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Much ado about nothing

Jason Matusow and I were sat next to each other at a meeting at the end of last week. I was laughing at some of the comments he was receiving on his blog in response to a post he made about the "Open XML - US V1 Committee Vote and IBM Motivations" - especially after he'd gone to the trouble of issuing guidance on how to insult him.

harley_mcgrew_emailThen someone called Harley McGrew sends a link to a croklaw post about a meeting in Portugal that I attended, and requests that I take a break from my "rabid pro-closed-format polemic" to comment on it. Thanks Harley Smile I haven't posted anything for about a month so rabid polemic is stretching things a little but nice use of English - much nicer in tone than the comments on Matusow's blog Big Smile

The poster is apparently Rui Seabra. (Rui says that he emailed me before he posted - if he did it got lost in the ether I guess). Sadly Rui seems to have got into a bit of a muddle with his note-taking, which is understandable given how busy he was in the meeting.

So, knowing that Pamela and friends would never allow a story to get in the way of the the truth, let me set the record straight. You never know, Rui might even update his notes.

I didn't say that Microsoft was thrown out of any OASIS ODF meeting. I said that:-

GaryEdwards-IsSunFriendOrFoei) Sun's Simon Phipps had told me at a recent UK NCC meeting that some Microsoft people did attend one of the ODF meetings. (Simon also told me that the Microsoft people came across as arrogant and didn't win any friends at that meeting.)

ii) Gary Edwards had recently claimed that the OpenDocument Foundation had been ejected from OASIS for promoting a viewpoint that Sun didn't agree with.

Here's a shot of where Gary wrote that. As he seems to have substantially updated his post now though here's the original text as shown above

Is Sun Friend or Foe?
Published May 22, 2007, this comment was written in the aftermath of List Enhancement Proposal donnybrook at the ODF OASIS TC.

It was at the height of our List Enhancement battle with Sun that OASIS stepped in their threat to boot the OpenDocument Foundation.  OASIS carried out that threat in May.  The lesson we learned is clear and unequivocal.  Opposition to Sun, in either the marketplace (da Vinci) or in the OASIS ODF TC, can be quite hazzardous to your health.

Not that this comes as any surprise.  Nearly five years ago in 2002, when i first joined OASIS to work on OpenDocument, it was clear that OASIS was a big vendor consortia.  While OASIS does have an affordable "
Lawn Jockey" program, Sun is clearly calling all the shots on the OASIS ODF TC.  This is why ODF is bound so tightly to the OpenOffice feature set.

Still, we thought the "
Lawn Jockey" loophole could be used to balance out the interests and control of the OASIS big vendors.  We were wrong.  And it took near five years for the obvious to finally sink.  Well, "sink in" thanks to the OASIS hammer and boot.


In his revised text Gary writes

While no one wants to admit this, the truth is that Sun dominates and controls the OASIS ODF Technical Committee. And if you oppose them the consequences are serious, as the OpenDocument Foundation recently found out. Worse, there is a four and a half year record of Sun opposing or undermining efforts to enhance compatibility and interop.
And then there is the insane insistence by Sun that ODF be limited to only those features supported and implemented by OpenOffice.

Why is this relevant? Well the group that built the original ODF 1.0 standard had only two people participate in more than 75% of the meetings. One of those guys was the actual chair, who was from Sun (Michael Brauer). The other guy was Gary Edwards, and he has some pretty negative things to say lately about some of the ODF doublespeak coming from Sun and IBM, for example he closes another (long) post saying

The current membership of the OASIS ODF TC is clearly and unequivocably on record as opposed to the interoperability the marketplace is screaming for.  The issues of "compatibility, interoperability, and convergence", as described above have been called by current TC members: "out of bounds", "out of scope", "not our problem", "let the converters and transformers deal with it", and "talk to Microsoft".

