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To read comments to this article, go here
Rob Weir Exposes an Anti-ODF Whisper Campaign - Updated
Wednesday, June 10 2009 @ 02:54 AM EDT

Alex Brown, the convenor of the OOXML BRM, has been editing Wikipedia's article on ODF. That strikes me odd, like finding out Steve Jobs had been editing the Microsoft Zune page. Some things are simply inappropriate. It puzzles me why Wikipedia allows it, frankly.

If you read the talk page on ODF, you'll see that there are others there trying mightily to spin the article on ODF more negatively than is factual. And such rudeness! Plenty of smears against Groklaw too, I couldn't help but notice. It does seem to me that there is a marked increase in what I view as a concerted submarine marketing effort. Some of it is subtle. Most of it is not. A fair measure of it is mean-spirited. Some of it is lies, pure and simple.

In the good old days, dead people supported Microsoft, if you remember that funny headline about a pro-Microsoft astroturfing campaign, but at least it wasn't a smear campaign, just pro-Microsoft. Nowadays, I think I would have to rewrite the headline to read, "Mean People Support Microsoft." Or worse. You see, Groklaw has been visited recently by several OOXML types, including Alex Brown, Doug Mahugh of Microsoft, and Rick Jelliffe, all singing pretty much the same songs, posting on our ODF articles, so I got to watch it close up. I puzzled over it, because they seemed so deliberately rude. Why come here just to be offensive? So I'd remind them that we have a comments policy here, including no ad hominem attacks on anyone. And they would continue on. It was so odd. The last one went away when I told him that if he wished to make a permanent record of how horribly Microsoft supporters conduct themselves, he could post to his heart's content.

It turns out it's not just here, and there is evidently a point to it. Wikipedia is apparently the epicenter. And what is being posted there is reportedly being used in an anti-ODF FUD campaign by guess who.

I want to reproduce an article called "ODF Lies and Whispers", Rob Weir just posted on his blog, so you can read all the details and so I can help shine some light on what's going on. But mainly I want to show it to you so you will know what the specific FUD is that is being spread, and you will be equipped with the facts.

Why can't Microsoft compete fairly on the merits? No. Really. Just once?

Here's Weir's conclusion:

You obviously can't trust Wikipedia whatsoever in this area. This is unfortunate, since I am a big fan of Wikipedia. But since the day when Microsoft decided they needed to pay people to "improve" the ODF and OOXML articles, they have been a cesspool of FUD, spin and outright lies, seemingly manufactured for Microsoft's re-use in their whisper campaign. My advice would be to seek out official information on the standards, from the relevant organizations, like OASIS, the chairs of the relevant committees, etc. Ask the questions in public places and seek a public response. That is the ultimate weakness of FUD and lies. They cannot stand the light of public exposure. Sunlight is the best antiseptic.
Wikipedia needs to act, and I hope they will. And I hope the EU Commission is watching.

Update: And now for the cherry on top of the scheme, here's some news from The Register on how Bing is using Wikipedia:

With its new Bing decision engine search engine, Redmond is reproducing Wikipedia entries in their entirety, pulling content from "the free encyclopedia anyone can edit" and tossing it onto Bing pages labeled with a "Reference" tag.

Microsoft is expected to point this out in a blog post sometime today or tomorrow. "There now is a Wikipedia 'Reference' vertical that can be accessed through Bing. Certain queries like 'squirrel monkey' for example will trigger a reference answer in the Table of Contents. Click 'Reference' in the left hand rail and you will be transported to best Wikipedia page for that query," reads a draft of the post.

But you're not actually transported to a Wikipedia page. You're transported to a reproduction of a Wikipedia page on Microsoft's own site, where it's labeled as "Reference" material.

Now we have a closed loop. Microsoft-friendly folks rewrite Wikipedia articles, which Microsoft then picks up and serves to the world as truth. Will they correct the articles, when FUD is removed or just continue to serve up their own versions of truth? It might be fun to track that going forward. Not even Stalin himself could do a better job of revisionism, I'm thinking, since he lacked such clever tools. - End Update.]

[Update 2: For any who may be new, this May 18, 2009 article by Elizabeth Montalbano tells us that not only does no one support the OOXML "standard" yet, including Microsoft, but Microsoft has no plans to do so for a while: "An update this year adds support for ECMA-376, an earlier version of OOXML standard, to Office 2007, but Microsoft won't support the ISO29500 specification until it releases its forthcoming Office 2010 technology."]

Read on for all the smarmy specifics:

*****************************

ODF Lies and Whispers

There is an interesting disinformation campaign being waged against ODF. You won't see this FUD splattered across the front pages of blogs or press releases. It is the kind of stuff that is spread by email and whispers, and you or I rarely will see it. But occasionally some of this does cross my desk, and I'd like to share with you some recent examples.

