Tim Bray wants Microsoft to make Office support ODF

Tim Bray just told me (and my fellow Microsofties) to do more work. He wants us to convert Office to support the open document format from OASIS.

Tim, I think you are GREATLY overstating the point when you say ” Almost all office documents are just paragraphs of text, with some bold and some italics and some lists and some tables and some pictures. Almost all spreadsheets are numbers and labels, with some sums and averages and pivots and simple algebra. Almost all presentations are lists of bullet points with occasional pictures. The capabilities of ODF and O12X are essentially identical for all this basic stuff.”

If they are so similar it’ll be a breeze to write a converter to take one XML file format and convert it into another, right Tim? Hey, Tim, wanna come work for the Office team? I think we have an office open for a co-inventor of XML. Maybe Sun Microsystems can give you a leave of absence. Or, heck, take a vacation and work on it on your three weeks off a year. If it’s so easy someone with your skills should be able to finish the job in a few weeks, no?

But, back to reality, thanks for telling me to do more work. I’m passing the request along.

199 thoughts on “Tim Bray wants Microsoft to make Office support ODF

  1. 1) A great amount of work within the ODF workgroup has been to ensure that every feature in legacy word processors, especially MS ones, would be expressable in the ODF format. So the “we need more horsepower than what is available in ODF” is moot.
    Microsoft was a member of the commitee, so well knew and knows about that fact.
    2) Unless very very vain, MS technical staff cannot be certain that ECMA will ratify their format without any change, and that is even less likely for ISO — As for ODF, originally based on the OpenOffice format (which could already express nearly every Word feature). The modifications can introduce some strong incompatibilities.
    As such, the Office Open XML (couldn’t you find a name less similar to “Open Office” ? trademarks issues, anyone ?), that is the ECMA or ISO version, is not currently existing ; furthermore it will represent a non negligible amount of work to implement it. It may be more difficult to implement ODF, but ODF is currently well defined, whereas Office Open XML is a moving target difficult to follow even to you MS techs. You can bet on what will remain in the final standard, but remember the (currently non existent, non published) Office 12 format will only be the first draft of the ECMA standard. You have implemented the draft, but in fact it is well possible that then catching up with the ECMA WG and waiting for a final spec to ship out will prove if not more difficult, at least longer than the ODF path.

    Those 2 args for not using ODF are in fact very weak, unless I am really mistaken — and then you could correct me with clean, clear, factual information.

    Perhaps there are more technical issues at hand ?

    As a side note, I really hope that the Office Open XML will be as clear and usable as ODF. In particular, I hope that even if you didn’t reuse existing standards (subsidiary question: why ? XML namespaces exactly are for this reason…) your format will be more readable and less twisted that the Office 2003 XML one.

    For example : a) will you use Mixed or Non Mixed model ? As some said, the Non Mixed used in 2003 isn’t well suited to narrative content…
    b) Will the future format be more style-friendly ? The 2003 one would have formatting information directly encoded via node names…
    c) Will you resort on Open Packaging Conventions (for which a license is needed, by the way, and no covenant available) ? I found ackward those w:rel=”rId1″…

  2. 1) A great amount of work within the ODF workgroup has been to ensure that every feature in legacy word processors, especially MS ones, would be expressable in the ODF format. So the “we need more horsepower than what is available in ODF” is moot.
    Microsoft was a member of the commitee, so well knew and knows about that fact.
    2) Unless very very vain, MS technical staff cannot be certain that ECMA will ratify their format without any change, and that is even less likely for ISO — As for ODF, originally based on the OpenOffice format (which could already express nearly every Word feature). The modifications can introduce some strong incompatibilities.
    As such, the Office Open XML (couldn’t you find a name less similar to “Open Office” ? trademarks issues, anyone ?), that is the ECMA or ISO version, is not currently existing ; furthermore it will represent a non negligible amount of work to implement it. It may be more difficult to implement ODF, but ODF is currently well defined, whereas Office Open XML is a moving target difficult to follow even to you MS techs. You can bet on what will remain in the final standard, but remember the (currently non existent, non published) Office 12 format will only be the first draft of the ECMA standard. You have implemented the draft, but in fact it is well possible that then catching up with the ECMA WG and waiting for a final spec to ship out will prove if not more difficult, at least longer than the ODF path.

    Those 2 args for not using ODF are in fact very weak, unless I am really mistaken — and then you could correct me with clean, clear, factual information.

    Perhaps there are more technical issues at hand ?

