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"The more you tighten your grip the more star systems will slip through your fingers"

Microsoft's hopes of controlling the open document world were nearing fruition after the International Standards Organization finally certified its OOXML standard at the start of April.  The ISO had already ratified ODF, the competitive open-source format from the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS) used heavily in Linux, but Microsoft faced a lengthy struggle to try to get its own format recognized.  Without certification it would be tough to push the format as a legitimate open document option.

Microsoft had good reason to want to control the world of open documents.  As users switch platforms and software more and more, and use an increasing amount of open source solutions, the need for a non-software specific format has surfaced.  Microsoft hoped that by making its own proprietary open-file format the preferred standard it could seize control of this budding field.

However, to Microsoft's anger, the process has now been held up by complaints.  Following rumors that Microsoft pushed the vote through and used underhanded tactics to suppress dissent, Brazil, India, South Africa, and Venezuela lent such claims credence by filing complaints against the ratification.

The ratification cannot go forward until these complaints are heard, and they must be voiced before the end of June.  The final decision of how to react to them will be handed to two management committees.  India in particular was quite vocal in its opposition.  An open letter, written by a member of the technical standardization committee in India, states that Microsoft's long and ambiguous proposed specification left it unclear what was being implemented.  He says this means that Microsoft can implement the new format however it wants, ruining the whole reason for ISO -- to promote openness.

He also accuses Microsoft of running a careful concerted smear campaign that undercut the Indian concerns.  He states:

Microsoft started filing complaints to various Indian authorities in early March 2008, claiming bias on part of several members of the committee because of their presumed membership of a group called ‘ODF Alliance India’. My Institution and its representatives are part of the group which has been falsely implicated in these complaints. Worse, the complaints have painted these organizations and their representatives, including the Indian delegation which attended the BRM, as acting against the Indian National interests. This is the most derogatory accusation to any Indian, amounting, personally for me at least, to intolerable blasphemy.

In the letter he alleges that Microsoft pressured the Indian national government to change its stance, and likely did so with other national governments as well.  He states that Microsoft behaved in a way "amounting to interfering with the governance process of a sovereign country."  He concludes, "I would like to assure all colleagues and other readers that my intentions are purely to respond to the grave provocation caused by the actions of Microsoft."

Meanwhile ODF creators OASIS tried to steal a bit of the spotlight calling for an "implementation, interoperability, and conformity" technical committee to continue ODF's openness and quality.  The entity plans on trying to bring ISO or the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) into the project.  Surprisingly Microsoft has expressed interest in joining the committee, igniting many conspiracy theories on the internet.

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enlighten me.
By straycat74 on 6/11/2008 10:03:06 AM , Rating: 1
How does developing an open format help any particular group? Is there a profit motive here?

And while I show my lack of understanding of such things, why is there such fierce competition in the "free" browser market?
In my head it goes like this:

1. give away free software
2. ????????
3. Make $$$$$$$

RE: enlighten me.
By Spivonious on 6/11/2008 11:17:14 AM , Rating: 2
I can't answer the open format question, since it doesn't make sense to me either, except that it improves the image of the "evil corporation".

As far as browsers go, the money is all in advertising. Notice how Firefox defaults to Google search? Google paid for that. Everyone who downloads Firefox and uses that Google search field puts money into Mozilla's pocket.

RE: enlighten me.
By 16nm on 6/11/2008 12:43:09 PM , Rating: 4
Add me to the short list, too. I think these people just have too much time on their hands. I really don't see any problem with a company like Microsoft trying to create an open standard like this. May the best standard win, I say. I could not care less if it was Microsoft's standard or not.

RE: enlighten me.
By Hare on 6/12/2008 4:15:21 AM , Rating: 2
May the best standard win, I say. I could not care less if it was Microsoft's standard or not.

