The Definition of Insanity

Until recently I didn't think much about International Standards Organization (ISO) standards. I guess most people are the same. ISO standards cover a range of different things such as pipe threads (ISO standard number 7) to shoe sizes (ISO 9407) to photographic film speeds (ISO 5800). Although they're invisible to the lay person, much of modern life is made easier by their international adoption; think how difficult it would be to buy shoes from China without standard sizes, for example.

In the computing world, ISO standards have a mixed record. Back in the early days of computer networking, starting around 1977, ISO developed a networking protocol standard which ended up being completely sidelined when it ran into the working TCP/IP protocol standard that became the Internet. I still remember going to presentations that confidently predicted the transition of all networks to the OSI seven layer networking stack. However, ISO did standardize the UNIX commands and application programming interface POSIX, which brought some sanity to the fractured worlds of proprietary UNIX implementations. It seems that computing ISO standards work better when they standardize something that already exists.

But standards don't rule the computing world. Today, ninety-two percent of desktops and now seventy percent of servers run the completely proprietary and non-standardized Microsoft Windows operating system. Even though POSIX was an ISO standard the weight of the market got behind the de-facto standard of Windows. Network effects matter. The definition of Microsoft Windows is completely under the control of its creator, and "Windows" is defined as what Microsoft says it is, nothing more or less (1).

Microsoft has historically had an ambivalent view of standards. An example from my own background of file serving protocols serves as an illustration here. In the days when Novell Netware dominated the file serving world Microsoft was a great supporter of standards. They published the specifications of their own protocols (then called Server Message Block, or SMB) and supported implementations on other platforms than Windows. They even paid the expenses for my colleague Andrew Tridgell to fly business class from Australia to Redmond, Washington to attend the first conference on the subject (I had to fund myself, but was only flying up from California so I'm not too jealous). They even proposed the SMB protocol (now renamed the "Common Internet File System", CIFS) as an Internet (IETF) standard.

Once Netware was defeated by Windows NT, their attitudes changed, and the flow of information stopped. Proprietary modifications to core protocols like the Kerberos authentication protocol followed, and these changes were treated as trade secrets, patented if possible, and only released under restrictive non-disclosure agreements, if released at all (2).

This historical record makes the recent global activities over the "Office Open XML" (OOXML) document format so interesting. In this case a competitor manged to place a stake in the ground first. The Open Source project OpenOffice.org (managed by Sun, a fierce Microsoft competitor) spawned an ISO standard for office document storage called "Open Document Format" (ODF), which was adopted by several other office automation software packages, none of them with a fraction of the size of the market share of the leader, Microsoft Office, of course. The danger in this for Microsoft was that once an official ISO standard for office documents existed, governments could potentially be lobbied to adopt it as their official document standard. ODF is a format that Microsoft Office does not currently support and Microsoft does not control.

Microsoft countered by creating the OOXML office document format, which was made the standard in Microsoft Office 2007 and donated it to the European Computer Manufacturers Association (ECMA) to shepherd it through the ISO standardization process. ECMA was so confident of the adoption of OOXML that they put it into a "fast-track" process, which would have allowed the document to become a standard with no further modification.

As part of my job I had to read the OOXML standard document. At over six-thousand pages (compared with the eight hundred and sixty seven pages for the ODF standard) it wasn't a trivial task. There are already enough web sites and blogs (http://www.noooxml.org for example) detailing the technical deficiencies already found within OOXML that I won't bother to repeat them here. Suffice it to say there were enough problems that if the ISO procedures were followed to the letter it should not have gone into the fast-track procedure, but should have gone into a process designed to fix technical problems with the standard instead.

But ISO standards have a much more political dimension to them than Internet (IETF) or World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) standards. Every country can vote, although not all chose to do so. So we saw over the past few weeks some strange and rather irregular national positions coming to light. My own favorites were Cuba voting "yes" to the fast-tracking of OOXML, even though Microsoft is prohibited by the US Government from selling any software on the island that might even be able to read and write the new format, and Azerbaijan's "yes" vote, even though OOXML as defined isn't able to express a Web URL address in Azeri, their official language.

As has been widely reported, the "fast-track" vote failed, although it was voted down only by a one percent margin (in other words it was a very close thing). So the next step in the complex ISO rules is a comment resolution meeting, at which all standards bodies with a stake in the process will meet and go though all of the technical comments and try and move the process forward in good faith.

At the meeting ECMA (and presumably Microsoft as an ECMA member) will have to promise to make changes to a format that is already implemented in Microsoft Office 2007, and is already shipping in the volume only the market leader can deliver.

This reminds me of an exchange of email during the efforts by Microsoft to standardize the file sharing protocol that Samba implements (CIFS). After a white paper was published demonstrating a man-in-the-middle security attack against the current protocol Microsoft responded by publishing a specification for cryptographically signing the packet exchange. This change fixed the security hole and was a good first response to the attack. Unfortunately, after analysis by some of the experts on the list we discovered that there were some theoretical holes to the new signing protocol, which needed a few trivial changes in order to fix and improve the security. After these proposals were submitted, the response came back from Microsoft that although the fixes were valid, unfortunately the code was already written and was going to be shipped in the next service pack. End of discussion. It wasn't even in a shipping product yet, but the specification was determined to be unchangeable as they didn't want to change their existing code.

