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ODF/OOXML: Summary of the Latest News and BRM Reports

Posted in Asia, ECMA, GNU/Linux, IBM, Microsoft, Office Suites, Open XML, OpenDocument at 12:59 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Reports from the BRM in Geneva continue to come [1, 2, 3, 4, 5], but there are some encouraging news from the ODF front as well. IBM, for example, is now spreading its ODF love using Symphony (“proprietary software” comes to mind) on top of GNU/Linux in Europe. Here is the report from Reuters.

International Business Machines Corp (IBM.N: Quote, Profile, Research) said it was offering the PCs based on the open-source Linux operating system together with Red Hat (RHT.N: Quote, Profile, Research) software distributor VDEL of Austria and Polish distributor and services firm LX Polska in response to demand from Russian IT chiefs.


The PCs will include IBM’s Lotus Symphony software based on the Open Document Format, a rival format to Microsoft’s Office Open XML document format, which the latter is trying to get adopted as an ISO internationally approved standard.

The following article takes a more direct approach and focuses on the role of GNU/Linux in the stack.

IBM to offer Linux machines


The machines, it was announced, will come with Red Hat’s Linux distro, and will come pre-loaded with software from IBM, including its Lotus Symphony suite.

Fortunately enough (yet unsurprisingly), OOXML file are still rare (also see this), so there is hardly any inertia.

So with all this evident love for Microsoft Office 2007, why is it that 6-months later there are only 63 OOXML spreadsheet documents on the web, something like 0.3% of the number of ODF spreadsheet documents? How can there be 300 companies supporting OOXML and only have 69 OOXML presentations on the web? (This is starting to sound like when I say I support 30 minutes of aerobic exercise a day. I don’t do it, but I sure support it!)

OK, I know the argument about “dark matter”, that Google indexes only the tip of the iceberg, that there is a lot of data squirreled away on PC hard-drives, behind corporate fire walls, etc., stuff that Google will never see. But the same is equally true for ODF documents, right? I have tons of ODF documents on my laptop, but none of them are indexed by Google.

Over in Greece (discomforting memories spring to mind, e.g. [1, 2, 3, 4]), some complaints are politely made about ECMA/Microsoft’s handling of comments and irrational time constraints.

The contrast with OOXML is sharp, and this brings us to another issue of contention. The Greek workgroup on OOXML had been handed only the Ecma Responses for Greece. It was at the BRM when we found out that we should have studied all responses, not only those for Greece. It is not clear if this is an error by Ecma or by the Greek NB, but, in both cases, we did not have the time to study one thousand responses, so there would have been no difference. In fact, even the 80 responses that Greece studied, we did not study at the level of scrutiny that is required when you inspect a standard. There was no time for that. What we did was glance through, and make fast decisions based on what seems right at a quick glance.

More such complaints are made by the ODF Alliance [PDF] (as text).

…the ODF Alliance said in a statement that “despite the hard work by the many national standards bodies and ISO/IEC, the results fell far short of fixing the most important errors and omissions in OOXML. More than 80 percent of the comments from national bodies were not discussed…”

Malaysia is no exception.

Malaysian delegation at the ISO meeting in Geneva (25 – 29 Feb ’08) finds the technical issues in the draft standard OOXML unresolved satisfactorily

Malaysia’s Department of Standards (STANDARDS MALAYSIA) recently found the Draft ISO standard, ISO/IEC DIS 29500: Office Open XML (OOXML) specification for electronic document formats, had the majority of its technical issues still not addressed satisfactorily.

In an interview with Sean Daly, Vint Cerf questions a variety of things, including the closed nature of the whole process.

Cerf: We saw that walled gardens are NOT what users want. They want freedom to interact with everyone in convenient and standards-compliant ways. I do not think we will see walled gardens of the previous kind, but I do worry when global standards are adopted that are likely to be implementable by only one vendor. When global standards processes are overly influenced by proprietary interests, they cease to facilitate interoperability and competitive implementation. I do worry when standards are adopted that have potential encumbrances or that erode the openness that has been a hallmark of the Internet since its origins.

More recently, Noooxml.org concluded that the BRM has made things worse for Microsoft (but everyone has already known this, Microsoft included).

Microsoft tries to blame all negative criticism on fanaticism, covert influence from IBM and an unreasonable anti-Microsoft attitude. I would be more inclined towards regarding a blank approval without comments as a sign of corruption or gross incompetence.

Where is it most likely that you will find corruption and a lack of experience: in long standing P-members, or in small newcomers without even a proper national standards committee?

A very comprehensive list of OOXML irregularities you can still find here. It continues to be updated.

Here is Matt Aslett’s take on the spin from Microsoft, which leads to confusion (by design).

Lastly, the OSI talks about this issue.

But if you read this far, you’re smart enough to look behind the claims of a label and determine whether its promises can be judged true. Now is the time to stand up and say no to OOXML, saving us all generations of technical servitude, commercial disappointment, and individual shame. Support ODF, support true open standards, and enjoy the support you can get from open source.

In conclusion, in the the past week we saw victories for ODF and a major setback for OOXML. This momentum will hopefully be maintained.

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