January 22, 2007
@ 09:44 PM

This morning I stumbled upon an interestingly titled post by Rick Jellife which piqued my interest entitled An interesting offer: get paid to contribute to Wikipedia where he writes

I’m not a Microsoft hater at all, its just that I’ve swum in a different stream. Readers of this blog will know that I have differing views on standards to some Microsoft people at least.
So I was a little surprised to receive email a couple of days ago from Microsoft saying they wanted to contract someone independent but friendly (me) for a couple of days to provide more balance on Wikipedia concerning ODF/OOXML. I am hardly the poster boy of Microsoft partisanship! Apparently they are frustrated at the amount of spin from some ODF stakeholders on Wikipedia and blogs.

I think I’ll accept it: FUD enrages me and MS certainly are not hiring me to add any pro-MS FUD, just to correct any errors I see.
Just scanning quickly the Wikipedia entry 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. So that entry is simply wrong. The same myth comes up in the form “You have to implement all 6000 pages or Microsoft will sue you.” Are we idiots?

Now I certainly think there are some good issues to consider with ODF versus OOXML, and it is good that they come out an get discussed. For example, the proposition that “ODF and OOXML are both office document formats: why should there be two standards?” is one that should be discussed. As I have mentioned before on this blog, I think OOXML has attributes that distinguish it: ODF has simply not been designed with the goal of being able to represent all the information possible in an MS Office document; this makes it poorer for archiving but paradoxically may make it better for level-playing-field, inter-organization document interchange. But the archiving community deserves support just as much as the document distribution community. And XHTML is better than both for simple documents. And PDF still has a role. And specific markup trumps all of them, where it is possible. 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?

I'm glad to hear that Rick Jellife is considering taking this contract. Protecting your brand on Wikipedia, especially against well-funded or organized detractors is unfortunately a full time job and one that really should be performed by an impartial party not a biased one. It's great to see that Microsoft isn't only savvy enough to realize that keeping an eye on Wikipedia entries about itself is important but also is seeking objective 3rd parties to do the policing.

It looks to me that online discussion around XML formats for business documents has significantly detoriorated. When I read posts like Rob Weir's A Foolish Inconsistency and The Vast Blue-Wing Conspiracy or Brian Jones's Passing the OpenXML standard over to ISO it seems clear that rational technical discussion is out the windows and the parties involved are in full mud slinging mode. It reminds me of watching TV during U.S. election years. I'm probably a biased party but I think the "why should we have two XML formats for business documents" line that is being thrown around by IBM is crap. The entire reason for XML's existence is so that we can build different formats that satisfy different needs. After all, no one asks them why the ODF folks had to invent their own format when PDF and [X]HTML already exist. The fact that ODF and OOXML exist yet have different goals is fine. What is important is that they both are non-proprietary, open standards which prevents customers from being locked-in which is what people really want.

And I thought the RSS vs. Atom wars were pointless.

PS: On the issue of Wikipedia now using nofollow links, I kinda prefer Shelley Powers's idea in her post Wikipedia and nofollow that search engines treat Wikipedia specially as an 'instant answer' (MSN speak) or OneBox result (Google speak) instead of including it in the organic search results page. It has earned its place on the Web and should be treated specially including the placement of disclaimers warning Web n00bs that it's information should be taken with a grain of salt.