First up is this case, from a small Baltic republic, where a rather large US-based software company was recently arguing for the adoption of OOXML instead of ODF. Here are some of the points made by this large company in their letter:

There is no software that currently implements ODF as approved by the ISO

(They then link to Alex Brown's comment from Wikipedia). I think this demonstrates the triangle-trade relationship among Microsoft, Alex Brown (and others) and Wikipedia, by which Microsoft FUD is laundered via intermediaries to Wikipedia for publication. No wonder one of Microsoft's first actions during their OOXML push was to seize control of the Wikipedia articles on ODF and OOXML via paid consultants. In any case, Alex's claims were rebutted long ago.

ODF has a number (more than a hundred) of technical flaws which haven't been addressed for 3 years despite change requests addressed to OASIS by countries such as Japan and United Kingdom. There are discussions between OASIS and ISO/IEC JTC 1 SC 34 regarding true ownership of ISO ODF, which is a reason why the flaws in ISO ODF aren't being addressed. In a recent SC 34 meeting in Prague a new ISO ODF maintenance committee has been formed because ISO / IEC 26300: 2006 is not being presently maintained.

This is not true. First, the ODF TC has received zero defect reports from any ISO/IEC NB other than Japan. Second, we responded to the Japanese defect report last November. Amazingly, Alex Brown is implicated in this FUD one as well. It was false then and it is false now. At the time Alex was quoted in the press as saying the the ODF TC was not acting on defect reports (October 8th, 2008), we had in fact already sent our response to the defect report out to public review (August 7th, 2008) after quite a bit of active technical discussion with the submitter of the original defect report (Murata-san). How Alex translated that into "Their defect reports are being shelved" and "Oasis has not been acting on reports of defects" is beyond me. It must be particularly embarrassing that the submitter of the defect report wrote to the OASIS list, within days of Alex's FUD, "I am happy with the way that the errata has been prepared." Also observe the triangle-trade route of FUD in this case from Alex to Doug Mahugh to Wikipedia, this time to the OASIS article.

IBM currently recommends not using OASIS ODF 1.1 and to instead use OASIS ODF 1.2 which is currently not complete and will not be complete and ISO certified before 2010/2011. OASIS on the other hand have started work on ODF 2.0 which will not be backwards compatible.

This is an odd one, demonstrably false. IBM Lotus Symphony supports ODF 1.1. We have no ODF 1.2 support at present. I wonder where they came up with this one? It is totally bizarre. And although we have started to gather requirements for "ODF-Next", the contents of that version, and to what degree it will be backwards compatible, has not even been discussed by the TC. So this is pure FUD, making ODF sound risky to adopt, and then lying about IBM's support for it, and our position on ODF 1.2.

The list goes on, including claims that no one supports ODF 1.0 or ODF 1.1, etc., but you get the gist of it. The particulars are interesting, of course, but more so the reckless disregard for the truth and the triangle-trade relationship between bloggers, Wikipedia, and Microsoft's whisper campaign.

Another current example is part of Microsoft's attempt to duck and cover from criticism over their interoperability-busting ODF support in Office 2007 SP2. I've heard variations on the following from three different people in three different countries, including from government officials. So it is getting around. It goes something like this:

We (Microsoft) wanted to be more interoperable with ODF. In fact we submitted 15 proposals to the ODF TC to improve interoperability, but IBM and Sun voted them down.

Nice story, but not true. Certainly Microsoft made 15 proposals. But they were never voted on by the TC, because Microsoft chose not to advance them for a vote. It was their choice alone and their decision alone not to put these items up for a vote. I would have been fine with whatever decision Microsoft wanted to make in this situation. I'm not criticizing their decision. I'm just saying we need to be clear that the outcome was entirely due to their decision, and not to blame IBM or Sun for Microsoft's choice in this matter.

I think I can trace this FUD back to a May 13th blog post from Doug Mahugh where he wrote:

We then continued submitting proposed solutions to specific interoperability issues, and by the time proposals for ODF 1.2 were cut off in December, we had submitted 15 proposals for consideration. The TC voted on what to include in version 1.2, and none of the proposals we had submitted made it into ODF 1.2.

This certainly is an interesting statement. There is nothing I can point to that is false here. Everything here is 100% accurate. However, it seems to be reckless in how it neglects the most relevant facts, namely that the proposals did not make it into ODF 1.2 at Microsoft's sole election. It is as if Lee Harvey Oswald had written a note: "Went to Dallas and saw a parade today. Nothing interesting to read at the book repository. Heard later on the radio that the President was shot". This would have been 100% accurate as well, but not the "whole truth". In any case, the rundown of the facts in this question are on the TC's mailing list.

So what is one to do? You obviously can't trust Wikipedia whatsoever in this area. This is unfortunate, since I am a big fan of Wikipedia. But since the day when Microsoft decided they needed to pay people to "improve" the ODF and OOXML articles, they have been a cesspool of FUD, spin and outright lies, seemingly manufactured for Microsoft's re-use in their whisper campaign. My advice would be to seek out official information on the standards, from the relevant organizations, like OASIS, the chairs of the relevant committees, etc. Ask the questions in public places and seek a public response. That is the ultimate weakness of FUD and lies. They cannot stand the light of public exposure. Sunlight is the best antiseptic.

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