I hope the comment resolution meeting for OOXML goes better than the CIFS one did. Still, I have hopes that things might be different this time. After all, I wouldn't be developing Free Software/Open Source code if I didn't think things could ever be changed, like a ninety-two percent desktop market share, or a seventy percent server market share. Or maybe that just makes Free Software developers as certifiable as the proprietary software vendors say we are :-).

After all, as Albert Einstein is reported to have said: "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results."


Jeremy Allison

Samba Team.
San Jose, California.
8th September 2007.

Notes:

(1) Steve Ballmer famously claimed Microsoft could bundle a “ham sandwich” into Windows if they so desired

(2) Many of them weren't until the US government mandated Microsoft Communications Protocol Licensing Program (MCPP) as part of the anti-trust settlement



Comments

Shoe sizes aren't standard

I think the use of Shoe Size is a poor analogy.

See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shoe_sizes

Although there is an ISO standard for Shoe sizes - ISO 9407:1991, I have never seen a shoe labeled with this standard.

I have seen: US sizes, UK sizes, European sizes and Japanese sizes. Sometimes a shoebox will show sizes in the first three systems, other times a shoebox will show a size but not say which system was used.

Shoe Sizing in the USA is different for men, women and children.

My own shoe size is between 8 and 8 1/2. I don't know in which measurement system, though!

Shoe sizes?

Dude, i hate it when people read one small fact in an entire article and decide to base their entire comment on that one things... it was an analogy, to serve a point, which was made... get over yourself. You haven't made any significant contribution to the dialogue on this very important topic by citing shoe size standards on wikipedia... get off your computer and get a life...

RE: shoe sizes?

It was a valid, if mostly uninteresting point. You can ignore it if you want but that's no need to insult or rant.

M$

"Today, ninety-two percent of desktops and now seventy percent of servers run the completely proprietary and non-standardized Microsoft Windows operating system"

I don't think the percentage for servers is correct. If it were, half the internet would be down at any given time.

Joe @ http://www.prankvideoz.com

only

hopefully your female, or 12...8 and a half hunh?

Cool

Very nicely put.

Can OOXML be implemented without stepping in MS pattents? If not, assuming Cuba doesn't have Windows, they are dead.

Microsoft will win out in

Microsoft will win out in the end. They can grease as many palms as it takes. The recent ISO voting scheme showed just how easy it is to get crap through that is only in the commercial of a single vendor.

Let's face it, we'll forever be playing catch up unless those in power take a serious look at Microsoft's practices, and that won't happen now most governments are in the MS pocket.

mind

how would they be 'dead' ?

for one, you're assuming that cuba respects patents. even if they do, why wouldn't they just 'nationalize' the patents in question?

two, why couldn't they just use odf?

Apart from the shoe size analogy,

Great article,
and thank you for Samba :)

Yes, thank you for Samba [nt]

[nt]

Escrow and Lockdown

I think you are being a little disingenuous saying that MS refused to take the fixes, even though the software hadn't shipped yet. Perhaps it had already completed beta, perhaps it had reached lock down - how soon after did it ship? You don't provide that information.

Adding last minute changes to software that runs >90% of the world's desktops and 70%+ of its servers would seem to be a little bit of a recipe for disaster, no?

Don't be defensive and naive

He said they refused the patches. Simple.

Not, "thanks, we're about to ship 1.2.0 and your fixes will be included in 1.2.1, which will ship next quarter".

Duh.


So, why again are US IT jobs being lost to India? Because too many so-called "IT" people in the US are actually just MCSEs. They are too expensive. Not specifically in terms of salary, but in terms of the quality and *cost* to business of the solutions they provide. They just can't think things through: a "solution" in their minds is whatever the Microsoft Machine tells them to think.

How can they be so uncritical? Well, simple. They have no actual IT knowledge or skills outside Microsoft products. All competing products are frightening and disturbing to them. And so these poor MCSEs hang around on forums wasting time arguing that OOXML is a *good* thing.

Occasionally, very few, the very brightest, will manage to realize they've been living in the Microsoft Matrix, their entire careers controlled and manipulated from Redmond as a series of unnecessary, costly, retrainings and repetitive reinstallations. These few may take the Red pill and leave. They can never go back. All Microsoft solutions are transparently cludgy, costly, and anti-user after you take the Red pill.

But for the rest, they maybe are just not able to think outside that box yet. It's too scary... they're not ready. I mean, what sort of worldview does someone need to have to genuinely *believe* OOXML adds value? Why doesn't M$ just use ODF? Everyone would be happier: all the consumers. They'd have genuine *choice*. IT departments would be able to save millions by dumping the Select program and moving to better AND compatible software. Users would need less desk visits from IT, less support. Everyone wins. Unless, of course, you're a low-grade MCSE. Then your entire career through retirement is supposed to be unnecessary desk visits, unnecessary reinstallations, unnecessary retraining. You're *counting* on the low quality of Microsoft products. So if that's you, you'd better get on that OOXML forum, and you better get typing your pro-OOXML party line.

OOXML is totally redundant. Microsoft has already broken the 97-2003 format and replaced it with something incompatible. If you're going to that trouble, just use ODF!