If Micrsoft were to join the OASIS ODF TC today, seeking to adapt ODF to meet the legacy document-MSOffice features-line of business integration needs of their monopoly base, the TC would have to deal with the exact same issues as they have summarily rejected with current compatibility-interoeprability-convergence disussions!

There is no possible way anyone can claim that today's OASIS ODF TC would welcome Microsoft and make accomodating changes to the specification!  No way!  And the proof of this hostility can be seen in the actual disussions and rejections of Micrsoft specific interoperability proposals.

Andy is out of touch and clearly drinking the kool-aid.


(The Andy referred to is the Linux Foundation's Andy Updegrove.) I think this shows that people aren't being entirely honest when they say that the OASIS ODF TC had arms open to Microsoft.

There is a lot of truth in what Gary's complaining about, ibm-productivity-toolsfor example I was surprised to learn that the much vaunted ODF support in Notes 8 isn't the default format. It does rather beg the question why not. [Update: Nathan kindly pointed out this is an error in IBM's document, and Ed Brill has posted a corrected table that shows the ODF support is both default and ISO/IEC 26300:2006 format]

IBM's position seems to be that their customers will be happy to use legacy binary formats rather than OpenXML for now and that they may add OpenXML at a later date but that it shouldn't be an ISO standard. Meanwhile other parts of IBM clearly understand the power and benefits of OpenXML but they seem to be being censored for the moment.

It appears that Sun are now supporting OpenXML as an ISO standard. Jon Bosak, one of Sun's Distinguished Engineers who works on Standards in Sun's Office of Global Government Strategy recently wrote

"We wish to make it completely clear that we support DIS 29500 becoming an ISO Standard and are in complete agreement with its stated purposes of enabling interoperability among different implementations and providing interoperable access to the legacy of Microsoft Office documents."

Anyway, back to Portugal. I did say that as ISO-26300 is under-specified, implementations effectively have no option but to implement proprietary extensions. I said the same thing at the aforementioned UK NCC meeting (also attended by Rob Weir and Jonathan Sage from IBM) and nobody batted an eyelid. In fact I recall Simon explained that this under-specification is a design feature of ODF, because it is now seen as an "interchange format", and that additional namespaces would be "layered on". (The problem with this approach is that the layers you choose might differ from the layers I choose, so we'll end up having to define layer profiles to enable interoperability ... hmm, remind you of anything?)

My recollection was that Rui himself was amusingly irreverent and was chastised at one point by one of the other members for lack of respect for others on the committee. As he correctly reports I tried to understand what was behind his objections in the coffee break as I don't see why the free software community should object to OpenXML being an ISO standard, in fact I would have expected them to welcome it. But there we come to the crux of things - who speaks for "the community" in these matters? It seems to me that Novell, and Linspire, and TurboLinux, are at least a part of it so why isn't their participation being called for?

What I called hypocritical was to do so in the name of "freedom", while you're at the same time trying to argue that I don't have the "freedom" to make my own choice.
Linus Torvalds

There's a lot of hypocrisy out there.


Matusow's Blog said:

A couple of things to pop up on my blog today: Stephen McGibbon wrote a blog posting this week about

# July 25, 2007 9:10 PM

digginestdogg said:

Stephen, you are a fine spinmeister the way you twist the meaning of "interoperability" to mean "legacy file format compatible" and "multi-format capable". The most elegant interoperability would be for all document processing applications to support a single standard file format, even if individual applications chose to also support other formats, so that converters were only necessary to use once to convert a legacy document into the single modern standard for editing. Perpetuating the past mistake of allowing multiple doc formats inhibits interoperability.

As an example: the internet works well because it is based on one single format for key data exchange: TCP/IP, HTML, XHTML, CSS, etc. In fact, any time a vendor has botched their implementation of that standard, communications and the value of the internet has suffered. So it is multiple formats that are the enemy of interoperability. For any given purpose, users want choice in applications not formats. I find it interesting that the firm you blog for has had a big hand in that sabotage of the interoperability of the web too.

