Archive for the 'Microsoft' Category

Microsoft Caught Trying to Change Wikipedia Entries

Wednesday, January 24th, 2007

Imagine my surprise when a story I happened to cover yesterday splashed up on my Google Homepage. Google News reports over 200 references to the story. In Microsoft, Office Open XML and A Lie, I reported on Mr. Jelliffe’s offer and blog entry. I’m pleased to see that the story is getting national top tier coverage. Here is some of the coverage:

Perhaps this will spark more debate on Microsoft’s motovation for the EOOXML standard.

Update: TechCrunch reported on this today, with more insight than the original AP story.

Until next time-

-3Monkeys

Microsoft, Office Open XML and A Lie

Tuesday, January 23rd, 2007

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 “2.15.3.6 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 don’t implement are no-one’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-

-3Monkeys

The Open XML Lie

Wednesday, January 17th, 2007

Rob Weir recently posted “How to hire Guillaume Portes“, which appeared on Slashdot, both of which both are great resources for additional comments and debate. The basic premise of Rob’s article was that the Microsoft Open XML Specification was similar to creating a job description that would allow for only one qualified respondent. Such a job description might read as follows:

  • 5 years experience with Java, J2EE and web development, PHP, XSLT
  • Fluency in French and Corsican
  • Experience with the Llama farming industry
  • Mole on left shoulder
  • Sister named Bridgette

While perhaps a little extreme, he continues to show that indeed the Open XML Specification is indeed written to accommodate Microsoft products. I will not bore you with all of his examples, but here are a few are worth inspection.

2.15.3.6 autoSpaceLikeWord95 (Emulate Word 95 Full-Width Character Spacing)

This element specifies that applications shall emulate the behavior of a previously existing word processing application (Microsoft Word 95) when determining the spacing between full-width East Asian characters in a document’s content.

[Guidance: To faithfully replicate this behavior, applications must imitate the behavior of that application, which involves many possible behaviors and cannot be faithfully placed into narrative for this Office Open XML Standard. If applications wish to match this behavior, they must utilize and duplicate the output of those applications. It is recommended that applications not intentionally replicate this behavior as it was deprecated due to issues with its output, and is maintained only for compatibility with existing documents from that application. end guidance]

and

2.15.3.51 suppressTopSpacingWP (Emulate WordPerfect 5.x Line Spacing)

This element specifies that applications shall emulate the behavior of a previously existing word processing application (WordPerfect 5.x) when determining the resulting spacing between lines in a paragraph using the spacing element (§2.3.1.33). This emulation typically results in line spacing which is reduced from its normal size.

[Guidance: To faithfully replicate this behavior, applications must imitate the behavior of that application, which involves many possible behaviors and cannot be faithfully placed into narrative for this Office Open XML Standard. If applications wish to match this behavior, they must utilize and duplicate the output of those applications. It is recommended that applications not intentionally replicate this behavior as it was deprecated due to issues with its output, and is maintained only for compatibility with existing documents from that application. end guidance]

This gluttony is further illustrated by the shear complexity of the specification. As many 3Monkey readers know, I’m conducting a series of articles comparing the ODT and DOC formats. With Microsoft Office due to hit consumer shelves at the end of January, I thought I would get a jump on things and download the OOXML specification to get a jump on things. To my surprise the Open XML specification comes in 5 different PDF files with an 6 accompanying electronic annexes in excess of 43 megabytes. For comparison the ODF specification is a single 11 megabyte PDF, with 3 separate XML schemas. The ODF specification weighs in at a mere 722 pages, where as, the largest PDF in the Open XML specification is 5219 pages long.

While I have to wonder at Microsoft’s motivation for producing the Open XML standard, I do not have to guess at the motivation for ODF. Started as early as 1999, ODF was designed as an open and implementation neutral file format. The open specification process started in 2000 with the foundation of the OpenOffice.org open-source project. An even higher level of openness was established in 2002 with the creation of the OASIS Open Office Technical Committee (TC). ODF had gained full adoption with it’s early adopter including OpenOffice.org 1.0 and StarOffice 6 being introduced in May of 2002 and KOffice adoption of the ODF format in August of 2003.

IBM has provided the one voice of reason in this travesty. IBM voted against the certification of Microsoft Office document formats (Open XML) as an international standard at a general assembly of Ecma International in early December 2006. Bob Sutor, IBM’s vice president of standards and open source, confirms Mr. Weir’s sentiment that the ODF standard is of superior quality, versus Open XML which he considers to be “a vendor-dictated spec that documents proprietary products via XML“.

Open XML has been submitted to the ISO for standardization. I encourage each and every reader to oppose this standardization effort. Further details will be outlined on this blog as they become available.

Until next time-

-3Monkeys