February 1, 2007
@ 01:19 AM

Miguel de Icaza of Gnumeric, GNOME and Ximian fame has weighed in with his thoughts on the FUD war that is ODF vs. OOXML. In his blog post entitled The EU Prosecutors are Wrong Miguel writes

Open standards and the need for public access to information was a strong message. This became a key component of promoting open office, and open source software. This posed two problems:

First, those promoting open standards did not stress the importance of having a fully open source implementation of an office suite. Second, it assumed that Microsoft would stand still and would not react to this new change in the market.

And that is where the strategy to promote the open source office suite is running into problems. Microsoft did not stand still. It reacted to this new requirement by creating a file format of its own, the OOXML.

The Size of OOXML

A common objection to OOXML is that the specification is "too big", that 6,000 pages is a bit too much for a specification and that this would prevent third parties from implementing support for the standard. Considering that for years we, the open source community, have been trying to extract as much information about protocols and file formats from Microsoft, this is actually a good thing.

For example, many years ago, when I was working on Gnumeric, one of the issues that we ran into was that the actual descriptions for functions and formulas in Excel was not entirely accurate from the public books you could buy.

OOXML devotes 324 pages of the standard to document the formulas and functions. The original submission to the ECMA TC45 working group did not have any of this information. Jody Goldberg and Michael Meeks that represented Novell at the TC45 requested the information and it eventually made it into the standards. I consider this a win, and I consider those 324 extra pages a win for everyone (almost half the size of the ODF standard).

Depending on how you count, ODF has 4 to 10 pages devoted to it. There is no way you could build a spreadsheet software based on this specification.
I have obviously not read the entire specification, and am biased towards what I have seen in the spreadsheet angle. But considering that it is impossible to implement a spreadsheet program based on ODF, am convinced that the analysis done by those opposing OOXML is incredibly shallow, the burden is on them to prove that ODF is "enough" to implement from scratch alternative applications.
The real challenge today that open source faces in the office space is that some administrations might choose to move from the binary office formats to the OOXML formats and that "open standards" will not play a role in promoting OpenOffice.org nor open source.

What is worse is that even if people manage to stop OOXML from becoming an ISO standard it will be an ephemeral victory.

We need to recognize that this is the problem. Instead of trying to bury OOXML, which amounts to covering the sun with your finger.

I think there is an interesting bit of insight in Miguel's post which I highlighted in red font. IBM and the rest of the ODF opponents lobbied governments against Microsoft's products by arguing that its file formats where not open. However they did not expect that Microsoft would turn around and make those very file formats open and instead compete on innovation in the user experience.

Now ODF proponents like Rob Weir who've been trumpeting the value of open standards now find themselves in the absurd position of arguing that is a bad thing for Microsoft to open up its file formats and provide exhaustive documentation for them. Instead they demand that Microsoft  should either  abandon backwards compatibility with the billions of documents produced by Microsoft Office in the past decade or that it should embrace and extend ODF to meet its needs. Neither of which sounds like a good thing for customers. 

I guess it's like Tim Bray said, life gets complicated when there are billion$ of dollars on the line. I'm curious to see how Rob Weir responds to Miguel's post. Ideally, we'll eventually move away from these absurd discussions about whether it is a bad thing for Microsoft to open up its file formats and hand them over to an international standards body to talking about how we office productivity software can improve the lives of workers by innovating on features especially with regards to collaboration in the workplace.  After all everyone knows that single user, office productivity software is dead. Right?


Thursday, 01 February 2007 04:37:50 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
Hi Dare,

Since you asked, my response is posted here:


Follow-ups to my blog, please.
Thursday, 01 February 2007 06:11:51 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)

Dare, you seem to like repeating to death "Microsoft opening up".

Care to show some evidence of that?

Just because you put angle brackets around binary file formats does not make it something any better, especially when much of the semantics is actually left for someone to reverse engineer.

Just like older binary file formats, it will take years to implement just a subset of it. And don't even think supporting some of the Windows-only stuff on other platforms. (or be ready to be sued).

PS : I am independent vendor and have been doing exactly that the last few months : that's practice, not theory.

PPS : while I give technical reasons why this OOXML thing has no log as an international standard, it is also worth mentioning that the whole thing is just business and politics, not something technical.

Thursday, 01 February 2007 16:32:29 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)

Considering that there is a fairly complete open source implementation of a translator available *today* that can do OOXML to ODF and back I would say that your claim that it would take "years" is not quite accurate.

Miguel de Icaza
Thursday, 01 February 2007 17:44:35 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)

"Considering that there is a fairly complete open source implementation of a translator available *today* that can do OOXML to ODF and back I would say that your claim that it would take "years" is not quite accurate."

I guess you are not talking about CleverAge's plugin (which is still one-way at this point) or the daVinci plugin, are you ?

If you do, then you need to inform yourself a bit...

Those two are for Word documents, they don't apply to Excel or Powerpoint documents.

And I'd be baffled if it goes further basic document cases, especially in the case of CleverAge. For instance, what happens to VBA macros?

Miguel, sorry but no. You are having gratuitous arguments lately. Are you paid to say it? You very much sound like it.

Thursday, 01 February 2007 17:49:01 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)

Or better yet, what did you trade with Redmond in exchange of this whole nonsense?

A contact with someone in the WPF team to teach you WPF internals? The source code of milcore.dll?

Come on, let us now.
Thursday, 01 February 2007 23:27:51 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
Well, I guess we know what Rob's response has been. The comments over there are the most fascinating parts.

And, as you see right here, Miguel is getting wacked left and right, especially when he speaks with some authority (e.g., based on the experience with Gnumeric). Of course, now Jody is being tarred, too, in another comment to Rob's post, as a Microsoft spy on OpenFormula. This is all very disgusting.

I think I will bite my lip and wait to see what the outcome of the one-month contradictions quick-check will be at the ISO. The hue and cry will be interesting, either way. (I have my own opinion about what will happen, but I am going to just wait.)

- Dennis
Friday, 02 February 2007 00:02:25 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)

Well, considering that OpenOffice today ignores VBA am not sure what the problem is to keep ignoring VBA (btw, Novell wrote an extension to import VBA which got people up in arms as usual).

My post does not represent Novell's company position nor does my analysis. I think my analysis can stand on its own feet, it is a shame that you have to resort to the "Association by Guilt" fallacy to prove your point.

Attack the message, not the messenger.

Miguel de Icaza
Friday, 02 February 2007 05:50:15 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)


I think you never made a single point in this thread, I have debunked all the nonsense you have been telling point by point.

On top of that, I am a practitioner, since I sell a product that does exactly what I am talking about.

You are the theorist here.

To me, this is so much nonsense that there is got to be a hidden story à la Novell/Microsoft.

Comments are closed.