The problem is that Microsoft has their own idea of a standard and how to use it. We don't have to look back further than a few years to see how previous versions of IE butchered the HTML standard and used for example element width+margin+padding measurements differently than others. Still today because of this web development can sometimes be a pain in the butt. "this page only works properly with IE". That's only because some developers only concentrated on IE and neglected all the other browsers that worked exactly like they were supposed to.

The problem is that IF MS uses a standard differently than others it can push the standard the way they want since they have a huge installation base, so their way of implementing the standard becomes de facto and others have to try to keep up or branch. Both alternatives are bad.

RE: enlighten me.
By krwhite on 6/15/2008 7:29:48 AM , Rating: 1
The problem with HTML is that the W3C didn't write the HTML/CSS models in source code. They supplied it in documents. No one could of followed those documents to a T, and actually no one did. We're just now getting to the point where they're being followed, after it was butchered all over the place by more than ONE company. Micrsoft happened to be the worst at it, and they also happened to have the most installed users.

If you want to make a standard, write a program for it, and give the source. Don't describe how a program should operate. How nonsensical of a plan.

What if: The next version of SuperGL 3.0 will let the users use binary operation codes to communicate with the graphics cards in the way we outline above. Do try to get those bits in the right order! All other 'standards' give you an API, or full source code.

The problem is humans aren't capable of doing 10,000 things in a perfect way, so why create the grounds for inperfection to take place? There was an alternative.

As for Microsoft, Windows 3.1 programs still run on Vista. I think they know how to keep a standard.

RE: enlighten me.
By barjebus on 6/11/2008 1:46:51 PM , Rating: 5
The reason why openness is important is that it prevents lock in. If we have a free standard that everyone can use and implement, then even some 13 year old can write their own office suite and not have to pay any licensing fee's or pay for documentation of the standard etc.

Microsoft uses it's .doc format, among other things, to require people to use Microsoft Office to read it's documents to the fullness of the .doc format. If you don't have hundreds of dollars to pony up, then you're out of luck, you can not read and edit those documents.

When it comes to government or big business, and you've been using the .doc format for forever, it makes it exceedingly difficult to choose a new product. All of your companies documents are saved in a proprietary format that does not port over well, or is not displayed correctly under other programs. So, as a result, you have to keep on buying the next office product.

The odf format is about creating a format that can be used by any program, which prevents being locked into a certain companies software. By promoting openness, we promote competition because no longer are companies choosing to stick with microsoft, or apple, or whoever just because it's a hassle or impossible to switch over to new software. Rather, it will be a decision based purely on whose product is superior, opening Microsoft to a host of competitors that they've traditionally been able to ignore.

RE: enlighten me.
By Spivonious on 6/11/2008 1:48:22 PM , Rating: 2
I totally agree. How does this help Microsoft?

RE: enlighten me.
By AlexWade on 6/11/2008 4:03:37 PM , Rating: 2
Consider: Microsoft publishes the standard, but conveniently "accidentally" withholds parts of the standard. Other companies make products around the published standard and just before they go on sale, OOPS! There is more to the standard. But, oh by the way, the new Office 2009 supports the FULL standard. Other office suites reputations take a hit and nobody bothers to switch from Office.

That is a possibility. Is that what really will happen? Who knows. What we do know is that Microsoft wanted its open standard to be accepted so bad they bribed to have it ratified. Why would any company spend lots of money if they didn't see some gain in the future? It is all about control.

RE: enlighten me.
By drebo on 6/11/2008 4:41:40 PM , Rating: 1
Oh for the love of god. Stop peddling FUD.

The ISO (and organizations like it) exist purely to stop these kinds of things. When they ratify a STANDARD, it is just that. Full compliance means full compliance with whatever document is published by said standards committee about that standard.

If a company makes improvements or changes to that standard, they no longer follow the standard, at which point they now have their own proprietary standard.

Consumers can then make the choice who they want to support. If they decide that Microsoft offers the better solution (which, with Office 2007, Microsoft CLEARLY has the best office suite on the market), then they'll buy the Microsoft product.