7 THOUSAND pages? Are they insane?

Sigh.

Insane? No. Explicit? Fairly.

What do those 7 thousand pages contain? An absolute ton of XML examples. How large is the spec if you remove the XML examples? 1500. How large is the spec if you use the same font size as the ODF spec? 700 pages.

Are there some technical problems with the OOXML spec? Yes. Are they being addressed? Yes. Are those problems irreconcilable? No. Is it worth ditching the prospect of standardization? Absolutely not. The ODF spec is loaded with many problems as well. OOXML documents the Excel functions. Where are the Calc functions? Oh yeah. Missing. You just prefer ODF because it's not Microsoft and in your young Slashdot moulded mind there is nothing Microsoft can ever do right.

And the 90s Irrelevent Anrgy Nerd Convention called, they want their "M$" back. Grow up, get a job, face reality.

Silly

Calc functions!? Excel Functions!? This is supposed to be a standard, not an enumeration of an existing product. You design interfaces and implement them in applications. Standards address interfaces, not implementations.

What are the ODF issues that you claim are not being addressed? There is a good faith effort being made to address many short comings in ODF 1.1 and ODF 1.2. Where are the comparable committees addressing the OOXML shortcomings? An internal group a Microsoft is not the same as OASIS. Are the groups improving OOXML publishing the minutes of their meetings? Are they soliciting external comments?

The claim of 700 pages once examples are removed

The claim of 700 pages once the examples are removed is demonstratively incorrect.

VML and DrawingML are not "examples" .. they are vector graphics definitions.

Formulas aren't "examples".

I wouldn't have a problem with 6000 pages if it were due to examples and explicit definitions, but in this case 6000 pages are indicative of not building upon existing standards.

It's indicative of reinventing the wheel which increases the barrier to market entry. That's the real story of 6000 pages.

What do those 7 thousand

What do those 7 thousand pages contain? An absolute ton of XML examples.

I'm afraid that a spec. that relies on "An absolute ton of XML examples" is not a spec.; it's a training manual. So where is the spec.?

Is it worth ditching the prospect of standardization? Absolutely

Clearly, OOXML is nothing more than a sordid, underhanded attempt to maintain their monopoly-like control over global corporate documentation. If it's all so innocent and for the common good why did they manipulate the process heavily? Why did they have to cheat? Microsoft's behaviour has led to the veracity of the ISO standards process to be called into question for the first time ever.

If MS was even slightly interested in working with an open standard, then they would have supported ODF and provided their customers with a set of conversion tools for legacy format MS Office documents, instead of trying to pawn off the entire history of Office as a standard for the rest of the world.

It's pretty obvious that MS will make it so that if you do decide to adopt OOXML as an open standard format - the only product that will actually be able to use it properly is - you guessed it - MS office.

Microsoft has demonstrated time and time again that the last thing Microsoft want is interoperability. As Bill Gates once described, "it's suicide for the platform". While Ballmer is CEO, this policy will not change.

Is it cool to ask a string of questions and then answer them yourself? Not really. Did MS pay you to write that rubbish? I think they did. Is it obvious you are an MS shill because of the way you are unduly vicious towards OOXMLs detractors, palming them off as unemployed Slashdot loving MS haters? Yes it is. Have you done this in a bunch of other forums about OOXML across the net? Yes you have. Are your contributions to these forums still holding any weight? Not anymore.

What about quality?

> What do those 7 thousand pages contain? An absolute ton
> of XML examples. How large is the spec if you remove the XML
> examples? 1500. How large is the spec if you use the same
> font size as the ODF spec? 700 pages.

You seem to assume that because it's really only 700 pages, it meets the quality criteria already. The problem is, in those supposed 700 pages you have not only the definitions of the formats, but also 200 different ways to express dates, percentages, two vector formats and more. And that's not even counting copypasting Excel's help files...

ODF only focuses on what it must. It leaves out (and references) other standards for representing dates etc. Plus, it doesn't have a half-baked, underspecified formula spec. Without reverse-engineering MS Office, you are fried.

> Are there some technical problems with the OOXML spec? Yes.

"Some" technical problems is a little forgiving. The fact that it had no meaningful review [1] placed the burden entirely on the people who expected standards setting to not be a joke. Now, thanks to all those people who resisted against piles of bought politicians, OOXML has a chance to be somewhat acceptable [2]. Let me make myself clear: if OOXML some day gets to be almost acceptable, it is in spite of Microsoft and its supporters, who unabashedly pushed for a flawed, market-hijacking "spec" (if this wasn't the case, ECMA would have reviewed it properly or sent it through the standard procedure instead of fast-tracking it).

> Are they being addressed? Yes. Are those problems
> irreconcilable? No.

Let's see if they get addressed. Don't forget that this was suppossed to only document an existing format (a goal incompatible itself with an international standard).

The single most important issue is that OOXML never needed to exist. Its existence doesn't have any useful purpose, beyond extending and illegal monopoly in time. It was not created in good faith at all.

> OOXML documents the Excel functions. Where are the
> Calc functions? Oh yeah. Missing.

