It is getting personal. Now Microsoft openly attacks IBM and IBM employees. The accusations against IBM of leading the international effort against office open xml ISO standardization are far from reality. However, the real matter is if that accusation is defamatory for IBM. I strongly doubt it is as the case for Office Open XMl is factually weak:
- the specification channeled through ECMA was immature
- the justification of a potential second standard for Office applications is weak
- the committee work was not benevolent
- the process was not designed for DIS 29500
- the institution ISO got damaged
- the submitter is desperate to damage its reputation (or satisfy prejudice)
- the ISO stamp might be of less significance for government users than the submitter believes
When I first got involved my idea was that the core task is to deliver factual weaknesses of the format to the national standard committees and they would consider them. Their task is to consider the technical merits of the format. Now ECMA indeed formally "agrees" on most of the chance recommendations that survived the comments killing campaign. The effort that is put to defend the specification is a real surprise to me.
The campaign has to criticize the submitter. IBM clearly prefers a more diplomatic approach. Standard experts as IBM's Rob Weir provided widely recognized factual analysis. IBM may talk about "small nations that are easily influenced" while a campaign would call them a "banana republic". Through the debate we got closer and closer to more direct communication. From mostly unreadable marketing language we transformed the language of the submitter into emotional frank statements. This doesn't mean that its more credible. It was insightful to read Open XML evangelist Eric White's self-motivation blog post:
- First, and foremost, I took this job because standardizing Open XML is the Right Thing To Do. Having this be an open standard will benefit the entire world. It is a great standard. The markup is easy to use - I can vouch for this because I have read a good portion of the spec, and written a whole pile of programs that use Open XML.
- In addition, I have joined a great team of dedicated people who are committed to meeting the needs of our customers. This standard is what Microsoft's customers want. This standard is what many, many non-Microsoft customers want. I love working with people who are dedicated to doing what’s important.
So will the world be better off when Open XML is an ISO standard?
In a word, yes.
or his explanaition why he can read specs so fast and why the standard spec has to be that long:
Spec writers, including the editor of the spec, the subject matter experts who contribute to the spec, and the reviewers of the spec. … They need to make sure that the spec says what it should, and doesn't say what it shouldn't. This is (or should be) a self-selecting group. If someone doesn't have the capacity to read and assimilate material, then this isn't the group for them. But such a person shouldn't complain about the length of the spec. Leave the assessment of the length of the spec to the people competent to make that assessment.
What offended me when I read the specification was the language it was written in. You find many great books for developers which are written in a well-readable style. Just to name two examples: the svn handbook or the pypy documentation. Technical documentation of standards tends to be very formal. But you could clearly feel that the format was documented by technical writers and not specified along with the document. It is like ISO quality certification: no one wants to read the documents produced. It tastes like rice pudding. It is no meal. A mathematician can fill one page to explain "x := 1 + 1" but the expression tells it all. I read the ODF specification afterwards and it was comprehensible. It can be done differently.
As Karl Fogel wrote in the SVN preface:
No one ever called the tech support line and asked, “How can we maximize productivity?”. Rather, people asked highly specific questions, like, “How can we change the calendaring system to send reminders two days in advance instead of one?” and so on. … Compiling a true FAQ sheet requires a sustained, organized effort: over the lifetime of the software, incoming questions must be tracked, responses monitored, and all gathered into a coherent, searchable whole that reflects the collective experience of users in the wild. It calls for the patient, observant attitude of a field naturalist. No grand hypothesizing, no visionary pronouncements here—open eyes and accurate note-taking are what's needed most.
When developers dislike Microsoft documentation than for one reason: It is written by robots. It doesn't help you to solve the actual problems and is incomplete. It is a pain to read large documents that have nothing to say. They waste your precious time.