But to follow your conspiracy theory simply defies logic.

RE: enlighten me.
By carl0ski on 6/12/2008 6:13:53 AM , Rating: 3
Oh for the love of god. Stop peddling FUD.

Read this

most specifically complete differences within the OOXML standard,
It's clearly rushed and developed by 3 completely autonomous groups.
OOXML standard includes no Macro scripting ability paving the need for XLA and XLL (Proprietory Excel Automation Format) use one of these in Office 2007 and you no longer have a functional OOXML file. You have OOXML shell that is useless in alternative products.

The ISO (and organizations like it) exist purely to stop these kinds of things.

For this reason there are great protests as to the inclusion of OOXML,
I don't remember such protests over ODF's inclusion or even the PDF file format.

If a company makes improvements or changes to that standard, they no longer follow the standard, at which point they now have their own proprietary standard.

No one doubts that Microsoft won't be able to single handedly internally change sections of OOXML file format in Office 2009 without
causing a rucus.
However what would be the consequences of such a move? Can ISO fine them? Prosecute them? Remove ISO status?
Thats like taking the empty candy wrapper from a thieving child, they have already had the sweets (in this case adoption of business)

Please take note of this
The standard is long, with the version submitted to ISO comprising 6546 pages. OpenDocument specification is 867 pages in length and achieves the same goals

What would be the cost of developing software to support 6546 pages of specifications?
How long would it take to build an Office 2007 competitor that supports 6546 pages of OOXML?
Would it be practical for any company to spend hundreds and thousands of dollars over years of developments to release a competing Office Suite?

Microsoft knows the answer to these questions do you?

RE: enlighten me.
By krwhite on 6/15/2008 7:38:32 AM , Rating: 2
OOXML standard includes no Macro scripting ability paving the need for XLA and XLL (Proprietory Excel Automation Format)

Thanks for posting that.

RE: enlighten me.
By androticus on 6/11/2008 5:03:16 PM , Rating: 1

Consider: Microsoft publishes the standard, but conveniently "accidentally" withholds parts of the standard.

This is unnecessarily conspiratorial and malevolent.

Far more likely, is simply trying to make sure that the document standard supports well all the features you want to include in your document application.

Also, previous knocks against .doc are ill-conceived. That format has been reverse-engineered to the yin-yang. (As has been .xls.) It is limits to app engineering, not understanding of the spec, that limits the degree of compatability. Something like OpenOffice seems to be quite compatible for Excel .xls and PowerPoint docs, but less so for Word docs. Word processing is hard.

I will be absolutely astounded if any of these "open formats" in word processing actually lead to better cross-application compatibility than exists today. If anything, the "all things to all people, platforms, and applications" is likely to make things worse, not better.

RE: enlighten me.
By Screwballl on 6/12/2008 11:55:24 AM , Rating: 3
Consider: Microsoft publishes the standard, but conveniently "accidentally" withholds parts of the standard. Other companies make products around the published standard and just before they go on sale, OOPS! There is more to the standard. But, oh by the way, the new Office 2009 supports the FULL standard. Other office suites reputations take a hit and nobody bothers to switch from Office.

Welcome to Office 2007 and the docx, pptx, pdfx, wpsx... granted they are not OPEN formats but this is exactly what Microsoft has in mind... a format that suits them and gives them some sort of edge or step up above other products and is not 100% compatible with other office products. As it is right now you need the File Format Converter from the MS website just to convert something from docx to doc to be able to open and use in other office programs.
this is BAD for the open format process and is only going to cause problems.

RE: enlighten me.
By smitty3268 on 6/11/2008 5:11:30 PM , Rating: 3
It helps MS this way.

Recently, a number of governments around the world have noticed that they can no longer easily open the documents they mad 15 years earlier. These governments have expressed concerns that in another 50 years it may be completely impossible, without a huge reverse engineering project, and they want to preserve their documents for longer than that. They have therefore been thinking about imposing a rule that all their documents must be created using an open standard, so that 50 years from now people will know exactly how to read their documents. And of course, that rule would have to extend to all the companies that do business with that government.

