25 February 2007

OOXML hoax 5: Microsoft could have participated in ODF development

For those that consider Microsoft was seriously asked to participate I will show you the OASIS document asking other parties in OASIS participate just to you show how that suggestion is totally wrong:
Look at the name of the committee then in November 2002.
"Open Office XML TC"
Notice that the name was later changed to Open Document to lose the obvious connection to OpenOffice in the name of the format.

Also from that call to participate so even before the TC starts:
"Since the OpenOffice.org XML format specification meets these criteria and has proven its value in real life, this TC will use it as the basis for its work.
Sun Microsystems intends to contribute the OpenOffice.org XML Format to this TC at the first meeting of the TC, under reciprocal Royalty Free terms."

So a set of preset criteria matching the OOo format specs and Sun contributing that format to the OASIS committee 1 month before the start of the committee. Yes, that is extremely open way to ensure that this TC only ever was about the OOo format

Also the call to participate already contains a full members suggestion list with four Sun employees in the proposed committee but of course no-one of market leader Microsoft.

Does this look like a committee that Microsoft could have ever joined or if anybody seriously wanted them to ? No, of course not.
This was before governments for instance in Massachusetts suggested open formats might be required for governments and also before the EU suggested ISO standardisation.
This was at a time when OpenOffice was looking for interoperability amongst OSS. Interoperability with MS Office was even left behind from the first meeting of the TC:
"The TC agreed that transformability into potential Microsoft office XML formats could be sensible, but is not a formal requirement."

Not that I want to state that Microsoft would have been easily persuaded to participate to such a document standardisation process. There was only limited reason for Microsoft to use a standardised format in MS Office as nobody was really demanding it and as at the time they were already well on their way to making their own XML based format for MS Office. That format was already shown two years earlier in august 2000 in an Office XP beta that contained a early version of SpreadsheetML which is currently still a part of Ecma Office Open XML.
So the OASIS effort by Sun and other OpenOffice supporters might in 2002 also be seen as an answer to the Microsoft XML formats that were starting to come out of MS Office and might become commonplace as they are now with the introduction of default XML formats in Office 2007.

For Microsoft to participate in a standardisation process it would have required a least the following 3 things.

  • Firstly a need to standardize the format, like pressure from governments or their customers. I think that the transfer to the MS Office XML formats starting in 2000 already showed a slight move toward their customers in opening up data in their binary format to a more readable format but probably no need for formal standardization was considered or even asked for at that time.
  • Secondly the format would need good backwards compatibility with the billions of existing MS Office documents. It would be very hard to push trough an Office product that did not have backwards compatibility written all over it.
  • Thirdly it would need to support MS Office functionality as much as possible without immediately extending the format.
The OASIS call for participation by the Sun/OpenOffice dominated TC would not have been relevant to Microsoft on any of those three issues. There was never a chance that on such a call Microsoft would have chosen to participate working based on an OpenOffice format from a month later.

Seriously, Microsoft participation on the "Open Office XML TC" was never going to happen based on a short term particpation call for a TC working that pre-decided on OpenOffice and was dominated by a competitor.
People suggesting otherwise, that Microsoft actually could have participated on such a venture are just bullshitting their audience.

The Wraith


Luc Bollen said...

I agree that in 2002 Microsoft was surely not interested to participate in defining an open standard for office documents : at this time, there was no obvious market requirement for this, and Microsoft enjoyed a quasi monopoly on the office suite market. (Still, it was a good opportunity to innovate missed by Microsoft).

However, not participating at the first meeting was not preventing them to join at a later stage, e.g. after the Massachussets started to look for a standard format : Microsoft was clearly proposed then to add ODF to the list of supported formats (as Brian Jones and Doug Mahugh often repeat, the ODF and OOXML formats can be implemented together). It was possible for Microsoft at this time to join, and to request making additions to ODF for supporting the missing MS Office features.

Instead, they preferred to start bashing ODF and strong-arming Massachussets CIO… What a pity !

However, it is not too late : Microsoft seems now to be convinced that standard, open formats are a must for office documents. Brian Jones even seems to claim that one of the benefit of OOXML is that it offers more interoperability than ODF (http://blogs.msdn.com/brian_jones/archive/2007/02/20/beyond-the-basics.aspx). Why not join the OASIS TC now, and help improve ODF by contributing the missing parts and ading the functionality required to support the "billions of existing documents".

Microsoft cannot continue with the current double speak : to claim that they want to improve choice and interoperability, and at the same time to refuse including in MS Office full support for ODF, the existing ISO standard already used by several office suites. Unless the only interoperability looked at by Microsoft is interoperability with their legacy documents ?

Making an announcement in this direction now would grant Microsoft the greetings of the FOSS community. And would help to calm down the opposition to OOXML, seen by many as a mere try to kill ODF (be it correct or not). But maybe Microsoft prefers keeping its monopoly than being applauded by the FOSS community for their openness.

PS : Another good move to improve choice and interoperability would be for Microsoft to offer, under the same covenant that Sun used for ODF (http://www.oasis-open.org/committees/security/ipr.php), the specifications of both the OOXML format and the binary format...

The Wraith said...

Actually I think the bashing in this format struggle is mostly from ODF supporters.
I think that if the OASIS TC would be willing to amend interoperability with existing legacy documents to their format it might be more interesting for MS to participate. However I think it seem pretty obvious that for the next 3-5 years MS will not be able to implement ODF as a format have just finished a major Office version.

Also I think that if MS joined the OASIS TC they would not get theme any greeting from the OSS community as you suggest. They would get hatemails for trying to fuck-up THEIR precious format.

Also I think you misread Sun's covenant as being more open than Micrsofts Open specification Promise. Sun's covenant actually holds ODF development of future versions in a stronghold. Before Microsoft would ever commit to using ODF as a future format Sun would have to release their rights in a much broader way then they are doing now. And even then I think that MS will be very wary of situation like the desastrous MP3 patent case where a third party claimed rights to a format.

Is anybody going to guarantee that ODF is free from such third party patent claims and asume liability for that ? Of course not.

Michael said...

Thanks for your wonderful post!