    As a side note, I really hope that the Office Open XML will be as clear and usable as ODF. In particular, I hope that even if you didn’t reuse existing standards (subsidiary question: why ? XML namespaces exactly are for this reason…) your format will be more readable and less twisted that the Office 2003 XML one.

    For example : a) will you use Mixed or Non Mixed model ? As some said, the Non Mixed used in 2003 isn’t well suited to narrative content…
    b) Will the future format be more style-friendly ? The 2003 one would have formatting information directly encoded via node names…
    c) Will you resort on Open Packaging Conventions (for which a license is needed, by the way, and no covenant available) ? I found ackward those w:rel=”rId1″…

  3. Fair enough. So the reason why the MSXML format is the way it is, is because that makes it better able to support previous Microsoft formats – that seems logical to me.

    And the fact that you want people to use _your_ document format rather than another one is only logical for a business.

    But please don’t _force_ us to use MSXML if we use your suite – why not give us a choice? If MSXML is _really_ the best thing for us mortals then time will decide and it will become accepted on it’s own merits. Microsoft is supposed to listen to people and give customers what they want – no?

    So PLEASE, even if you don’t like ODF or even think it’s bad for us, why not let _us_ decide the format that we want to use. I’m certainly not asking you to toss away your own format or reveal it’s innermost secrets, but _please_ allow us peasants to open and save documents in ODF _if_ we should want to and do it properly with a Save As. It isn’t as though ODF belongs to a rival or competitor after all. You could have a (suppressable) warning before saving an MSXML document as ODF in case some esoteric formatting might get left out.

    If as you say, it’s too hard for you chaps to add the necessary filter then at least allow someone outside to do it for you. It isn’t as though they’d need to see your source or anything.

    Sorry if I’m being naive, but I don’t really see why you shouldn’t and there’d be a lot of grateful people if you did!

    I really don’t think that it would impact your sales much (possibly the reverse!) and it _would_ certainly neatly bypass a lot of current criticisms.

    Why not?

  4. Fair enough. So the reason why the MSXML format is the way it is, is because that makes it better able to support previous Microsoft formats – that seems logical to me.

    And the fact that you want people to use _your_ document format rather than another one is only logical for a business.

    But please don’t _force_ us to use MSXML if we use your suite – why not give us a choice? If MSXML is _really_ the best thing for us mortals then time will decide and it will become accepted on it’s own merits. Microsoft is supposed to listen to people and give customers what they want – no?

    So PLEASE, even if you don’t like ODF or even think it’s bad for us, why not let _us_ decide the format that we want to use. I’m certainly not asking you to toss away your own format or reveal it’s innermost secrets, but _please_ allow us peasants to open and save documents in ODF _if_ we should want to and do it properly with a Save As. It isn’t as though ODF belongs to a rival or competitor after all. You could have a (suppressable) warning before saving an MSXML document as ODF in case some esoteric formatting might get left out.

    If as you say, it’s too hard for you chaps to add the necessary filter then at least allow someone outside to do it for you. It isn’t as though they’d need to see your source or anything.

    Sorry if I’m being naive, but I don’t really see why you shouldn’t and there’d be a lot of grateful people if you did!

    I really don’t think that it would impact your sales much (possibly the reverse!) and it _would_ certainly neatly bypass a lot of current criticisms.

    Why not?

  5. Robert, you’ve confused MS adopting ODF with Tim Bray not able to align different versions of RSS.

    Who cares how many types of RSS is out there ? What has this got to do with the question ?

    Now. Back to the question.

    Why cant MS support ODF ?

    –* Bill

  6. Robert, you’ve confused MS adopting ODF with Tim Bray not able to align different versions of RSS.

    Who cares how many types of RSS is out there ? What has this got to do with the question ?

    Now. Back to the question.

    Why cant MS support ODF ?

    –* Bill

  7. Ok, I have to ask a simple question here. Why would you go about designing a “standard” for office productivity applications and then go about trying to get Microsoft, maker of the most widely-used office productivity applications, to commit to the format afterward?

    Maybe it wasn’t possible to do it the other way around. But it strikes me as fatuous to turn around now and cry foul when Microsoft won’t play in your sandbox. Shouldn’t that have been rather obvious from the beginning?

  8. Ok, I have to ask a simple question here. Why would you go about designing a “standard” for office productivity applications and then go about trying to get Microsoft, maker of the most widely-used office productivity applications, to commit to the format afterward?

