A few day ago I posted an article, The Open XML Lie, I was misguided in that my arguments along with those or Rod Weir and Bob Sutor’s were so self evident that at minimum they would be understood. I was wrong, and I blame myself for not providing a clearer definition of the problem. First, I never really defined what was the “lie“. The “lie” is that OOXML, or Open XML is an open standard. An open standard is, as defined by Wikipedia.
Open standards are publicly available and implementable standards. By allowing anyone to obtain and implement the standard, they can increase compatibility between various hardware and software components, since anyone with the necessary technical know-how and resources can build products that work together with those of the other vendors that base their designs on the standard. Many technical specifications that are sometimes considered standards are proprietary rather than being open, and are only available under restrictive contract terms (if they can be obtained at all) from the organization that owns the copyright for the specification.
Notice that the definition refers to technical specifications being sometimes referred to as standards that are proprietary rather than open. One prominent example that comes to mind is the flash standard. These are not open standards put rather proprietary standards.
Where Open XML fails in this definition is the following, “anyone with the necessary technical know-how and resources can build products that work together with those of the other vendors that base their designs on the standard”. The problem exist in the fact that Microsoft is in a unique position to understand and implement such elements of the standard as “22.214.171.124 autoSpaceLikeWord95 (Emulate Word 95 Full-Width Character Spacing)“. This is akin to asking Bob Uecker to hit a baseball like Babe Ruth. No matter how much Uecker tries, only Ruth could hit like Ruth.
Rick Jelliffe recently received an offer to edit Wikipedia entries for pay by Microsoft. From his post:
Just scanning quickly the Wikipedia entry for OOXML, I see one example straight away: The OOXML specification requires conforming implementations to accept and understand various legacy office applications. But the conformance section to the ISO standard (which is only about page four) specifies conformance in terms of being able to accept the grammar, use the standard semantics for the bits you implement, and document where you do something different. The bits you donâ€™t implement are no-oneâ€™s business.
While technically Mr. Jelliffe is correct, any competent organization would, and should, strive to fully implement a standard. While the specification does not require an understanding of various legacy office applications, it certainly limits the number of organizations that could fully implement the specification to exactly one — Microsoft.
ODF proponents are responding to these claims. For contradictions and objections, Grocdoc is hosting the EOOXML Objections. It also seems that Mr. Jelliffe’s collegues at O’Reilly are supporting ODF over EOOXML. Jean Hollis Weber writes:
Do we need two standards? I think not, and many people (with a lot more technical knowledge than I have) also think not.
Do we need two standards? No, competing (open) standards offer nothing to the consumer, and are simply an extra headache for developers. What is Microsoft’s motivation behind EOOXML? Why would they not adopt a community support standard such as ODF? One thought is that by adopting ODF, Microsoft would lose sales of its Office Suite applications. However, if they are successful in standardizing their own conceived format, then they can retain sales and lock in users.
Groklaw is questioning Microsoft’s motivation as well. In the article, Searching for Openness in Microsoft’s OOXML and Finding Contradictions, discusses the Novell-Microsoft Deal and its affect on interoperability, Microsoft’s past and ongoing record, and provides the details of the ISO standardization process.
See? “Only Novell” can do this. That isn’t interoperability, in the sense that you’d expect from a standard, is it? It’s just another Microsoft partner, maintaining the Microsoft unwillingness to share technical information with real competitors, to my eyes. Why would you even need the interoperability work between Novell and Microsoft, if Microsoft planned to offer a standard the whole world could use equally? Isn’t that what a standard is supposed to mean?
Perhaps the most telling statement against EOOXML being a truly open standard comes from the specification itself. Page 10 states the goal of the EOOXML standard.
The goal is to enable the implementation of the Office Open XML formats by the widest set of tools and platforms, fostering interoperability across office productivity applications and line-of-business systems, as well as to support and strengthen document archival and preservation, all in a way that is fully compatible with the large existing investments in Microsoft Office documents.
The ISO’s deadline for objections and contradictions is February 5th; I’m certain more will be reported as the deadline approaches.
Until next time-