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"The preferred document exchange among European Institutions is OOXML", this is the summary of an awful document produced by the "Inter-Institutional Committee for Informatics" of the European Institutions. Basically the document says that European bureaucrats use Microsoft Office everywhere on their desktop, and this is not gonna change. Here is the document in full:

Ref. Ares(2011)808658 - 25/07/2011

Inter-Institutional Committee for Informatics

Conclusions on document exchange
formats following the discussion on office
automation platforms

The mandate of the Inter-Institutional Committee for Informatics (hereafter “CII”)
includes, on the one hand, the exchange of information about the IT policies of the
Institutions represented in it (hereafter “the Institutions”) and, on the other hand, the
identification and encouragement of potential areas of synergy.
In this context, during its meeting held in Brussels on 14 December 2010, the CII held a
discussion about the current situation of, and the future strategies for, the office
automation platforms used by the Institutions, based on a survey distributed ahead of the
meeting and filled in by all the Institutions as well as by 15 additional EU Agencies
(hereafter “the survey”).
In addition, in order to initiate and facilitate the discussion, the Commission delivered a
presentation of its project “Next Office Automation Platform” (NOAP).
The main findings of the survey were the following:

(1) At present, the EU institutions typically run Microsoft-based solutions on the
corporate desktop
, as their office productivity suite, on the e-mail platform side,
and on the collaborative platform, although diversity is certainly higher in the
latter.

(2) All respondents indicated their expectation to remain on Microsoft-based
platforms in the office automation realms mentioned above for the foreseeable
future (i.e. for the 2 years to come)
.

(3) The revisable document formats used at present are mostly Office 2002/2003
formats (84% of replies)
. The expected prevailing document format for the future
is Office Open XML (68% of replies)
.

(4) The Internet browser offering is already diversified at present, with a strong OSS
presence (Firefox) alongside Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser, and this
offering will become increasingly diversified in the years to come.

The discussion showed the following:
– A decision is due on what how revisable document exchange format should evolve in
the future. Indeed, Microsoft Office 2003 with Office 97 compatibility, the format
currently used for inter-institutional exchanges, as well as the most widely used
internally in the Institutions, is outdated.
– Standards have since been adopted by standardisation bodies in this area, as well as in
the area of non-revisable document formats.

– Irrespective of the migration intentions of each of the Institutions, there is now a high
expectation both internally and externally that document exchange formats should be
based on standards.
Following the discussion held during the meeting, the Institutions agreed that a common
approach to revisable and non-revisable document exchange formats was advisable.
This common approach can be summarised as follows.

1.
Exchanges with the external world.

1.1.
As a general rule, non-revisable document formats should be preferred. In
this area there are two standards, both of which are implemented by a large
variety of viewing tools, including Open Source Software (OSS). The PDF
(ISO/IEC 32000-1:2008) is a widely used official standard. However, for
archiving purposes, the second standard PDF/A (ISO 19005-X) offers some
advantages. It is recommended to use at least one of the two ISO standards
for non-revisable document formats.

1.2.
In cases where documents have to be exchanged using revisable document
formats, the principle to be applied by analogy is the same as when dealing
with multilingualism. Citizens and the Institutions’ partners (e.g. Member
States) should be put at the centre, and the Institutions should take all
appropriate measures to be able to provide them with documents in the
standard format of their choice.
The minimum requirement is to support XML-based revisable document
formats standardised by the International Organization for Standardization,
namely:
– Open Document Format for Office Applications, or ODF (ISO/IEC
26300:2006).
– Office Open XML, or OOXML (ISO/IEC 29500:2008).
In addition, the Institutions are encouraged to support, on a best effort basis,
other widely used document formats.
Whenever multiple formats are supported, equal quality may not be
guaranteed.

2.
Interinstitutional exchanges.
2.1.

As far as non-revisable document formats are concerned, there is no
reason to depart from the format recommended for exchanges with the
external world. Therefore it is recommended to use at least one of the two
ISO standards (ISO/IEC 32000-1:2008 or ISO 19005-X).

2.2.
As far as revisable document formats are concerned, XML-based
international standards are the preferred approach. Given the fact that:

2
– on the one hand, OOXML is much more widely used than ODF at the
moment, and this situation is not likely to evolve in the foreseeable
future
; and
– on the other hand, all the Institutions plan to migrate to office automation
platforms which will produce XML files natively while providing 100%
native support for legacy formats such as Office 2003,
the preferred document exchange among the Institutions is OOXML.
2.3.

