is developed with the participation of Microsoft) this problem has been resolved with the creation of OpenFormula).

Silva did some tests of his own:
As I don’t have a computer with Windows and I don’t have MS Office 2007 to test, I did some tests with SP2 through the exchange documents with friends who have Office 2007 with SP2 installed and here are my 2 cents for all the tests that are appearing (and being published every second on the Internet):

Microsoft Office 2007 does not support encryption (password protection) in ODF documents !

I generated a simple text document (.odt) in ODF using OpenOffice and saved it with password protection. I sent the document (and password) to several friends and the result was the same: MS Office cannot open the document because it is password protected (some of those friends also have installed on their computers other tools that support ODF and on 100% of those tools it worked).

I also asked them to generate a document in Office 2007 with password protection and send me, but they said that when trying to do this, MSOffice presented a warning message saying that you cannot use password protection using the ODF format.

I would really like to find a good technical explanation for this, since the encryption and password protection are fully specified in ODF 1.0/1.1 (item 17.3 of the specification), and they are using existing algorithms, very familiar to any developer.

How is that failure ODF's fault?

If, instead, you insist that Microsoft did follow the standard to the letter, in the face of all the evidence to the contrary, I would still ask you this: since when is that their purpose in life, their MO? If it were, why is OOXML a standard that allows for undocumented extensions? And have you looked at how they have extended other standards, like HTML, in the past? Well, up to the present actually, which is why Opera brought a complaint against Microsoft to the EU Commission. So who is fooling whom? I live with the results of Microsoft extending the HTML to suit themselves. It's annoying. So my lip curls at the idea that Microsoft suddenly finds it necessary to follow a standard, flaws and all, even when it had to know what the results would be and when it had a choice that would have worked perfectly well.

See what I mean? You can draw any conclusions for yourselves, but for me, it seems a cynical move. A lot of knowledgeable folks voted to approve this standard, knowing it would continue to be developed, as standards are. I do note that just before the release of Office SP2, there was a wave of criticism of ODF by Microsoft-leaning standards people, in preparation, I now conclude, for what they thought would be a successful FUD attack after its release. They knew, I guess, that interoperability wouldn't be achieved, and the plan was to blame ODF. I gather the larger strategy is this: to release their own version of ODF, so to speak, in a de facto way, and tell everyone out there that since interoperability is impossible, the best thing is to just use Microsoft products, with PDF for governments to choose for saving documents. It's a monopoly move, in my eyes, and it might have worked in the olden dayes, when Microsoft was King. But this is the age of the Internet. You can still pull clever tricks, of course, and heaven only knows you can FUD to your heart's content, but you will get caught in the spotlight.

As for calls by Microsoft to change the leadership of the ODF Technical Committee, may I remind you of Microsoft's Windows Evangelism memo that surfaced in the Comes v. Microsoft antitrust litigation? Here's the exhibit as PDF. It outlines how to find and put into place a "pliable" moderator. And here's what it said:

Our mission is to establish Microsoft's platforms as the de facto standards throughout the computer industry.... Working behind the scenes to orchestrate "independent" praise of our technology, and damnation of the enemy's, is a key evangelism function during the Slog. "Independent" analyst's report should be issued, praising your technology and damning the competitors (or ignoring them). "Independent" consultants should write columns and articles, give conference presentations and moderate stacked panels, all on our behalf (and setting them up as experts in the new technology, available for just $200/hour). "Independent" academic sources should be cultivated and quoted (and research money granted). "Independent" courseware providers should start profiting from their early involvement in our technology. Every possible source of leverage should be sought and turned to our advantage.

I have mentioned before the "stacked panel". Panel discussions naturally favor alliances of relatively weak partners - our usual opposition. For example, an "unbiased" panel on OLE vs. OpenDoc would contain representatives of the backers of OLE (Microsoft) and the backers of OpenDoc (Apple, IBM, Novell, WordPerfect, OMG, etc.). Thus we find ourselves outnumbered in almost every "naturally occurring" panel debate.

The key to stacking a panel is being able to choose the moderator. Most conference organizers allow the moderator to select [the] panel, so if you can pick the moderator, you win. Since you can’t expect representatives of our competitors to speak on your behalf, you have to get the moderator to agree to having only “independent ISVs” on the panel. No one from Microsoft or any other formal backer of the competing technologies would be allowed -just ISVs who have to use this stuff in the “real world.” Sounds marvellously independent doesn’t it? In fact, it allows us to stack the panel with ISVs that back our cause. Thus, the “independent” panel ends up telling the audience that our technology beats the others hands down. Get the press to cover this panel, and you’ve got a major win on your hands.

Finding a moderator is key to setting up a stacked panel. The best sources of pliable moderators are:

-- Analysts: Analysts sell out - that's their business model. But they are very concerned that they never look like they are selling out, so that makes them very prickly to work with.

-- Consultants: These guys are your best bets as moderators. Get a well-known consultant on your side early, but don't let him publish anything blatantly pro-Microsoft. Then, get him to propose himself to the conference organizers as a moderator, whenever a panel opportunity comes up. Since he's well- known, but apparently independent, he'll be accepted – one less thing for the constantly-overworked conference organizer to worry about, right?

Now, this was talking about conferences, but you can extrapolate, I think, and compare it with what you've seen and are still seeing in the still ongoing OOXML saga.

  View Printable Version

Groklaw © Copyright 2003-2013 Pamela Jones.
All trademarks and copyrights on this page are owned by their respective owners.
Comments are owned by the individual posters.

PJ's articles are licensed under a Creative Commons License. ( Details )