ODF intentionally leaves formula unspecified, and that is not a negative. That's left for another standard. The ODF Alliance is developing a well specified standard in that regard (but any other would have been valid). I'd rather have an excellent standard in a few months (or perhaps a year even) than a crappy, rushed, copypasted user-manual (see [3] and [4]). The effects of not having an unified formula standard might be admittedly negative, but it's better to have had the core spec standardized ASAP, and then build the formula standard (which needs serious work and feedback, neither of which is met by OOXML formulas).

> You just prefer ODF because it's not Microsoft and in your young
> Slashdot moulded mind there is nothing Microsoft can ever do right.

For my part, I prefer ODF because it was developed with many inputs, reviewed for a few years, is far better specified and accomodates the needs of more than one vendor. Finally, ODF standardization was sought because of genuine concerns (having an industry-wide document formats standards). Microsoft pushed OOXML for standardization only because they felt threatened by an already existing standard in government, in order to undermine the established standard and the industry effort (and has succeded to great extent).

There's no genuine rationale on the proposal of OOXML as a standard. Participating in OASIS at the right time would have been the natural decision if they care for their customers and wanted to bring choice.

Tellingly, they were really late in the game, so they needed to rush the development and standarization of this crap so it's at least easy to see their intentions.

As skeptic as I am, I would of course welcome Microsoft to do one thing right. It just keeps on proving me they are utterly unwilling to do it.

> And the 90s Irrelevent Anrgy Nerd Convention called, they want
> their "M$" back. Grow up, get a job, face reality.

I don't want my "M$" back. I don't want to be tied to any single vendor. Not Microsoft, not Novell, not anyone. I don't want my government to be artificially tied to a single vendor. That's my right as a citizen, and as a consumer.

[1] This is almost funny (only that it's sad): http://www.sutor.com/newsite/blog-open/?p=1813
[2] But let's be realistic: the BRM is going to be a joke and the only changes will be cosmetic at most. What does it take? To buy a few extra countries and bribe a few more NBs? No problem, that's only money...
[3] http://www.robweir.com/blog/2007/07/formula-for-failure.html
[4] http://www.openmalaysiablog.com/2007/07/mathematically-.html

nachokb

Hit the nail on the head

I think that pretty much sums up the reality of the situation.

Not patches.

I'm not talking about fixes to code, we never see or use Microsoft code.

I'm talking about fixes to the *protocol specification* for SMB signing. Getting the spec. right is much more important than any specific code. Code is transient, specs live forever.

There wouldn't take changes to the specification because they already had some code implementing it. Even though it had a weakness. That's just bad engineering (IMHO).

Jeremy.

good article, bad facts

it was voted down by far more than 1% :) Had it been 1% off, it would have been approved for fast track, but that was not the case.

look here - http://www.groklaw.net/article.php?story=20070904082606181

this will show you it was 15% off, not 1%. Nobody is against OOXML, we just want it fixed and compatible before it is released, and locked from making incompatibilities. I hate MS, but if the product is flexible enough then I have nothing against it.

Interesting thing to note is that when ODF was voted, there wasn't a single no vote. The product was tested before an attempt to fast track and spent time in use before standardization. That wasn't the case with OOXML.

ECMA -> Ecma International

"ECMA" has not been an acronym since 1994. The organization changed their name to "Ecma International" more than a decade ago.

ISO isn't an acronym

Very informative and well written, but on the same vein as the comment above, the organization is called the "International Organization for Standardization", and ISO is not an acronym, it is the greek term for "same" as in isobaric, isometric, isotropic...

-golo

Oui -

En Francais, "International Organization for Standardization" c'est "Organization Internationale de normalisation."

ISO's name

Because "International Organization for Standardization" would have different acronyms in different languages ("IOS" in English, "OIN" in French for Organisation internationale de normalisation), its founders decided to give it also a short, all-purpose name. They chose "ISO", derived from the Greek isos, meaning "equal". Whatever the country, whatever the language, the short form of the organization's name is always ISO.

really 70%?

"and now seventy percent of servers run the completely proprietary and non-standardized Microsoft Windows operating system."

hello Jeremy

could you cite your source of this 70% of windows servers?

thank you

orlando

No, not really.

From netcraft.com survey of August 2007
__________#Servers_____Market Share
Apache =___68,228,561____50.48%
Msoft =____47,232,300____34.94%
Google =___6,616,713_____4.90%
Sun =______2,212,821_____1.64%
lighttpd =__1,515,963______1.12%

Citation:
http://news.netcraft.com/archives/web_server_survey.html

Servers. Not Web servers

Behind all those offices running Windows are file, Exchange, print and database servers also running Windows, often horribly inefficiently, but nonetheless, Microsoft owns much of that market. Those are the figures that Jeremy is referring to...

not every server is a web

not every server is a web server

70%

I guess it depends on whether you consider BotNets as servers...

Ozz.
Computers are like Air Conditioners.
They stop working when you open Windows...

Source was the California Group report.

Read the report here:

http://ag.ca.gov/cms_pdfs/press/2007-08-30_Filed_CA_Group_Effectiveness_...

The accurate figures are in this quote from the document :

"On the contrary, IDC data show that Windows’ share of server operating system shipments has
increased from 55% in 2002 to 72% in 2006."

Hope this helps,

Jeremy.