The guidelines given above should not become an impediment for achieving
even greater administrative efficiency through interinstitutional cooperation. In particular:
– where, for legal or other purposes, a non-revisable document must be
regarded as the official version, the Institutions should, where necessary,
exchange also its revisable version;
– where, for technical reasons, an Institution needs a revisable document in
its native format, the originating Institution should provide it in that
format, in addition to the official exchange format (if different);
– where, for legal or other reasons, a closed group of users is established,
specific arrangements can be made.

The Institutions agreed to take the appropriate measures so that, at the end of their
ongoing or future migration projects, they can implement this common approach in an
efficient and fully synchronised manner.

I can't say I am surprised by this, just disgusted. Luckily, there are now good alternatives to MS Office. Most of them are free, and all of them are based on ODF, a good standard that is both implemented to spec and actively maintained, neither of which can be said for OOXML. It's bad, still unimplemented as written and has been left to rot.

Some time soon, MS-centric government officials will no longer be able to pretend that MS Office implements the ISO standard, and it will no longer be eligible for procurement contracts. Microsoft has been losing on almost all other fronts recently, and their flagships seem destined to go down with the rest of the fleet under the command of a seriously misguided and deeply corrupt management. I think it is time for MS to drift into oblivion and leave the market to other players who might not be quite as rotten to the core.

A few days ago we were made aware of recent mass leaks of US embassy cables to the media but were reluctant to spread the story. You often get forwarded leaked documents in Brussels and it makes you feel bad for our administration. I wouldn't want to read diaries of my close friends. I don't like the vigilante narration of the Wikileaks service. We also didn't mention that the terrorist Brevik spread his "2083: A European Declaration of Independence" in docx format (Yes, we do remember the Oslo situation), and how - around 2003 - a certain company supported a journo-lobbying service that spread anti-muslim hate propaganda in Europe. Sometimes things are too embarassing, not worth to talk about. The cable about the Brazilian lobbying effort falls into the same category… Secrecy is useful as it shields the dignity of the office.

Brazilian Open XML debate veteran Homembit comprehends (es) the fraternisation:

A few days ago we were all surprised by a document leaked at CableGate, exchanged between the US embassy in Brazil and the American Government in 2007. According to this cable, Microsoft made serious accusations against the Brazilian government, and…, they indirectly asked for an intervention of the American Government to halt the spread of ODF in Brazil, to win the Brazilian support for the approval of OpenXML in ISO, to halt the partnership between the Brazilian technical committee and other committees discussing the international standard at that time, to reduce the influence of Brazil in the international debate on OpenXML, and also to accuse the Brazilian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Brazilian Presidency’s Civil House of being anti-Americans.

Jan Wildeboer of Redhat comments:

We all knew that MSFT would fight hard against ODF. But calling it an un-american standard? Geez.

I don't know if the Brazilian government was pro-American or not. What felt offensive to me was the attempt to depict technical criticism of the format as a way to "discredit" it. Actually that is quite a distortion of the facts. The format was formally not ready for adoption and technical defects were brushed away by stuffing committees. The diplomats also had their difficulties to understand the difference between adoption of a data exchange format and procuring a software solution. Other foreign offices, among them Brazil and Germany, had better recommendations than a hapless co-existence idea.

US citizens and corporations would figure out why the US embassy was turned into a solutions provider abroad. The amount of cooperation between sales representatives and diplomacy is surprising and does not suit the dignity of their office. Disgusting.

Please read Homembit's article for a Brazilian SSO inside perspective.

Australia is looking into OOXML adoption while other nations move forward with ODF. What's special about the Australian move is that they want to support the ECMA format. It is hard to understand how the Whole-of-Government Common Operating Environment (WofG COE) Policy would strengthen procurement powers of the Australian public sector and help to overcome lock-in.

"The Australian Government has released a common operating environment desktop policy that — among security controls aimed at reducing the potential for leaks of Government data — mandates the ECMA-376 version of Microsoft's Office Open XML (OOXML) standard and productivity suites that can 'read and write' the .docx format, effectively locking the country's public servants into using Microsoft Office. The policy also appears to limit desktop operating systems to large, off-the-shelf commercial offerings at the expense of smaller distributions."