When you take into consideration how global todays economy is, even if only a few countries end up doing this it could cause a ripple effect causing large numbers of people to stop buying MS Office, which is their #1 cashcow. So you can see why it's in MS's best interest to convince these governments that Office uses an open standard.

RE: enlighten me.
By rudy on 6/12/2008 12:51:09 AM , Rating: 2
while like most dt articles now they are dripping with bias and personal motive. There is a reason for M$ to want to control an open format. The problem with open formats or standardized ones like html is they do not allow a company to advance them quickly. If M$ wants to add a new feature they will be unable to do that with a format largely developed by someone else except in rare cases.

RE: enlighten me.
By tremelai1 on 6/12/2008 1:39:03 PM , Rating: 3
It's a simple, divide and conquer strategy that has worked for Microsoft for ages. Archive link:

Microsoft has in the past published API/Specifications, in the name of Open systems, with critical aspects of the published spec completely omitted. I other cases, such as the case with OOXML, they not only omitted critical sections of the spec (Macros) but MS software that MS certifies on that spec don't comply with with what is published.

MS gains by maintaining their monopoly while at the same time sort of complying with anti-trust laws, enough to not get fined.

RE: enlighten me.
By boogle on 6/11/2008 11:18:00 AM , Rating: 3
I think it's a long-term thing. While I'm not sure where Opera and Netscape (now gone) get their money now, you can see where Firefox and IE get their money:

Firefox get's most of it's cash from Google, who they have a deal with. By making Google the default search engine, Google gets more hits, so they give Mozilla some (a lot) of cash. They also get money from donations.

IE is a little less direct. If IE has a stranglehold, MS Live Search is then the default search engine and they get money that way. They also have supplemental forms of income, if IE is popular, Windows can become slightly more popular. Additionally if people are used to IE, they'll want to use it (and therefore Windows) in the future. MS also have an underlying agenda where they want everyone to use MS products exclusively. If that happens they then have full control to charge whatever they want, release whenever they feel like it, etc. Horrible situation to be in, and it happend with IE5 & 6 (no advancements, horrible browsers, no competition).

This is a reason why big expensive products are offered dirt cheap to students, if they're trained on it, they'll want to use it in industry. Industry will want to use it because they have legions of people already trained. Another core reason for Windows having a seriously strong grip on business desktops. Who wants to re-train staff? Costs a fortune.

Now where does the money from the open-format come from? This is very under-handed imo. Basically the spec for MS is ludicrously long, very, very hard to implement, and potentially MS can change it from time to time as a 'new version'. In essence it'll be very difficult for 3rd party's to implement, meaning Office can always be marketed as 'full support for open formats' and 'only solution that works with the latest spec', etc. etc. In essence trying to close out competitors through an 'open' format. They get to look good, and sell loads more copies of Office while 3rd parties get the shaft.

Think of it like HTML. If HTML was under MS control it would still be 'open', however it would be hell to implement. Firefox would be a version or two behind (and therefore not work with new 'flashy' web sites) while IE supports the latest and greatest, adhering to the spec properly so nothing is broken. Firefox wouldn't work with all sites, even if it supported the HTML version because the spec is so convoluted and long that the implementation can't be accurate if programmed within a reasonable amount of time. MS wins.

RE: enlighten me.
By tmouse on 6/11/2008 11:44:57 AM , Rating: 3
But if you add to a standard and most do not use the feature then it’s a waste of time and goes no ware. Microsoft has done this and failed MANY times, no profit there. The people who will use the standard will not care and not use any add-ons until they are in the standard any way so how is this any different from the situation now except currently Microsoft does not have to allow anyone the ability to use their formats. They do now because they would be shooting themselves in the foot and it would be costly and futile to stop it. Even with an open format most companies will stay with Microsoft, why? Simple, one source support that’s why. Companies simply do not have the time to get free help. The want one stop shopping that’s tested to work out of the box and like it or not it usually does. I'm not saying Linux and open source cannot do that but there are many distros with each group writing all the different apps and no “one stop” regression testing of apps with the OS since any particular distro of the OS can have several different versions of its components. For Microsoft I think its more ego than profit driving this so I do not see any problems one way or the other.