# July 25, 2007 10:51 PM

Stephen McGibbon said:

So which single standard file format should everyone use digginestdogg?

# July 25, 2007 11:34 PM

Simon Phipps said:

You want to watch that selective quotation, Stephen. Your quotation from Bosak gives the impression Sun is supporting OOXML; in fact, Bosak goes on in the same e-mail to say:

"Sun voted No on Approval because it is our expert finding, based on the analysis so far accomplished in V1, that DIS 29500 as presently written is technically incapable of achieving those goals, not because we disagree with the goals or are opposed to an ISO Standard that would enable them.  Sun voted Yes on Conditional approval (disapproval with comments) because this is the only one of the options we were given that would guarantee that the specific changes already agreed upon by consensus in V1 would actually be implemented."

In other words, what the ISO process calls both "Conditional Approval" and "disapproval with comments"  was the vote that would ensure there would be no escape from the responsibility to fix all the defects in OOXML should it be accepted by ISO. Bosak's e-mail was to correct an error in the minutes where the dual-description of this vote was omitted.

We are attempting to remain impartial and focussed on the technical facts in our standards engagement, and Jon is at pains to say the "no" vote is based on technical weakness of the spec rather than partisan support or opposition of its authors. Jon an others will correct the record each time either is implied - please do /not/ characterise us as supporters or as opponents when he and others do so, as you have here.

I also should say that it may be my recollection was incorrect about Microsoft staff visiting the TC at some point. I was sure it happened around 2003 but no-one else on the team remembers it so I must be wrong. My apologies.

I've said enough here, but I should also say your characterisation of my view on "underspecification" is one I would argue with too.

# July 26, 2007 1:28 PM

Stephen McGibbon said:

Hi Simon, thanks for contributing.

>You want to watch that selective quotation

I linked to Jon Bosak's original email.

>Your quotation from Bosak gives the impression Sun is supporting OOXML

Hang on, it doesn't just give that impresssion - Bosak states it himself clearly

"We wish to make it completely clear that we support DIS 29500 becoming an ISO Standard and are in complete agreement with its stated purposes of enabling interoperability among different implementations and providing interoperable access to the legacy of Microsoft Office documents."

I read Jon's next paragraph as explaining that Sun's No vote was conditional approval as Sun see it, so the first paragraph clearly sets out the position in principle.

I am suprised that you don't recall the conversation about ODF being an "exchange format" or saying it should be extended with "layers of namespaces".

Re the comment about the meeting between Microsoft and the ODF committee, thanks for the clarification, I will stop repeating that now. I guess the embellishments about the Microsoft guys being arrogant and talking down to everyone "you guys don't know how to do anything" are just urban myths too then Wink

# July 26, 2007 1:56 PM

Doug Mahugh said:

We're having TechReady here in Seattle this week, which is a great chance to catch up with colleagues

# July 26, 2007 4:06 PM

Nathan T. Freeman said:

"I was surprised to learn that the much vaunted ODF support in Notes 8 isn't the default format."

This simply isn't true.  Download the beta and try it out.  The default format is to save as ODF.  Just as it's OOXML in Office 2007.

# July 26, 2007 7:18 PM

Stephen McGibbon said:

Hi Nathan. Maybe you should tell IBM that - the picture is taken from their 29 June 2007 document "An overview of the IBM productivity tools" (also linked above).

Not only does that document clearly indicate that the native formats are .sxw .sxc .sxi (the old OpenOffice file types) it also clearly indicates that the ODF support is OASIS not ISO. It's not clear to me which version of ODF is supported. I'd have expected it to be explicit that it's ISO26300 wouldn't you?

Maybe the difference is in that word "native"?

BTW don't get me wrong Nathan - I think it will be a great feature - but I was always a big fan of Lotus Components and Kona back in Lotus days. (Personally I don't think it will be too long before OpenXML is added to the list as well).

# July 26, 2007 7:38 PM

Nathan T. Freeman said:

I did tell IBM that.  A correction is in progress.