ISO

I was at a series of meetings last weekend. My understanding from a private conversation with a gentleman who is heavily involved with ISO on several standards is that:

1) ISO was stunned by the things that happened in the vote.

2) They would like to prevent this sort of thing from happening again.

3) They are not sure how to do it.

ISO is used to technical people getting together, and working through problems to produce a good standard. They aren't used to blatant politicking. From our conversation I got the impression that this sort of shenanigans is not something that ISO has had to deal with in the past - at least not at this level.

My own personal suggestion is that if you think that Microsoft XML should not be a standard, you should write to your standards body no matter how they voted and let them know. In my case my national standards body was willing to accept me as another member, and I will be pushing them towards a no vote.

You should also talk to friends and colleagues in other countries, and convince them to be active. If 200-300 Azeri or Cubans were to contact their ministry responsible, it's quite possible the ministry would reconsider the situation, and their vote change to no.

It all comes down to activism. Microsoft decided to take an activist stance on pushing the standard, which is their right. That's not the issue - it's how they worked at mobilizing support that was wrong.

We have to be just as activist, but in a positive way.

Wayne

What! no file format patches for MS Office 2k7?

To do anything of the sort would be to admit their original purpose was at odds with their rhetoric. You know, the first rule in Fight Club is you don't talk about Fight Club.

Of course, the whole file format thing starts getting messy at this point. Ecma International follows the orders of the ISO NBs and modifies ECMA 376 to comply. In so doing, they violate the TC 45 charter, which is to create a file format standard adhering to MS Office 2k7 as closely as possible. Microsoft doesn't see the need to follow ECMA 376 TC 45's changes - it is their product, not Ecma International's, after all. Or ECMA 376 TC 45 doesn't listen to the ISO NBs, and loses it completely, since nobody's going to listen to someone who won't listen.

One major reason why Microsoft won't follow orders is that there's too much internal Microsoft politics bound up in changing ECMA 376. When you have six different text markups from six different MS Office areas, you know that politicking is getting toxic in the MS Office development team.

At that point, one should be warning people against upgrading to MS Office 2k7 because it may not be a viable team for long.

Wesley Parish

The Process Worked. How insane is that?

The ISO standards process worked. The OOXML format was not fast-tracked and will go through the standard procedure for these things. I don't understand the quibbling.

There can be (and are, I believe) multiple ISO standards for document markup. Microsoft wanted to do take a different stnadards track than ODF and failed, but this is not a validation or repudiation of the OOXML format as you seem to state. It is a repudiation of the process that these things go through.

As an aside, do you really think that having OOXML or ODF as ISO standards really makes all that much difference in the long run? The fact is that Microsoft, for whatever reason, decided to have an open format for Office 2007 that anyone can freely adopt (as an ECMA standard) and use in their products. This step alone makes life easier in the long run for interop and automation.

Whining about process or seeing this as some sort of victory in a fight that doesn't really exist must be easier than critically thinking about the situation as a whole.

The process mostly failed actually

You seem to have missed most of the points around this event.

In the course of voting it became apparent that Microsoft bought votes in corrupt countries, who went from non-voting to a participating member in the voting process. The ISO has even recognized that there was rampant corruption in the voting process.

In answer to your aside and having reviewed this subject as much as I can without the documentation* I think having OOXML as a standard is one of the worst things that can happen to documents, only being toped by an EMP destroying all technology in the world. It is NOT interoperable, nor freely adoptable. If you go and manage to make a program that automatically translates from OOXML to ODF Microsoft can and will sue you since key parts of OOXML are still Microsoft propriety formats from past versions of MS Office. The format IS NOT OPEN and WILL NEVER BE OPEN, this is MS trying to screw people over another way and lock people into their "standardized and open format" in their "ongoing program to increase interoperability and openness".

In a nutshell Microsoft lied, wrote 6000 pages to cover up their lie, then bought votes to try and make their lie a standard. The process mostly failed because these bought votes were counted, but in the end it still worked enough to block this garbage.

*(not on a standards committee, and too busy with work to read 6000 pages in a reasonable amount of time, but I've read the pro and con comments on it with an open mind till I could make an educated decision, and honestly after what I saw I was offended MS thought they could get away with this)

You write "In the course of

You write "In the course of voting it became apparent that Microsoft bought votes in corrupt countries, who went from non-voting to a participating member in the voting process. "

But there is no such evidence. There was one hiccup in Sweden that was caught before any damage was done. The *purpose* of ISO is to allow National Bodies to participate and vote on standards that they are interested in, so there is nothing wrong with countries voting. Indeed, the thing that is unfortunate is that they should have been active earlier.

And where is there any evidence for the claim that "The ISO has even recognized that there was rampant corruption in the voting process"? Some anonymous guy wrote something on a blog quoting someone else out of context?

And MS has in fact made a promise not to sue people who make implementations, and and there is strong anti-trust and fraud law to prevent a company from participating in standards work then turning around and preventing use of the standard. Its IP commitment satisifies both Ecma and ISO requirements.

That you are happy to repeat these wild allegations fits in with your statements that you have never even read it.