    Maybe it wasn’t possible to do it the other way around. But it strikes me as fatuous to turn around now and cry foul when Microsoft won’t play in your sandbox. Shouldn’t that have been rather obvious from the beginning?

  9. >Source matters, open, closed or stolen from Wal-Mart.

    No it doesn’t. As long as the semantics are part of the specification then the XML schema is fine. The problem with Microsoft’s efforts so far is that they don’t want to document their formats. It isn’t enough to give an element a name you have to describe what it does and how it does it. But if you have a truly open standard, that standard can evolve over time to include better semantic descriptions of the data. If there are 3 or 5 or 100 implementations that all agree on the semantics that also is a pretty good standard. Microsoft apparently is not interested in having many implementations so they will never define semantically what their XML schema means.

    Source doesn’t matter if everyone is allowed an even playing field. To make the standard work, eventually everyone will agree on the semantics. There are now 4 or 5 very good non-microsoft web browsers. They mostly agree on semantics. It took less than a decade for that to happen. And next year it will get better again. Why did that happen? For the simple reason that there was an open and free standard that people could work from. Imagine if the only standard was Microsoft’s undocumented semantics on how to format HTML. And next year Microsoft decides to change their minds again because Opera or Mozilla or Apple’s WebKit was getting too close.

    >I didn’t mention open source. You did.

    Your argument that the MA initiative is about cost control implies that an Open Standard is free to implement–free in monetary cost. That implies open source. It might have been a bit of a knee jerk reaction on my part but the point bears repeating. The MA initiative is not about cost control. It is about access to public documents far into the future.

    >I just don’t entertain nonsense politics about who has cleaner shoes or a better speech pattern.

    It isn’t political nonsense it is about long term viability of a format. Microsoft is being forced to promise that they will actually document their XML format if they wish to compete. That is a good thing. The second question is Microsoft willing to allow others to extend and modify their format. There is no way that any format will survive the decade without change much less the multiple decades that are needed for long term digital document storage. If the standard can’t be improved without Microsoft’s approval, it is useless in this context. No government can allow their archives to be held hostage by a single corporate entity.

    >MSDoc has more market traction.

    Wordperfect had the most market traction just a dozen years ago or so. I wouldn’t wanted to have bet on that horse.

  10. >Source matters, open, closed or stolen from Wal-Mart.

    No it doesn’t. As long as the semantics are part of the specification then the XML schema is fine. The problem with Microsoft’s efforts so far is that they don’t want to document their formats. It isn’t enough to give an element a name you have to describe what it does and how it does it. But if you have a truly open standard, that standard can evolve over time to include better semantic descriptions of the data. If there are 3 or 5 or 100 implementations that all agree on the semantics that also is a pretty good standard. Microsoft apparently is not interested in having many implementations so they will never define semantically what their XML schema means.

    Source doesn’t matter if everyone is allowed an even playing field. To make the standard work, eventually everyone will agree on the semantics. There are now 4 or 5 very good non-microsoft web browsers. They mostly agree on semantics. It took less than a decade for that to happen. And next year it will get better again. Why did that happen? For the simple reason that there was an open and free standard that people could work from. Imagine if the only standard was Microsoft’s undocumented semantics on how to format HTML. And next year Microsoft decides to change their minds again because Opera or Mozilla or Apple’s WebKit was getting too close.

    >I didn’t mention open source. You did.

    Your argument that the MA initiative is about cost control implies that an Open Standard is free to implement–free in monetary cost. That implies open source. It might have been a bit of a knee jerk reaction on my part but the point bears repeating. The MA initiative is not about cost control. It is about access to public documents far into the future.

    >I just don’t entertain nonsense politics about who has cleaner shoes or a better speech pattern.

    It isn’t political nonsense it is about long term viability of a format. Microsoft is being forced to promise that they will actually document their XML format if they wish to compete. That is a good thing. The second question is Microsoft willing to allow others to extend and modify their format. There is no way that any format will survive the decade without change much less the multiple decades that are needed for long term digital document storage. If the standard can’t be improved without Microsoft’s approval, it is useless in this context. No government can allow their archives to be held hostage by a single corporate entity.

    >MSDoc has more market traction.

    Wordperfect had the most market traction just a dozen years ago or so. I wouldn’t wanted to have bet on that horse.

  11. pwb: I believe you fail to see the beauty of the concept of one open, standardized document format that is not plagued by patents and not controlled by one single commercial vendor.