RE: enlighten me.
By boogle on 6/12/2008 3:54:27 AM , Rating: 2
But if you add to a standard and most do not use the feature then it’s a waste of time and goes no ware. Microsoft has done this and failed MANY times, no profit there.

That's true, however, this is potentially an exception. Most people use Office, therefore most documents are written from within Office. Imagine colaborating with a (rare) 3rd party who doesn't use Office and instead uses OfficeX. If OfficeX doesn't support your documents then it's going to be at the very least irritating. This will drive the 3rd party to relent and acquire MS Office, potentially getting MS even more cash.

The support aspect is very critical and every company I've been to uses MS simply for the reason you stated - "great" support. I use MS at home because of the massive compatibility of Windows. With controlling the format, I think MS have got both aspects covered.

RE: enlighten me.
By HakonPCA on 6/11/2008 12:53:51 PM , Rating: 3
isn't it....

Phase 1: Collect underpants (give away software)
phase 2: ?
Phase 3: profit!

RE: enlighten me.
By straycat74 on 6/11/2008 4:18:47 PM , Rating: 2
thanks for playing!

RE: enlighten me.
By Targon on 6/11/2008 10:04:21 PM , Rating: 2
The issue comes into play when one source makes their own standard, and others are forced to use a modified version of the standard to remain compatible.

Look at Internet Explorer, which is a web browser, theoretically using the HTML standard. Now, Microsoft added their own extensions and such, and pushed heavily to the point where a number of web sites only work properly under IE. It gives Microsoft an advantage, where their own web development tools will be more desirable due to being keyed into how IE renders web pages.

Now, if OOXML is based on a Microsoft design, where Microsoft has a huge head start on the implementation of the standard, we run into the case where Microsoft may have made mistakes in the implementation, and suddenly, everyone else needs to copy the mistake just so their products remain compatible.

Any time when one company can release their product to market before others introduces the chance that EVERYONE needs to focus on making their product work with that one companies product, rather than being focused on being true to the "open standard". There have been the complaints that Microsoft has used "undocumented" features in their Windows operating systems to give Microsoft Office an unfair advantage. It makes having "the official" product almost a requirement because there is too much chance that other products that use the standard will work differently. That's the financial advantage that Microsoft could get from this.

RE: enlighten me.
By jonathan8di on 6/12/2008 1:29:52 AM , Rating: 2
The OOXML standard breaks away from many pre-established standards and recommendations already in use. Also, the OOXML standard documentation is excessively convoluted (6546 pages!)

From Wikipedia ( ):

The ODF Alliance UK Action Group says that with OpenDocument there exists already an ISO-standard for Office files and that two competing standards are against the very concept of a standard.[89] Further, they argue that the Office Open XML file-format is heavily based on Microsoft's own Office applications and is thus not vendor-neutral, and that it has inconsistencies with existing ISO standards such as time and date formats and color codes.[89]

Specific criticism

-Use of DrawingML and the transitional-use-only VML instead of W3C recommendation SVG. VML did not become a W3C recommendation.

-Use of Office Math ML instead of W3C recommendation MathML.

-Office Open XML does not define a macro language, leaving this aspect to be application-defined.

-The standard is long, with the version submitted to ISO comprising 6546 pages. Google alleges that this length is unnecessary, saying that the OpenDocument specification is 867 pages in length and achieves the same goals. That coupled with the fast track standardization process, Google claims, reduces the review time per page ratio.

-A comparison of some specific items in the format specification documents of Office Open XML and OpenDocument formats is used to claim disharmony within the Office Open XML format.

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