I thought Jeremy's article was a really reasonable and interesting one, because it fits in with my view that we need to get MS to commit to standards before the wind changes again. I don't have any doubt that the Ballot Resolution Process will result in an approved standard with many highly warranted fixes, but as with CIFS the choice isn't between MS adopting ODF or adopting OOXML, the choice is whether MS should have their native format documented, IP-clear, vetted and standardized or have them completely free as a bird.

-Rick Jelliffe

Not So Fast

Rick, only a fool would expect Microsoft or Ecma to get caught in every place they tried to buy votes, assuming that it did happen.

In the US, the laws you mention are still forming. It is only since the Rambus case that this is considered worthy of a courtroom. Listening to Redmond's patent saber-rattling against Samba, Wine, and OpenOffice (among other projects, including Mono until Novell signed a deal with them). I'm not an attorney, and legalese is a foreign tongue, but I saw nothing in their pledge that obligates them to forebear enforcement of any patent, copyright, or other "IP" claim. Nor does that pledge even apply to most of the unspecified functionality (the supposedly non-required parts) that any implementer will need to implement or become known as defective in the eyes of end-users.

As I said before (http://lnxwalt.wordpress.com/2007/09/08/ooxml-needs-work/) :

Assuming that such a thing actually did happen, I would think Redmond was seriously incompetent if they did get caught. The “Swedish mix-up” would be a good example of this, but standing alone, it is too easy to blame on one employee’s mistake. Thus, while I think it was a good idea for Rob Weir to ask if anyone would produce more evidence, I did not expect to find any, regardless of whether it was happening.

Unless one has legal powers to go into companies and seize documents and compel testimony on penalty of imprisonment, only a fool would expect to find much in the way of objective evidence (proof) of this to get out. Instead, one must infer things from the external behavior and communications of the parties involved. This necessarily involves imputing motives and ethics (or lack thereof), as inference is subjective.

When Jason Matusow says that they will use all tactics at their disposal, it is clear that they have swayed into a political campaign, rather than a technical process. This makes it easy to imagine the same kind of activities that go into political campaigns happening in this process.

Meh

I'll try not to argue since your position is already clear.

I'll retract, for now, my statement on ISO recognizing the process was corrupted since I can't find the news article it was in. However there was an article that was an interview with some members of the ISO who mentioned that there was corruption and that they were looking for ways to prevent this buy in from happening in the future. You want to read it, you go find it, I've got better things to do with my time.

I never take blogs at face value in the rare event that I even read them in the first place. I always require that the blogs claims be verified by a trusted news source before I'll believe a word they've said. That said, I do not believe MS will not sue people over OOXML, they've shown enough use of wordplay that they'll find a way to say that then still sue over something else, however this is personal opinion based off a lifetime of using their products and watching their tactics.

Everything I've written is based on articles from newspapers and science/technology magazines that can be found through Google if you actually care (note these are not blogs). Just looking down this one article shows 7 countries that were bought, not just Sweden, and since it's not a blog they kind of are required to have proof. They don't have to make it available to the public if it contains personal info, but they do have to have it as a defense against lawsuits.

You do not know me, have never met me, and yet feel you can claim that I am "happy to repeat these wild allegations". I have not read the standards in total, however I did investigate the parts related to major problems others brought up while reviewing it and found them to be fair assessments. Frankly I'm angry I have to be doing any of this, MS should never have tried this crap.

Obviously I can't save you from yourself if you don't want saved (hence the "Meh" title), however I can encourage you to actually start looking at the news and finding that the process really was corrupted and it's not just a group of fanatical bloggers saying what they please. Right now I've got 3 tabs up in my browser to various newspaper and magazine articles about the corruption so it's really not hard to find if you actually look, there's also one that's to a blog covering this and it links to valid sources supporting everything he says.

I did my research before posting, it's your turn to step up now.

So called "Intellectual Property"

> (...) anyone can freely adopt (...)

Microsoft asserts its "IP" is almost sacred all the time. Many patents are directly relevant to OOXML. Microsoft has been forced to admit the truth in memos detailing the use patents as weapons. Just having those patents makes OOXML a risk to everyone save Microsoft.

Then Microsoft played the game and offered an "Open Specification Promise" (which turned out to be "non-binding") and a "Covenant Not To Sue" (please notice that it followed Sun steps). In contrast with Sun's commitments, Microsoft's promises didn't stand even a little upon close inspection.

As long as Microsoft can assert its sacred "IP" to stop competition, OOXML is a no-no. ISO is most likely going to approve a patented (underspecified, ill-designed, et cetera) standard. In that case, the process would have failed horribly.

Yet I can't stop thinking this is all a diversion. Massachussets has already accepted OOXML, even if it's not open by its own definition, not standard (at least yet), not anything... Probably many others will follow suit.

nachokb

Is this evidence of antitrust behavior?

As a thought, the EU will be discussing Microsoft’s use of its dominant position to push smaller competitors out of the market. The US, if I remember correctly, has just or will be reviewing the Microsoft’s antitrust compliance with the US antitrust decision. Wouldn’t paying the dues of supporters to join standard’s bodies one day before a critical vote on the Microsoft standard be blatant antitrust activities to be brought before both the EU Monday and the US reviewers? It seems to me office products are going to be a very large source of income. Locking a preferential standard in place would force a number of small groups out of a very lucrative market cornering it for Microsoft.