    It really could mean the end of document conversion. And it also would be perfectly possible (give or take little glitches here and there). I mean, what additions to such a format would you expect in there? Modern word processors have offered identical core features for at least the last ten years, spreadsheets as well. Apart from the polish and the Windows API they are programmed against, Word and Excel have not changed that much since the mid-90s (and I’m not talking about paper-clips and other things that are irrelevant to the way you save such a file while preserving all necessary information.

    Some years ago, I saw a study by IBM that the information that is destroyed every year due to changing file formats and conversions equals the amount of information that was contained in the Library of Alexandria… Maybe it’s about time that we start to _think_ about the fact that maybe the information we store on digital media might be much more valuable than the destiny of the vendor du jour. You ought to consider that many documents we store on a hard disk today might still be relevant in 500 years or so. Can you guarantee that Microsoft will still be around then? Can you (or anyone for that matter) guarantee that Microsoft won’t do anything to increase their level of control of the document format even further – a document format that is being used today to store a lot of valuable information?

    During the 1970s in the German Democratic Republic, communist government organization used their own computers (Robotron) to store information on magnetic tape. Only 15 years after the German reunification, those tapes are still lying around and noone is able to reconstruct the information on them because there are no computers left that can read them. Governments come and go, companies come and go, analog information storage has survived in many cases. Digital information doesn’t. That’s my point here. A single-vendor dependency is ALWAYS a bad thing.

  12. pwb: I believe you fail to see the beauty of the concept of one open, standardized document format that is not plagued by patents and not controlled by one single commercial vendor.

    It really could mean the end of document conversion. And it also would be perfectly possible (give or take little glitches here and there). I mean, what additions to such a format would you expect in there? Modern word processors have offered identical core features for at least the last ten years, spreadsheets as well. Apart from the polish and the Windows API they are programmed against, Word and Excel have not changed that much since the mid-90s (and I’m not talking about paper-clips and other things that are irrelevant to the way you save such a file while preserving all necessary information.

    Some years ago, I saw a study by IBM that the information that is destroyed every year due to changing file formats and conversions equals the amount of information that was contained in the Library of Alexandria… Maybe it’s about time that we start to _think_ about the fact that maybe the information we store on digital media might be much more valuable than the destiny of the vendor du jour. You ought to consider that many documents we store on a hard disk today might still be relevant in 500 years or so. Can you guarantee that Microsoft will still be around then? Can you (or anyone for that matter) guarantee that Microsoft won’t do anything to increase their level of control of the document format even further – a document format that is being used today to store a lot of valuable information?

    During the 1970s in the German Democratic Republic, communist government organization used their own computers (Robotron) to store information on magnetic tape. Only 15 years after the German reunification, those tapes are still lying around and noone is able to reconstruct the information on them because there are no computers left that can read them. Governments come and go, companies come and go, analog information storage has survived in many cases. Digital information doesn’t. That’s my point here. A single-vendor dependency is ALWAYS a bad thing.

  13. I’m not a Microsoft fan boy at all. I think Office is pretty tired, quite frankly. In fact I own MSFT puts. I just call them as I see them and in this case, the Microsoft bashers are just knee-jerking.

    It would be criminally insane of Microsoft to relinquich control of Office formats. That’s *Office* formats, not HTML. We’re talking about Office.

    The HTML comparison fails on a number of fronts. For one, HTML pre-dated IE. Two, HTML’s status makes sense. Three, HTML is very loose whereas Office is very tight. Four, HTML is relatively simple in comparison. Five, Microsoft is clearly in the best position to create (small o) office formats.

  14. I’m not a Microsoft fan boy at all. I think Office is pretty tired, quite frankly. In fact I own MSFT puts. I just call them as I see them and in this case, the Microsoft bashers are just knee-jerking.

    It would be criminally insane of Microsoft to relinquich control of Office formats. That’s *Office* formats, not HTML. We’re talking about Office.

    The HTML comparison fails on a number of fronts. For one, HTML pre-dated IE. Two, HTML’s status makes sense. Three, HTML is very loose whereas Office is very tight. Four, HTML is relatively simple in comparison. Five, Microsoft is clearly in the best position to create (small o) office formats.

  15. pwb: “It’s got 100s of millions of Office users to worry about and putting the file formats in someone else’s hands would be criminally insane.”

    For whom would it be insane? For the users or for Microsoft’s shareholders? According to your logic, MS should also control HTML because IE has so many users (and if you are enough of an MS fanboy, you won’t even notice the sarcasm in that sentence and answer something like “why not?”).

  16. pwb: “It’s got 100s of millions of Office users to worry about and putting the file formats in someone else’s hands would be criminally insane.”