Source: http://it.slashdot.org/story/11/01/19/0059209/Australia-Mandates-Microsofts-Office-Open-XML

Today the European Parliament plenary adopted a report on completing the internal market for e-commerce prepared by Spanish rapporteur Pablo Arias Echeverría (EPP). The reports highlights the importance of an open document exchange format for electronic business interoperation and calls on the European Commission to take concrete steps to support its emergence and spread. It also highlights other European interoperability concerns.

See the FFII press release: European Parliament wants Open Document exchange format for electronic business for further details.

You can subscribe to FFII news to receive them per mail.

The Open XML process is a great case study why Wikipedia is not always reliable, when money comes into play. Even before the heated phases of the Open XML discussions at ISO a scandal rocked the Wikipedia scene. Rick Jelliffe disclosed in his blog that he was offered money by a company to edit the Open XML article. At that is exactly how this article looks until this very day, a honeypot for young wikipedians who want to watch the dirty tricks.

Throughout the controversial phases the editing process demonstrated a clear bias of professional editors towards a certain corporate agenda and pushed the Open XML article towards a "shadow article" as a target, close to advertisement. So regardless what was changed by the 'ordinary guys' would be reversed, step by step.

Now the Open XML controversy is gone. We have to understand that a lot of money is at stake. Consider that the Council could save 50 Million Pounds by shifting to ODF and open source. And that is just a tiny example.

How to patch binaries.

The Open XML slugfest at ISO is over, governments around the world select ODF for document interoperability. But the proprietary binary office productivity file formats are still widespread. Former Open XML evangelist Doug Mahugh announces a "Binary Format Plugfest" for October 18/19:

Microsoft subject matter experts from both the support organization and the product team will be onsite to answer questions about the Binary File Formats. This Plugfest will be a great opportunity for you to test your [Binary File Format]BFF implementations and receive immediate feedback and assistance from Microsoft.

http://blogs.msdn.com/b/dmahugh/archive/2010/08/18/binary-file-format-plugfest.aspx

"After all of the computers in government agencies will be migrated to Open Source in late 2011, the government also plans to migrate all the important documents of the country using open document formats (Open Document Format / ODF).
"We chose to switch to open formats like ODF because no dependence with a vendor," said Ashwin Sasongko, DG Applications and Telematics Ministry of Communications and Information Technology. "

Source: http://translate.google.com/translate?hl=en&sl=id&tl=en&u=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.detikinet.com%2Fread%2F2010%2F07%2F28%2F151112%2F1408538%2F398%2Fdokumen-negara-wajib-gunakan-format-odf%2F%3Fi991103105

As far as I can see the ISO/IEC format is not implemented. According to
http://www.computerworlduk.com/management/it-business/services-sourcing/news/index.cfm?newsid=20517
implementation will depend on customer demands.

It seems better to make up your mind about the future of Opendocument and how to improve interoperability of implementations.

Re: Reform or not reform? by arebentiarebenti, 27 Jun 2010 14:02

ISO and other standards bodies did not learn from the OOXML debate. Reform of ISO is pending to allow more fast tracked standards from ECMA.

I doubt reform is possible.

Others might have a different opinion:

100620101268.jpg

Thomas Vinje, the lawyer of ECIS, raised the issue at the recent OpenForumEurope (OFE) Summit (the one where Neelie Kroes praised "open" standards) of compatibility of the OOXML ISO specification with the procurement directive, which forbids product naming and platform dependencies. This is indeed an interesting question that needs to be investigated. Does OOXML still has platform dependencies? If yes, what would happen if the specification is required in a public tender?

Reform or not reform? by zoobabzoobab, 23 Jun 2010 15:50

Wednesday morning, 23 June 2010 Alan Bryden, the former ISO general secretary who let it happen and made European standard setting organisations a laughing stock of an US corporation, would speak about "European standardisation in a global environment" in the European Parliament "Internal Market and Consumer protection (IMCO) committee.