I believe the article was well written, thank you Jeremy. However, I don’t think standard’s bodies will be able to provide a true standard in this case, I believe it will have to be taken to a higher power to bring fairness to the market.

Cuba's Vote Makes Sense To Me

My own favorites were Cuba voting "yes" to the fast-tracking of OOXML, even though Microsoft is prohibited by the US Government from selling any software on the island that might even be able to read and write the new format [...]

Why is this odd? Aren't sanctions the very reason Cuba would benefit from OOXML's ISO adoption? If MS Office's files were natively "open" and usable by other applications, the lack of MS Office proper would matter less. In fact, I can't see any way in which MS would profit from Cuba adopting OOXML (since they can't sell them any software anyway), but many advantages to Cuba for doing so. The vote makes sense to me.

Don't read that as an endorsement of OOXML. I just don't think the vote is odd.

History doesn't repeat, but it does often rhyme

Re: Cuba Vote makes sense
Now that is Microsoft grade thinking! It is in Cuba's self interest to vote FOR a standard that further internationally isolates it's businesses. Your argument was that other vendors would support the document format as fully as Microsoft can, right?. But OOXML is specifically intended to PREVENT other companies from *stealing* their market share.

The spec provides enough detail for another vendor to provide a incomplete import filter. Writing a file out from scratch is another matter. Duplicating the document workspace in an existing product NOT already based on the Microsoft binary formats would take a herculean coding effort. This sets the stage for incompatible implementations. On purpose. By design. With fore-thought. My opinion and I'll thumb wrestle you over it.

So their options? Pirating or buying copies from Europe (in non-localized Spanish) as they already do. Or native, localized and legal support in ISO approved ODF.

What Cuban interest did a Yes vote serve again?
SirSpammenot

little pieces of history repeating

first it was the monks who were the only ones who could write being usurped by the printing press and liberated by the pencil, now it's digital documents wanting to break free ...

POSIX and Windows

The POSIX vs. Windows example is not very good, as most current Windows versions are fully POSIX compliant. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/POSIX#Fully_POSIX-compliant for a list of POSIX -compliant operating systems, and notice e.g. Windows NT Kernel.

POSIX and Windows

If you look more closely at the Wikipedia entry, POSIX compliance, is optional or conditional, for instance:

"Windows 2000 Server or Professional with Service Pack 3 or later (When using Microsoft SFU 3.5). To be POSIX compliant, one must activate optional features of Windows NT and Windows 2000 Server."

Sounds like embrace and extend to me.

not true after W2K

just install free download SFU, you've got POSIX.

Small Fix

When you refer to the "ISO" seven-layer networking stack, I assume you are referring to the "OSI" model [1] ("OSI" stands for "Open Systems Interconnection"). I would hate this mistake to be used as a divertion of the valid main point of the article.

Thanks,

nachokb

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/OSI_model

(Thanks. Typo corrected - ed.)

Nice Article - So what's so Open about OOXML anyway?!!

I think you make a solid argument, Thanks very much for doing this!!

It would be nice of more people (including the non-technical types) could see your point and the benefits of using something like ODF instead of OOXML.

Also, if OOXML is so great as an "open format", where are all the supporting programs for it?

ODF has at least 12 supporting programs (a number of which are free to use) - see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/OpenDocument_software

Perhaps Microsoft should provide the first open source program that will be capable of using the OOXML standard!! This to prove that such a feat can actually be achieved without hooking up to their proprietary software!

Another thing: OpenOffice.org(for one) can be installed on multiple platforms and is interoperable(to some extent) with Microsoft document formats(e.g., you can save in .doc format even though it's not advised) - where's the love from Microsoft for odf? Such greed, I'll tell ya. Office 2007 has a converter that if you open an .odt file, it immediately converts it to it's own native .docx format, no capability to save in ODF - oh no, that would reduce profits!!

Here's my prediction - Microsoft will pay bigtime for being greedy, it's only a matter of time before the world realizes it.

I say: Choose Freedom, Choose ODF, Choose Open Source, Choose FSF/GNU/Linux, Choose to have technology advance humankind instead of stripping it for profits!

Shannon VanWagner

Standards as a weapon of the weak

Standards can be good and bad but usually they are quite backward. And tend to protect the weak party often at the expence of the slowing down the progress.

Defending standard as the only way to move forward is hypocritical and Jeremy should understand this based on his experience with Samba which was never a cutting edge but always "me too" product which can definitly benefit from the standards.

It's funny that open source as a movement behaves quite Microsoft way when they have some superiority (e.g. FSF blatant disregad for standard when it suit thier purposes -- BSD people know this all too well). So in a way this is a pot calling cattle black.

In a way Microsoft Office (especially Excel) is the standard de-facto whether we want it or not and there is no way to change this as Sun tried (and failed). Open Office was important (and for Sun very expensive -- they paid money for all those GPL dances) attempt to level the playing field. It was not successful as penetration of Open Office remains very weak. All this blah-blah-blah about openness does not worth much if open source programmers with heavy support of Sun in this area cannot compete with the Microsoft programmers.