    For whom would it be insane? For the users or for Microsoft’s shareholders? According to your logic, MS should also control HTML because IE has so many users (and if you are enough of an MS fanboy, you won’t even notice the sarcasm in that sentence and answer something like “why not?”).

  17. I didn’t mention open source. You did.

    If all MA cares about is accessibility over a long lifecycle, then they have to solve the semantic problem that NO XML format or any other document format solves. Source matters, open, closed or stolen from Wal-Mart.

    Don’t bother to repeat this. Just Get It:

    XML is only a syntax. XML Doesn’t Care.

    As long as you take the ‘my format is more open than your format’, you are locked up in the insane Spy Vs Spy of 1) what is open 2) what is open enough and aren’t answering the third question, what is good enough.

    If both are good enough, pick the solution that is cheaper for a sufficient number of platforms. Also, quit trying to legislate one solution and open up to the reality that if the world’s largest publishing system, the World Wide Web, is successful at scale using XHTML/HTML and embedded object formats plus PDF for fixed format archival, and it, as stated somewhere here, uses only 5% to 10% of the features of a fully fleshed out word processing system, then 95 to 90 percent of the State is paying for features used only by 5% to 10% of the users.

    So if you can’t get your head around the cost issues, get your head out of the procurement cycle. This is about procurement policy and that is why there is such an infight going on in MA as to who gets to call procurement decisions.

    I’ve been making lifecycle arguments for markup since ISO 8879 was a draft. I know exactly where that runs out of legitimacy: the first time means part and not paragraph. Without semantics, markup is just bits on the wire. You have to place a bet on which format will still be documented and renderable at the end of the lifecycle. I’m here to tell you that ODF vs MSDoc is a worthless argument. You’ll still pay the cost of conversion. You would be better off legislating XHTML.

    NOTE: I’m for ODF. I just don’t entertain nonsense politics about who has cleaner shoes or a better speech pattern. That’s langue de bois, or in English, used car salesmen patter. “We’re all bozos…”

    Now, once you get past that, talk about the medium term requirements for formats that support live data, not rehydrated data. Those are container formats. ODF is cleaner; MSDoc has more market traction.

    Cost. It comes down to cost. In a closed market, there are no customer-centric cost controls. That is the only argument I suspect the Governor of Massachusetts, the Senate and the IT Department don’t want to tell the Commonwealth at large that they don’t get. So lean on it.

  18. I didn’t mention open source. You did.

    If all MA cares about is accessibility over a long lifecycle, then they have to solve the semantic problem that NO XML format or any other document format solves. Source matters, open, closed or stolen from Wal-Mart.

    Don’t bother to repeat this. Just Get It:

    XML is only a syntax. XML Doesn’t Care.

    As long as you take the ‘my format is more open than your format’, you are locked up in the insane Spy Vs Spy of 1) what is open 2) what is open enough and aren’t answering the third question, what is good enough.

    If both are good enough, pick the solution that is cheaper for a sufficient number of platforms. Also, quit trying to legislate one solution and open up to the reality that if the world’s largest publishing system, the World Wide Web, is successful at scale using XHTML/HTML and embedded object formats plus PDF for fixed format archival, and it, as stated somewhere here, uses only 5% to 10% of the features of a fully fleshed out word processing system, then 95 to 90 percent of the State is paying for features used only by 5% to 10% of the users.

    So if you can’t get your head around the cost issues, get your head out of the procurement cycle. This is about procurement policy and that is why there is such an infight going on in MA as to who gets to call procurement decisions.

    I’ve been making lifecycle arguments for markup since ISO 8879 was a draft. I know exactly where that runs out of legitimacy: the first time means part and not paragraph. Without semantics, markup is just bits on the wire. You have to place a bet on which format will still be documented and renderable at the end of the lifecycle. I’m here to tell you that ODF vs MSDoc is a worthless argument. You’ll still pay the cost of conversion. You would be better off legislating XHTML.

    NOTE: I’m for ODF. I just don’t entertain nonsense politics about who has cleaner shoes or a better speech pattern. That’s langue de bois, or in English, used car salesmen patter. “We’re all bozos…”

    Now, once you get past that, talk about the medium term requirements for formats that support live data, not rehydrated data. Those are container formats. ODF is cleaner; MSDoc has more market traction.

    Cost. It comes down to cost. In a closed market, there are no customer-centric cost controls. That is the only argument I suspect the Governor of Massachusetts, the Senate and the IT Department don’t want to tell the Commonwealth at large that they don’t get. So lean on it.

