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On document freedom

Today is "Document Freedom Day". The EU's IDABC "Open Source Observatory" observed back in February

Proponents of Open Source and open standards want 26 March to be a day to promote free document formats and open standards.

"Data lock-in and subsequent vendor lock-in are some of the most severe issues users are facing today", says Georg Greve of the Free Software Foundation Europe in a statement. "Yet most people only realise this connection when it is too late and they have effectively lost control over their own data. We are supporting the Document Freedom Day to help raise awareness for this issue by starting with something that affects pretty much all users of computers: text documents, spreadsheets and presentations."

Simon Phipps, chief Open Source officer at Sun Microsystems ads: "It's fundamental in the emerging market for people to be free to use any software they desire to handle their data. I fully support the goals of Document Freedom."

Graham Taylor, director of OpenForum Europe: "The whole essence of 'openness' is captured by the right of users, citizens, governments... to be able to freely access and exchange documents today and in the future. Nothing gives greater meaning to the prevalent danger of lock-in to proprietary solutions, and for the need for Government to act now."

Other organisation supporting the so-called Document Freedom Day are  ODF Alliance, OpenForum Europe, IBM and GNU/Linux distributor Red Hat.

The organisations hope to start a grassroots campaign and are sending out packages a flag, a t-shirt, leaflets and stickers to the first hundred groups that register their support. So far groups have registered from thirteen European countries, including Italy, Ireland, Latvia, Belgium, Portugal and Spain.

There's nothing there that I'd disagree with. Sadly the organisers seem to have decided to focus exclusively on ODF which is a pity as multiple formats and standards can and do exist today - I mentioned a product recently that handles more than seventy five for example.

True document freedom comes from promoting increased interoperability and interchangeability between different formats, and working to make this high quality.

Comments

Stephen McGibbon said:

Luc the idea that OpenXML is a lock-in strategy is nonsense and doesn't do credit to you.

# March 26, 2008 6:58 PM

Andre said:

OOXML is a lock-out strategy then?

# March 26, 2008 9:02 PM

Stephen McGibbon said:

Very droll André :-)

# March 26, 2008 10:46 PM

Luc Bollen said:

Stephen, I have not said that OOXML is a lock-in strategy, you said it.  But you are not far from the truth : OOXML is one of the tricks used by Microsoft to try to protect the current users lock-in.

Microsoft currently has a monopoly position, and tries to protect it.  That's normal, any company would do it.

Ten years ago, the best way to achieve this was to restrict as much as possible access to the file format documentation.  This way, competitors has difficulties to compete.

But in these days of open standards and open source, after ODF was approved by ISO and started to get support from most competitors, MS had to find a way to limit the new threat to its monopoly.  As MS was working on a new XML format (after the failure of XML in Office 2003), it was tempting to call it Office Open XML (an obvious reference to OpenOffice...) and to try getting the ISO approval for it.

By doing so, MS gets two benefits :

- an ISO approval of OOXML can be used to prevent governments preferring standardised formats to turn to ODF;

- publishing (part of) the format help to attract partners, and therefore to grow the MS Office ecosystem, while claiming that the format is widely implemented (by partners using 30% of it, not by competitors needing to implement 100% of it, of course).

So no, OOXML in itself is not a lock-in strategy.  But submitting OOXML to ISO helps to protect the existing lock-in.

And I have no problem with this at all : it is a clever marketing move, and a fair way to protect MS interests.

The trouble starts when MS realises that ODF has a strong headstart, so that MS has to submit an immature document, and has no time to go through the normal ISO process.  The trouble gets worse when MS understand that the seasoned NBs will not accept a huge, poorly written document under a Fast Track process which is not made for this.

And then the story becomes ugly, when new P-members and new voting partners start to pop-up from everywhere, just to vote Yes without any comments.

This is the part of the story with which I have a problem...

# March 26, 2008 11:57 PM

Stephen McGibbon said:

Ahem, Luc how do you reconcile

>Stephen, I have not said that OOXML is a lock-in strategy, you said it

with

>despite desperate attempts by Microsoft and its partners to continue to lock-in their customers (OOXML, anybody ?).

As for the rest of the comment, I know you know the facts don't support the version you report.

# March 27, 2008 12:08 AM

Luc Bollen said:

Stephen

1. "Ahem, Luc how do you reconcile..."