Monopoly helps but if product is rotten it will be a dustbin of history sooner or later. Just look at IBM products (MVS, PL/1, 1-2-3, Lotus Notes, they once dominated their respective areas; now they are "walking dead" ). This is not the case with MS Office as they push it forward and improve with each iteration (sometimes dramatically sometimes no so) unfortunately leaving open source competition behind. And with all its warts Office 2007 is an important improvment over Office 2003. Just try to work with large speadsheets in both.

Being an open source enthusiast myself I think that only a completely naive or crooked person will change Excel for open source alternative in a business environment. It's simply different quality and unfortunately Microsoft quality is higher. End of discussion.

So in a way Microsoft tried to do a charitable thing as they still are powerhouse to defeat and as such they do not need standards: they are the standard and the adopted standard will only slow them down and give additional levelrage to the compertitors. This is a simple thing the Jeremy failed to understand.

What Jeremy Allison is trying to play in his article is a typical defense of the weak against the prevailing force. And it should be treated as such.

FSF Non-Standard???

You said "e.g. FSF blatant disregad for standard when it suit thier purposes -- BSD people know this all too well".

I don't know what you are referring to. Would you mind giving an example? Bash maybe? What?

Bob

Sacrificial lamb...

Someone needs to create a sacrificial lamb company to implement Microsoft's OOXML into a translator tool that converts all Microsoft's OOXML formats to ODF perfectly (good luck!).

Highly publicize it, and wait for the impending IP lawsuit.

If this can happen before Feb 2008, then this will show the entire world Microsoft's true intent on ensuring that they and ONLY they can be the creators and implementers of their IP filled and proprietary standard.

IBM...SUN ...I'm looking in your general direction.
You got enough cash to pull this off long enough to get Microsoft to show it's true colours.

Martians! Run!

> I'll retract, for now, my statement on ISO recognizing the process was corrupted since I can't find the news article it was in.

> Such greed, I'll tell ya. Office 2007 has a converter that if you open an .odt file, it immediately converts it to it's own native .docx format, no capability to save in ODF

Whether one agrees with you guys or not, there's no denying you're just reporting the facts. Have you heard that the Martians are attacking? Run! :-)

i'm neutral but you're not

It's amazing how every evil in the world seems to be associated with Microsoft in the eyes of the open software fanboys.

I really don't have an interest in this one way or another. I've been around computers a long time. Microsoft has lasted whereas most other companies in the computer industry have failed over the years.

It's amazing the level of bias in your story. If you could just relax, and think happy thoughts for a while it will all seem like not such a big deal.

Of course Microsoft does things which are in its own economic interests. I doubt they bribe other countries for their vote. Lobby perhaps, but not bribe.

Like it or not, the computer industry as a whole is very much better off because microsoft has been here in the past and is still here today.

I've know (many years ago) a few people who were involved in the IETF and without exception they were a bunch of assholes who liked to argue about the smallest things and the most theoretical risks, meanwhile overlooking elephants in the room of usability, consumer friendliness, etc.

Notwithstanding anything I have said, I really am neutral about this. There is a need for standards, but there is also a need for some things to not be standardized. If you ran Microsoft you would feel exactly the same way. But you're too close to the process, so it all looks good to you.

insanity

You might ask what is insanity then? Well as humans define it insanity is the miscalculation of the effort it requires to do something or anything. If you ball up a piece of paper and throw it at a basket and miss, that is a miscalculation of the effort it takes to get the paper in the basket. Insanity! If you drive down to the store, jump a curb and run over a dog, that is miscalculation of the effort it takes to get to the store. Insanity! Let's ramp this to the point where everyone would say, "That's insane!". Let's say, I want to show my wife that I'm becoming successful(she actually only asked that I get a job) so I tell her, "I've been accepted by Harvard Medical School. I then take her there we have a final weekend together and I kill her and put her body in a dumpster and go home(this is a true story from the news). That's Insanity! Now your fellow humans would only call the last example insanity.The reason for this is they don't want to be pointed out. They don't want to have everything they do raked over and they know you also have skeletons in your miscalculation closet. This assures everyone that only the most blatant forms of miscalculation will be labeled insanity. That is a conspiracy that is so huge that it draws every human into it. This conspiracy is how we form societies, groups, and how we order families. These structures are built on judgements of insanity by insane people. This is also the main source of tension in groups. The fact that your always watching for my miscalculation and me your miscalculations.

All human reason is based on some form of insanity. The closer you look at the idea, ideal in question the more it's insane nature is revealed. All humans are insane. This does not mean that they don't overcome their insanity by just keeping at it. Reworking an insane case over and over till it represents some acceptable form of sanity. This just muddies the landscape and blurs the lines of sanity and insanity till a new view of sanity rises that favors the mud rakers.

Now people are always trying to see where they fit on the scale of miscalculation of effort. The way they do this is, they watch others, read newspapers, watch TV and other similar activities. What they do with the info is, they catalog it and compare it to future situations. This also forces a high degree of conformity. It is a lifelong pursuit and it is the hobgoblin of little minds, so to speak. Every organisation among humans is an attempt to make you feel good about your insanities, or miscalculations of effort, and that is the draw. If you join and you start to feel better. Well, that's the insanity for you. This is what organisations are good for.

The estimation of miscalculation of effort is also the basis for all comedy.

What?

What?

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