  19. MA isn’t worried about cost control. They are looking to standards to insure that public documents are readable far into the future. Think 100s of years. WIthout published standards that are available for modification and use by any software vendor, that goal is impossible to achieve.

    Many OSS people like this because it has the other effect of reducing Microsoft’s monopoly on documents but that isn’t the reason MA is doing it.

    Repeat after me, one more time, open formats have nothing to do with Open Source. Got it?

  20. MA isn’t worried about cost control. They are looking to standards to insure that public documents are readable far into the future. Think 100s of years. WIthout published standards that are available for modification and use by any software vendor, that goal is impossible to achieve.

    Many OSS people like this because it has the other effect of reducing Microsoft’s monopoly on documents but that isn’t the reason MA is doing it.

    Repeat after me, one more time, open formats have nothing to do with Open Source. Got it?

  21. If you like, ok. Let’s forget about non-word processing formats that are embedded in word processing display containers for the sake of argument. That issue did come up in Atlanta and it raises the issue of what a word processing format is and what is good enough for a common standard.

    At the end of this two things are obvious:

    1. In a market dominated by a single vendor, that vendor’s format is the de facto standard just as HTML became the de facto standard for hypermedia by common adoption. ODF has to justify itself and the obvious issue is cost plus the sovereignty argument.

    2. The existence of said de facto format means the market has closed with respect to picking a standard. It doesn’t mean the sovereignty argument is moot, only that ODF should be justified on other grounds such as cost or some technical feature.

    3. Given one and two, Office IS the de facto standard and there is no open market.

    Massachusetts may working to fix item three. Why? Because without it, there is no means of customer cost control.

    But the better story here is all sides may be fighting over a market that is growing cold. The numbers who need a complex word processing system will decline as applications based on internet services deliver components bundled for the task at hand. So back to your question: what about Excel, Powerpoint, etc. It may be the case that sooner than you think, no one will care.

    Is it better to keep pushing that legacy you mention, or to cut it loose just as every so often, operating systems are cut loose to regain resources to sustain market momentum for the brand and new products? The only question here is when because that will happen. The question for the so-called ‘word processing’ standards is are they worth investing in at all?

    This comes down to timing, not standards. Then specifications for next generation systems. If there are to be ‘standards’ for those, they must emerge from specifications adopted and market approved. So who the various parties want to court are the adopters who build on these specifications. That is a very different set of issues. MS hasn’t done itself many favors here over the years by promoting policies such as first-to-file patenting and patenting in domains where they don’t have any products, thus using the patent process to forstall specification and standardization. For third party implementors, that is not good for their prospects and is a shady way to do business. When picking partners, pick those who share your values.

    And values are the real heart of this story.

  22. If you like, ok. Let’s forget about non-word processing formats that are embedded in word processing display containers for the sake of argument. That issue did come up in Atlanta and it raises the issue of what a word processing format is and what is good enough for a common standard.

    At the end of this two things are obvious:

    1. In a market dominated by a single vendor, that vendor’s format is the de facto standard just as HTML became the de facto standard for hypermedia by common adoption. ODF has to justify itself and the obvious issue is cost plus the sovereignty argument.

    2. The existence of said de facto format means the market has closed with respect to picking a standard. It doesn’t mean the sovereignty argument is moot, only that ODF should be justified on other grounds such as cost or some technical feature.

    3. Given one and two, Office IS the de facto standard and there is no open market.

    Massachusetts may working to fix item three. Why? Because without it, there is no means of customer cost control.

    But the better story here is all sides may be fighting over a market that is growing cold. The numbers who need a complex word processing system will decline as applications based on internet services deliver components bundled for the task at hand. So back to your question: what about Excel, Powerpoint, etc. It may be the case that sooner than you think, no one will care.

    Is it better to keep pushing that legacy you mention, or to cut it loose just as every so often, operating systems are cut loose to regain resources to sustain market momentum for the brand and new products? The only question here is when because that will happen. The question for the so-called ‘word processing’ standards is are they worth investing in at all?

    This comes down to timing, not standards. Then specifications for next generation systems. If there are to be ‘standards’ for those, they must emerge from specifications adopted and market approved. So who the various parties want to court are the adopters who build on these specifications. That is a very different set of issues. MS hasn’t done itself many favors here over the years by promoting policies such as first-to-file patenting and patenting in domains where they don’t have any products, thus using the patent process to forstall specification and standardization. For third party implementors, that is not good for their prospects and is a shady way to do business. When picking partners, pick those who share your values.