Read again, the explanation is in the text:

"So no, OOXML in itself is not a lock-in strategy.  But submitting OOXML to ISO helps to protect the existing lock-in."

2. "I know you know the facts don't support the version you report."

Nice try, but this is a little short.  And I really don't know which facts you are referring to.

Please explain, using better arguments than "OOXML is a superb standard" or "the Fast Track process is the best way to have a good document improved".  I know you know that these are not facts, but distortions of the reality.

# March 27, 2008 12:21 AM

Stephen McGibbon said:

Luc, first of all I don't agree that there is any lock-in in Microsoft's binary file formats. Take a look at just about any modern desktop software and you'll find it reads and writes them; and their marketing material promotes the high degree to which they can do this.

Trudging over and over this is frankly boring me. So to liven things up why don't you illustrate with an example of how soemone might be locked in then we can chew on that bone instead. To get us started let me offer this, there are people with their data locked in IBM's formats such as lwp and prz (not wk* though) and I don't see IBM doing work to help these folk relief via ODF or anything else for that matter. I don't believe you can make a similar statement about Microsoft.

Secondly, even if there was a lock-in I fail to see how a strategy of documenting, publishing, standardising and granting exceptionally liberal IP terms would ever pass muster as a strategy to protect it. So playing our new game why don't you explain how it would work to clue me in instead of us just playing "does" / "does not" / "does so" / "does not".

Now as to facts, did you ever read this?

Also, I've never said either of the quotes you mention.

# March 27, 2008 12:42 AM

Luc Bollen said:

"Luc, first of all I don't agree that there is any lock-in in Microsoft's binary file formats. Take a look at just about any modern desktop software and you'll find it reads and writes them; and their marketing material promotes the high degree to which they can do this."

This is a silly argument, as at the same time MS claims that OOXML is necessary because OpenOffice/ODF cannot faithfully represent the "billions of legacy, binary documents".

"why don't you illustrate with an example of how soemone might be locked in then we can chew on that bone instead."

Here are two examples: look at the costs incurred by the City of Munich to get rid of Microsoft Office and their binary formats.  Or remember that Massachusetts was forced to add OOXML to its recommendations, because they wanted to avoid the same disruption and costs as those incurred by Munich.

"Secondly, even if there was a lock-in I fail to see how a strategy of documenting, publishing, standardising and granting exceptionally liberal IP terms would ever pass muster as a strategy to protect it."

Publishing OOXML is MS way to fight against ODF, which is your main competitor.  Fighting against your competitor is indeed a strategy to protect the lock-in. And about the "exceptionally liberal IP terms"... hum, just say that everybody do not agree with your view.

"Now as to facts, did you ever read this?"

Please correct the link, it is broken.

OK, now that we argued about the lock-in, no comments on the ugly part of the story ?  Which facts are wrong ?  As a starter, let me remind that this is not only "the version I report", but a version that many standards experts also report.

And about "I've never said either of the quotes you mention."

Agreed.  These are not quotes (in fact yes, the first one is a quote), but are the kind of arguments I'm used to read on many MS blogs, including yours.

# March 27, 2008 2:00 AM

hAl said:

The ODF alliance seems nothing but a IBM front organization.

It seems a means for IBM to publish anti-OOXML documents under a different flag. Strangely the ODf alliance publishes more documents on OOXML than it does on ODF and when looking at their publications it is very noticable that they do not have author name on them so you can't see who did the actual writing of the document.

# March 27, 2008 12:43 PM

Robert Millan said:

"Luc, first of all I don't agree that there is any lock-in in Microsoft's binary file formats. Take a look at just about any modern desktop software and you'll find it reads and writes them; and their marketing material promotes the high degree to which they can do this."

Stephen, I can't read my own documents.  I'm serious.  I made them in year 2000, in PowerPoint.  After I switched away from Microsoft, I've been unable to read them ever since!  Every time I open it with something that isn't MS PowerPoint, the texts just won't render properly.

But of course, it's all their fault.  How could the OOo hackers dare not to reverse-engineer everything properly?

# April 1, 2008 8:27 PM

Stephen McGibbon said:

Robert are you sure you file isn't just corrupted? Can you open it in Office? If you want you can send it to me and I'll send it back to you in your choice of ODP or PDF.

# April 1, 2008 8:35 PM