What does IBM say to all of this: Ars Technica(Ryan Paul): IBM responds to Microsoft: OOXML is "technically inferior"
IBM isn't taking the accusations sitting down, however, telling Ars that Microsoft is leading a fight against truly open standards. As governments around the world begin to establish IT procurement policies that favor open standards, the stakes in the document format dispute are rising. The trend towards mandatory standards adoption in government IT has led some to speculate that government agencies and companies that work closely with the public sector will begin to turn away from Microsoft's deeply entrenched office offerings, instead adopting alternatives like IBM's Lotus Notes, Sun's StarOffice, or OpenOffice.org which use the OpenDocument Format (ODF). Microsoft has been seeking ISO approval for its own OOXML format in order to ensure that its software remains competitive.
Of course a lot of wishful thinking is involved but the project "world domino" works fine. Ars Tecnica stress es another field where Microsoft offended us before. It is the "bullshit" lobbying. I can accept that companies have different business models and interests that may deviate from my own. Naturally they should. But it offends me when a company sents PR lobbyists with no clue to meetings and tries to redefine established professional terms.
In the political sphere we observe a fatique of decision makers to listen to PR professionals. Once you have a public sphere it is getting more and more difficult to get away with documents that have little to say and spray key phrases. In Brussels the situation is different than on the national level and the United Nations rhetorics are much worse. Cynics say it doesn't matter as what really matters in conferences are the coffee breaks. Public attention, the unwashed masses make a difference. Microsoft lobbied in a concertated effort over here to keep the flames of open standard policies down that emerged from the public officials. However, it is not capable to kill a real campaign for open standards or react adequately when the lobbying itself is targeted by campaigns. The whole Open XML debate is also helpful for the cause to mainstream open standards in government agencies.
More lobbying efforts for a bad cause do not help but make it only worse, fuel the debate and alienate decision makers.
Citing technical and intellectual property issues, a growing number of critics believe that Microsoft's standards are flawed, restrictive, not adequately aligned with existing standards, or not conducive to broad third-party support. They argue that Microsoft should adopt ODF rather than fragmenting the office document space with its own alternative.
Well spoken. And Ars Technica concludes:
Regardless of the outcome of the standards debate, Microsoft's format will quickly become the de facto standard in private industry as companies adopt Office 2007. In the long run, a more rigorous inspection of OOXML is advantageous, because it could potentially bring improvements to the format that wouldn't have happened otherwise. As a result of this protracted approval process, organizations that adopt OOXML will be able to do so with greater confidence than would be possible if Microsoft had been permitted to railroad it through fast-track approval without this scrutiny.
Now, I believed the same a few month ago. But I am getting sceptical. First of all because I used Office 2007 and was not very impressed by the new menues. It was a pain to position an image. Governments have the procurement powers to take ODF and expose themselves to very little risk. When they are negotiating with Microsoft they will set new demands and requirements. Open Standard requirements will be broadly adopted. Microsoft even claims that OOXML was an Open Standard. If the open specification promise is baseless or not applicable under domestic law it is getting transformed into something real. When OOXML is an open standard nothing speaks against governments to make truely open standards mandatory in the field, if possible.
I am using OpenOffice 2.3 now and recommend everyone to take it as an Office2003 replacement. This wasn't my opinion from the very start although I was a passionate user of StarOffice 4.0. Office 2007 is "the other Vista". You must be forced to use it and therefore you hate it.
The current lobbying "bullshit" is the promotion of standards choice. Long advocacy papers and rent-a-scientist studies were written for this purpose. It will be great fun to battle on that ground and it offers great business opportunities for persons like me. It also indicates that ODF is now that strong that Microsoft needs to take a weak me-too advocacy position. Or the Burton approach: "OOXML will win."
Which brings me to another thought: How can it be "won" by them? What will an ISO stamp for the format be worth having regard to what happened in the process. A "blood standard" is standing on the shoulders of corps and spreads an awful smell. The main supporter of the format stands so proud of it next to it and tells passer-bys: IBM is evil because they opposed what we were doing. This mulitnational corporation didn't believe in our Frankenstein …Frightening.
IBM shouldn't be blamed for Microsoft's reluctance to adopt existing standards.
says Ars Technica. While the Microsoft company turns into a kind of cute
"Rumpelstilskin" of international standardization and standards policy, observers prepare the steps that will make it go off. Just for fun.