    And values are the real heart of this story.

  23. Well the jury seems to be in and it looks like the whole open license for Office 12 XML schemas is not being seen as open by the people who matter in the open source community. I’m sad to see this but not surprised. Microsoft needs to fix the language that says the license only covers conforming implementations.

    Maybe Microsoft is serious about this and will fix the language to make it acceptable. We can only hope.

  24. Well the jury seems to be in and it looks like the whole open license for Office 12 XML schemas is not being seen as open by the people who matter in the open source community. I’m sad to see this but not surprised. Microsoft needs to fix the language that says the license only covers conforming implementations.

    Maybe Microsoft is serious about this and will fix the language to make it acceptable. We can only hope.

  25. I’m surprised someone hasn’t just released a massive XSLT file that at least does a partial conversion on the scale of paragraphs and tables…or have “they”? Get a basic (and being XSLT, well understood) converter out there, and what incompatibilites cannot be resolved are right there in the open for everyone to see (and maybe even discover a workaround for). At the very worst, you get a basic amount of interop via a format that can easily be modified by the user (if s/he knows XML transforms well enough) in the case of interop problems that is not supported by MS per se, but is supported by the community at large.

  26. I’m surprised someone hasn’t just released a massive XSLT file that at least does a partial conversion on the scale of paragraphs and tables…or have “they”? Get a basic (and being XSLT, well understood) converter out there, and what incompatibilites cannot be resolved are right there in the open for everyone to see (and maybe even discover a workaround for). At the very worst, you get a basic amount of interop via a format that can easily be modified by the user (if s/he knows XML transforms well enough) in the case of interop problems that is not supported by MS per se, but is supported by the community at large.

  27. Microsoft creating its own XML Office file formats is just plain prudent. It’s got 100s of millions of Office users to worry about and putting the file formats in someone else’s hands would be criminally insane.

    “How much of a common word processing format subset is represented by HTML?”

    5%? 10%?

    And you’re forgetting about Excel, PowerPoint, Infopath and Visio.

    Let’s also not forget that Office XML dates back to 2002.

  28. Microsoft creating its own XML Office file formats is just plain prudent. It’s got 100s of millions of Office users to worry about and putting the file formats in someone else’s hands would be criminally insane.

    “How much of a common word processing format subset is represented by HTML?”

    5%? 10%?

    And you’re forgetting about Excel, PowerPoint, Infopath and Visio.

    Let’s also not forget that Office XML dates back to 2002.

  29. Spy Vs Spy aside for the moment, and following the thought experiment:

    How much of a common word processing format subset is represented by HTML? How much isn’t? How much could be added by namespaced behaviors?

    IOW, don’t we have one of these?

    Simple minded, maybe, but given an environment in which SOA apps deliver the functionality needed with the web page (eg, blog editors), common component subsets will reduce the number of loss leaders each vendor has to support. Cost control is the mutual interest for all parties at the teapot.

  30. Spy Vs Spy aside for the moment, and following the thought experiment:

    How much of a common word processing format subset is represented by HTML? How much isn’t? How much could be added by namespaced behaviors?

    IOW, don’t we have one of these?

    Simple minded, maybe, but given an environment in which SOA apps deliver the functionality needed with the web page (eg, blog editors), common component subsets will reduce the number of loss leaders each vendor has to support. Cost control is the mutual interest for all parties at the teapot.

  31. Ralph – that may be true, but I don’t see how that contradicts the point of my statement. You’re saying that when an existing, standard format does not meet MS’s needs (for whatever reason – technical, political, etc), they make their own, and have it standardized. I’m saying that they should have the right to make their own open format. If the market decides that ODF really is important, then MS will adopt it or become irrelevant in the office document space.

  32. Ralph – that may be true, but I don’t see how that contradicts the point of my statement. You’re saying that when an existing, standard format does not meet MS’s needs (for whatever reason – technical, political, etc), they make their own, and have it standardized. I’m saying that they should have the right to make their own open format. If the market decides that ODF really is important, then MS will adopt it or become irrelevant in the office document space.

  33. As I understand it ATOM is a publishing protocol, not just an xml format. So one can update and delete items from a feed, much wider in scope and application than RSS. More useful even than the MS proposed extensions to RSS?

    The elephant in the room: the awkwardness and ownership of Office file formats are worth billions to MS.
    The cost of opening up and playing fair has got to be less than keeping it closed. Pure economics. Anything else is handwaving, self-deception, my dad’s bigger than yours etc.