# July 26, 2007 8:38 PM

Ed Brill said:

Thanks, Buga, I'm having the table updated now to reflect the default ODF formats.

# July 26, 2007 8:57 PM

Wouter van Vugt said:

There is a lot of discussion about how Open XML and OpenDocument Format should move into the future,

# July 28, 2007 9:57 PM

Rui Seabra said:

"The poster is apparently Rui Seabra. (Rui says that he emailed me before he posted - if he did it got lost in the ether I guess)"

Can you point to a place where I said <b>I emailed you</b>? I'd pretty much like to know who pretended to be me...

"Sadly Rui seems to have got into a bit of a muddle with his note-taking, which is understandable given how busy he was in the meeting."

Thanks for <b>never</b> contacting me with any suggested changes.

"So, knowing that Pamela and friends would never allow a story to get in the way of the the truth, let me set the record straight. You never know, Rui might even update his notes."

Of course I can, I <b>ask</b> people to help me make it more correct. Also, you can check the "page info" tab of the wiki to know what changed and when.

I hope you're not suggesting I would be mischievous. That would be you and statements like this one.

"I didn't say that Microsoft was thrown out of any OASIS ODF meeting."

Neither did I say you said that. What you said was:

"OASIS rejected Microsoft's proposals and expelled/excluded the Microsoft representative because the proposed changes would add backward compatibility to legacy documents."

This stroke me as very odd, since it went against what I remember of those times.

Are you once again putting words into my mouth?

"My recollection was that Rui himself was amusingly irreverent and was chastised at one point by one of the other members for lack of respect for others on the committee."

Irreverent? What I am is unexpectedly informed person not in favour of a fake standard. If that's irreverent, then sure I'm irreverent.

The guy who "chastised" me is a "Microsoft friend" and was referring to me, when I had to vigorously oppose the attempt from the Microsoft chairman who tried to prevent me from speaking. Twice.

Moving forward and approving the fake standard is obviously more important than proposing changes for improvement.

At the second attempt he didn't succeed.

# July 30, 2007 12:25 PM

Anonymous said:

"Crocklaw"?  Associating yourself with something called "Voices for Innovation"?

Smell that?

Also, I like how you admit that you reported an apparently unverified anecdote to the committee as fact while being terribly upset that you had been misquoted over which meeting someone had been ejected from and who originally said it.

It also helps if you use the word "hypocrisy" with respect to its meaning (pretending to believe something which you actually do not), not as a high-minded insult.

Now, I've never read "On Bull***t" that appears on your sidebar, but I had to wonder "Was that supposed to be a guide on dealing with or a guide on spreading it?"  Not that it matters, I suppose, because it clearly hasn't helped you do either.

# August 1, 2007 2:39 AM

Rui Seabra said:

Stephen you *did* say that the Microsoft representative was excluded, but I am perfectly ready to admit that you might have just said something you didn't mean to.

The other person who claimed to "remember" that is a Microsoft proxy. Did you know that, or did you think that was honest belief?

As he said that, I merely gave him an yellow smile as I maintained what I said.

In fact, I made the point of taking that as an example of what YES WITH COMMENTS means: I voted YES for the minutes WITH THE COMMENT that I claim you said what I registered, even though I'm ready to accept that was an honest mistake, a slip of the tonge.

You also claimed a few more things that I said were false, but they did went into the official minutes. In fact, the Microsoft guy who presides the TC went to ANSOL's wiki to translate most of what was there into the minutes.

# August 1, 2007 2:47 PM

Stephen McGibbon said:

Rui we'll just have to agree to disagree I think.

# August 1, 2007 11:23 PM

Anonymous said:

There's a really interesting article in Computerworld that you might be interested in, interviewing the former secretary general of Ecma (now retired). Have a look

# August 29, 2007 9:49 AM

Gray Matter said:

Patrick Durusau has picked up on a thread that I regard as somewhat important (and underplayed) in the

# March 10, 2008 4:52 PM