Arnaud's Blog

Opinions on open source, standards, and other things

Microsoft wants National Bodies to wear blinders

It is unknown at this point how exactly the convenor of the upcoming OOXML Ballot Resolution Meeting (BRM) will run the meeting and how he will make the call as to whether there is agreement or not on each issue being discussed.

My understanding is that he can simply make a judgment call based on the apparent consensus or lack of it, or he can call for a vote. Either way this means that countries present at the BRM need to be prepared to express their position on all the proposed dispositions of comments.

Of course, with thousands of proposed dispositions of comments and only a few weeks before the BRM, this is an impossible task. Microsoft knows that just as well as anybody else but they are not going to let this kind of hard reality stop them from pursuing the sacred grail – the ISO Standard label -.

So Microsoft is instructing countries to only worry about their own comments, not all comments. If followed, this has several advantages for Microsoft: it makes the task of reviewing the response countries received less daunting and it increases the chance that a country will be satisfied by the response, and consequently decide to vote in favor of OOXML.

The only glitch in Microsoft’s take on this is that it really doesn’t make any sense for a country not to worry about all the issues that were raised.

I’ve participated in many standards meetings. Never have I seen issues being segregated by their origin. Once issues are raised they all end up in the same pool for everybody to consider, regardless of their origin. And then when a resolution is proposed everybody gets to express his or her opinion on it, not just the people who raised the issue. This is simply because everybody’s interest is in the standard as a whole, not just particular sections of it.

The fact that it’s an impossible task for countries to merely read about all the issues that were raised and their associated proposed dispositions only proves, once more, that the fast track process is totally inappropriate for OOXML. But it’s not like we didn’t already know that and even if common sense would dictate to stop this non sense right now I don’t expect it to. The OOXML train already got seriously dinged in September but it will keep running its crazy course until it crashes.


January 23, 2008 Posted by | standards | , , , | 29 Comments

Let’s make a mess and then try to fix it – No, thanks.

I’ve become aware of various efforts focusing on addressing the difficulties users are going to have dealing with two formats: ODF and OOXML. One such effort even aims at creating a standard way of converting documents from one format to the other so that it could be done consistently.

All this might seem commendable at first sight but I have to ask: WHY???

Why are people doing this to themselves? Why are governments doing this to their citizens? Why are companies doing this to their customers? This is: Why creating these difficulties in the first place?

In essence the story goes like this: 1) we have one standard format for everybody to use, 2) instead of helping out make this format successful for the benefit of all, Microsoft creates its own competing format for its own and sole benefit, 3) this creates a mess, which the world has to figure out how to deal with. Thank you, Microsoft.

I already explained that if Microsoft really cared about legacy documents they would have opened up their binary format. They could also join the ODF TC and submit a proposal on how to extend ODF to support documents in their legacy binary format. Something they could have already done using ODF’s extension mechanism by the way. Now, that would really be helpful. And there would be no mess to deal with.

We can simply avoid all this by rejecting OOXML and forcing Microsoft to adopt and support ODF. No, it’s not impossible. Microsoft is merely counting on the fact that customers will let them get away with their misbehavior (once again). But if customers massively demanded ODF support and held off buying any new license until this happens, Microsoft would have no choice but to comply. Customers decide in the end, with their money. And governments, especially, play a crucial role in this regard.

Microsoft is making a mess which will only benefit them and their partners at your expense. Don’t let them.

January 17, 2008 Posted by | standards | , , | Leave a comment

International standards deserve more than being automatically generated

There have been many signs that led me to believe that OOXML was for the most part the result of some automatic transformation. Something Microsoft created from running a program that spit out the guts of MS Office in an XML form.

This has now been confirmed by Microsoft through its proposed disposition of comments submitted in preparation to the upcoming BRM. Here is an extract from what has been submitted:

“Agreed; the automated processing which was used to generate this data for Part 4 did not take into consideration the fact that some base types are not based on single-character units.”

So here we have it, clearly stated.

Now, there is nothing fundamentally wrong with generating something to start form rather than trying to reinvent everything from scratch, especially when your goal is to represent as much as possible what your software already supports, but this can only be that: a starting point.

As part of creating a new format, especially aimed at becoming an international standard, you ought to then go through a careful review of every aspect of the format you generated and do a massive clean up. For something as complex as an office format there is no doubt that this requires a lot of effort and a lot of time. But there is no way around it if you want something of quality.

Evidently this wasn’t done for OOXML and as a result the format they ended up with shows all the legacy quirks and oddities resulting from years and years of patching and further developing MS Office. Measuring units vary, feature names are inconsistent, etc.

Just because the format was meant to be fully backward compatible with MS Office does NOT justify all of this. Instead of exposing all the inconsistencies of MS Office internals the format should have be made consistent and mapped to MS Office internals as needed on read and write.

Once more, this shows that OOXML was rushed and not given the time and effort it needed to even qualify as a candidate for an international standard.

January 8, 2008 Posted by | standards | , | Leave a comment