    It’s all about the money.

  34. As I understand it ATOM is a publishing protocol, not just an xml format. So one can update and delete items from a feed, much wider in scope and application than RSS. More useful even than the MS proposed extensions to RSS?

    The elephant in the room: the awkwardness and ownership of Office file formats are worth billions to MS.
    The cost of opening up and playing fair has got to be less than keeping it closed. Pure economics. Anything else is handwaving, self-deception, my dad’s bigger than yours etc.

    It’s all about the money.

  35. Joshua: ECMA seems to be Microsoft’s new way of apologizing for NOT using the standards they first pretended to use. First, they join OASIS and when they notice that they have no chance to control the standard, they make up their own and submit it to ECMA. They’ve done the same thing with C# when they couldn’t embrace and extend Java.

    They’ve also done the same thing with other standards before. First they were interested in OpenDoc, then they came up with OLE. First they were interested in MPEG 4, then they simply made up their own version. It’s always the same. The only new idea about their concept is submitting things to ECMA in order to calm down the critics.

  36. Joshua: ECMA seems to be Microsoft’s new way of apologizing for NOT using the standards they first pretended to use. First, they join OASIS and when they notice that they have no chance to control the standard, they make up their own and submit it to ECMA. They’ve done the same thing with C# when they couldn’t embrace and extend Java.

    They’ve also done the same thing with other standards before. First they were interested in OpenDoc, then they came up with OLE. First they were interested in MPEG 4, then they simply made up their own version. It’s always the same. The only new idea about their concept is submitting things to ECMA in order to calm down the critics.

  37. Having had a need to convert several hundred Office Documents to OpenDoc (for a nonprofit client that standardised on OpenOffice), I can offer an existence proof that there is a demand for interoperable file formats for office documents.
    However, I understand Microsoft’s position, file formats are a competitive barrier to entry and the company is fully justified in making sure that independent formats are compatible __to__ their products. But why should they waste more than minimal energy ensuring compatibility __from__ Office to open formats, it’s not in their interests after all. And in fact it looks as though we’re due for another round of committee work where smart people from Microsoft work the standards process to make sure that the outcomes do not interfere with the perceived business interests of the monopolist.
    What I don’t get, is why Scoble, Dare and other Microsoft bloggers don’t just come out and say it. Most probably it’s because admitting to engineering lockin would look bad in some future compliance action (as unlikely as that might seem today).

  38. Having had a need to convert several hundred Office Documents to OpenDoc (for a nonprofit client that standardised on OpenOffice), I can offer an existence proof that there is a demand for interoperable file formats for office documents.
    However, I understand Microsoft’s position, file formats are a competitive barrier to entry and the company is fully justified in making sure that independent formats are compatible __to__ their products. But why should they waste more than minimal energy ensuring compatibility __from__ Office to open formats, it’s not in their interests after all. And in fact it looks as though we’re due for another round of committee work where smart people from Microsoft work the standards process to make sure that the outcomes do not interfere with the perceived business interests of the monopolist.
    What I don’t get, is why Scoble, Dare and other Microsoft bloggers don’t just come out and say it. Most probably it’s because admitting to engineering lockin would look bad in some future compliance action (as unlikely as that might seem today).

  39. This is the most inane drivel I’ve heard in quite some time.

    Anyone who thinks Microsoft would be wise to avoid developing the file format for 100s of millions of Office users is smoking an insane amount of crack.

    “Listening to customers”? Are you out your freaking minds? Do you think even 1% of Office users have a clue about ODF?

    The only reason making a comparison to RSS/Atom is “fallacious” is because RSS/Atom is a fraction of a fraction of a fractionof a fraction of the complexity of Office!

    I am far from a Microsoft apologist but this knee-jerk Microsoft bashing is ridiculous. Asking “why is this controversial” is outlandish.

  40. This is the most inane drivel I’ve heard in quite some time.

    Anyone who thinks Microsoft would be wise to avoid developing the file format for 100s of millions of Office users is smoking an insane amount of crack.

    “Listening to customers”? Are you out your freaking minds? Do you think even 1% of Office users have a clue about ODF?

    The only reason making a comparison to RSS/Atom is “fallacious” is because RSS/Atom is a fraction of a fraction of a fractionof a fraction of the complexity of Office!

    I am far from a Microsoft apologist but this knee-jerk Microsoft bashing is ridiculous. Asking “why is this controversial” is outlandish.

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