In response to my recent post entitled ODF vs. OOXML on Wikipedia one of my readers pointed out

Well, many of Weir's points are not about OOXML being a "second", and therefore unnecessary, standard. Many of them, I think, are about how crappy the standard actually is.

Since I don't regularly read Rob Weir's blog this was interesting to me. I wondered why someone who identifies himself as working for IBM on various ODF technical topics would be spending a lot of his time attacking a related standard as opposed to talking about the technology he worked. I assumed my reader was mistaken and decided to subscribe to his feed and see how many of his recent posts were about OOXML. Below is a screenshot of what his feed looks like when I subscribed to it in RSS Bandit a few minutes ago

Of his 24 most recent posts, 16 of them are explicitly about OOXML while 7 of them are about ODF.

Interesting. I wonder why a senior technical guy at IBM is spending more time attacking a technology whose proponents have claimed is not competitive with it instead of talking about the technology he works on? Reading the blogs of Microsoft folks like Raymond Chen, Jensen Harris or Brian Jones you don't see them dedicating two thirds of their blog postings to bash rival products or technologies.

From my perspective as an outsider in this debate it seems to me that OOXML is an overspecified description of an open XML document format that is backwards compatible with the billions of documents produced in Microsoft Office formats over the past decade. On the other hand, ODF is an open XML document format that aims to be a generic format for storing business documents that isn't tied to any one product which still needs some work to do in beefing up the specification in certain areas if interoperability is key.

In an ideal world both of these efforts would be trying to learn from each other. However it seems that for whatever reasons IBM has decided that it would rather that Microsoft failed at its attempt to open up the XML formats behind the most popular office productivity software in the world. How this is a good thing for Microsoft's customers or IBM's is lost on me.

Having a family member who is in politics, I've learned that whenever you see what seems like a religious fundamentalism there usually is a quest for money and/or power behind it. Reading articles such as Reader Beware as ODF News Coverage Increases it seems clear that IBM has a lot of money riding on being first to market with ODF-enabled products while simultaneously encouraging governments to only mandate ODF. The fly in the ointment is that the requirement of most governments is that the document format is open, not that it is ODF. Which explains IBM's unfortunate FUD campaign. 

Usually, I wouldn't care about something like this since this is Big Business and Politics 101, but there was something that Rick Jellife wrote in his post An interesting offer: get paid to contribute to Wikipedia which is excerpted below

So I think there are distinguishing features for OOXML, and one of the more political issues is do we want to encourage and reward MS for taking the step of opening up their file formats, at last?

The last thing I'd personally hate is for this experience to have soured Microsoft from opening up its technologies so I thought I'd throw my hat in the ring at least this once.

PS: It's pretty impressive that a Google search for "ooxml" pulls up a bunch of negative blog posts and the wikipedia article as the first couple of hits. It seems the folks on the Microsoft Office team need to do some SEO to fix that pronto.


Tuesday, 23 January 2007 19:21:47 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
Read a few of Rob Weir's posts examining the actual specification of OOXML (instead of his ranting). You will see that it is not "open" because to implement it you have to reverse-engineer parts of Word 2002, Word 97, 95, 6, Wordperfect and others.

Additionally, the "art border" feature is heavily limited, and the documents use Microsoft's own language codes instead of ISO, and the date calculations consider 1900 to be a leap year, and doesn't use established technologies like SVG, MathML and XLinks - instead chosing to create its own alternative. Indeed, they even fail to use numeric fields for numeric data (see "pct15"), and create their own - limited - list of language codes.

And why is there stuff like a boolean for "whether applications should automatically convert the backslash character into the yen character when it is added through user keyboard input"?

MS can make this crap if it wants, but if it becomes an ISO standard there will just be more pain for everybody else.
Tomer Chachamu
Tuesday, 23 January 2007 23:06:40 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
Glad to have you as a reader, Dare. I'm a long-time fan of your blog.
Tuesday, 23 January 2007 23:44:13 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
Are you seriously asking why any technologist would spend a lot of time writing about a major piece of technology that's a) horrible, and b) pretty much destined to be successful because of the forces behind it? Because, y'know, just look at all the critical posts about XML Schema from many many parties.

From what I gather, ODF is to OOXML what Relax NG is to XML Schema, so this strikes me as a particularly apt analogy.
Wednesday, 24 January 2007 15:44:18 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
It's a leap of judgement to consider OOXML open or part of a direction on Microsoft's part to open up.

The effort Microsoft is making to insert application dependent product/code whathaveyou into international standards is dangerous and deserves full attention and understanding.

The assumption you betray that these are practically or morally equvalent is a central part of the problem and part of the forces effecting high prices and weak performance across desktop and other parts of the technology architecture.
Wednesday, 24 January 2007 16:09:45 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
Mike - I believe Dare's point is that it is bad form to see someone bad-mouthing a competitor all the time on their blog. You dont see Raymond Chen or Larry Osterman or Jensen Harris bad mouthing Mac or Linux or Google,do you?

Rob might be a 'technologist' but he is an IBM employee who works on the *direct competitor* to OOXML. For him to spend the majority of his blog bashing Microsoft and OOXML is real bad form, IMHO.
Thursday, 25 January 2007 01:13:30 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
But you do see Microsoft's Andre Vrignaud badmouthing the PS3 on his blog all the time. Which, really, is fine by me. I'm perfectly capable of telling credible criticisms from subsidized shilling, and I'll either tune in for more intriguing criticism or ignore the unhinged ranting, depending on where I place my judgement. The mere fact that somebody talks about something a lot doesn't tell me much of anything.
Friday, 26 January 2007 20:10:52 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
Dare. I think the reason for IBM's attacks against Open XML and the ISO standardization process has very little to do with technical issues and everything to do with the need to grow their services business. It seems bizare to me that a reputable company like IBM is taking a position which is clearly aimed at limiting customer choice. I can only imagine that they are willing to take the heat on this from their customers because there are much bigger strategic issues at stake.
Saturday, 17 February 2007 09:54:35 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
Well, Dare, I think there are major problems with MS OOXML, and I don't get paid by IBM to think that. That's one of the most major problems, of course - if IBM is master-minding the criticism of MS OOXML and so on and so forth, and is - presumably - funding this criticism, where's _my_ _money_? ;)

/* You are not expected to understand this */

No, seriously, getting back to the topic, there was one problem I took to heart, largely because at the time I was seriously considering implementing MS OOXML for a project. But since ActiveX was a required functionality for the document controls, and ActiveX was a: not that well documented, and b: a tool for the spread of malware, I argued that the functionality should be abstracted. I argued that at both Brian Jones' blog and in a comment to Port 25. The last I heard, the message had got through.

The Groklaw contradictions page is the net effect of the community having gone to work and done the same thing for the whole specification.

Now the question is, what is Microsoft going to do about it? It's already released MS Office 2k7, which uses that MS OOXML as one of its native file formats which has the issues the Groklawyers have documented.

I don't see IBM as having ulterior motives. Frankly I see them as worried they might have to support an overcomplex file format that has references (unabstracted) to proprietary Microsoft data. It's a net loss for them to have to do that sort of thing.

So, what is Microsoft going to do about it?
Wesley Parish
Tuesday, 06 March 2007 10:18:13 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
Wesley can you please explain further your belief that ActiveX is required to implement OOXML.

I have not heard or read anything of that nature, and I can't believe that it is necessary - unless perhaps you were adding support for previous versions of Office. Therefore it seems as if your post is simply another example of factual inaccuracy (of which the Groklaw document is a grave offender) in this one-sided debate.
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