Bryden was also a member of the Commission's EXPRESS "expert panel" group on the future of European Standardisation which report advises for strong IPR policies against open standardization. The IMCO meeting relates to the Parliament phase of the EXPRESS process and the Future of European Standardisation. Read what the winding lobby snakes write in their report to actually promote standards locked down by software patents:

European standards are developed in an open process, and there are uniform, nondiscriminatory conditions for their development as well as for their sale or distribution. The implications of IPRs relevant to a standard need to be visible to the standards developers during the standardization process. Cooperation should further be improved between the standards bodies and the European Patent Office to ensure that issues where there is an interaction are visible at an early stage, as this would lead to an improved quality of patents and standards. In this context, ETSI has established cooperation with the European Patent Office and recently signed an MoU, thus institutionally confirming their commitment to deepen their established cooperation.
It is important that standards organizations continue to ensure innovation-friendly policies including a balance between the interests of the users of standards and the rights of owners of intellectual property as almost all standards bodies do today.
Such a balance may take into account differences regarding the areas of standardisation, according to the consensus of the stakeholders involved. … Such a balance needs to also consider the requirement to continue incentives to innovate in technical areas subject to standardization.
Standards bodies are encouraged to assess their IPR policies with a focus on promoting innovation.
In the Guidelines for cooperation between the EC, EFTA and the ESOs, the ESOs have committed to ensure that standards can be used by the market operators. The objective is to ensure licences for any essential IPRs contained in standards are provided on fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory conditions (FRAND). In practice, in the large majority of cases, patented technology has been successfully integrated into standards under this approach. On this basis, standards bodies are encouraged to strive for improvements to the FRAND system taking into consideration issues that occur over time.

The Consumer Committee manages to hold a hearing with the opponents of consumer-friendly ict standards policy. Despite some placeholder organisations no real consumer groups and no sme representatives are involved.

Links

Alan Bryden in Brussels by podmoklepodmokle, 18 Jun 2010 11:50

Microsoft Fails the Standards Test

In its pre-release form Office™ 2010 supports not the approved Strict variant of OOXML, but the very format the global community rejected in September 2007, and subsequently marked as not for use in new documents – the Transitional variant.

[Their] representatives will argue (with some justification) that terms like “legacy”, “deprecated”, and “new document” are tricky to define, but then this argument extends to the bizarre assertion that the Strict variant need never be supported. I believe, however, countries expect a more reasonable, plain-dealing approach to their clearly expressed intent – not this kind of wheedling sophistry. Mr Capossela writes that Microsoft has “learned a lot”; but on the evidence before us now, this was wishful thinking.

Andy Updegrove has some comments on Brown's article
http://www.consortiuminfo.org/standardsblog/article.php?story=20100401074623393

"It’s not easy to look back at decisions that you helped to form and conclude that they may have been ill-conceived, or at least bad bets. I applaud Alex for the candor that he shows in this blog entry, and for sharing the details that only first-hand participants in the ongoing OOXML maintenance process would know."

"Which leaves, of course, one question remaining: with no general awareness of the facts, will Alex’s blog entry drop like a pebble into the pond of the Internet, leaving few, if any ripples? Or will others pick up on it? "

Alex Brown, the convener of the 2008 Ballot Resolution Meeting, on the status of the MS-OOXML standard (ISO/IEC 29500) and how Microsoft has lived up to its commitments. I guess no-one here is surprised (also Brown genuinely is, it seems), that things do not look well:
http://www.adjb.net/post/Microsoft-Fails-the-Standards-Test.aspx

"Danish expert and BRM delegate Jesper Lund Stocholm, running an analysis of Office 2010 files wrote: “It has been the fear of many that Microsoft will never, ever care at all about the strict conformance clause of ISO/IEC 29500, and my tests clearly [are] a sign that they were right.”"

"Most worrying of all, it appears than Ecma have ceased any proactive attempt to improve the text, leaving just a handful of national experts wrestling with this activity. It seems to me that Microsoft/Ecma believe 95% of the work has been done to ensure the standard is “useful and relevant”. Looking at the text, I reckon it is more like 95% that remains to be done, as it is still lousy with defects."

Jeremy Allison at LCA2010

"One of the worst things that happened out of that, [is that the ISO] which was previously respected by people that didn't know it so well, became absolutely despised," he said. "There are some countries now thinking of pulling out [of ISO] because it is simply not worth participating in a process that is so obviously corrupted."

It seems that someone from the Commission wants to end his/her mandate with a nice "commission"…

This is really insane. All of those terms were written by Redmond's lawyers, and the European Commission just put a stamp on it.

16 Dec 2009; Microsoft Statement on European Commission Decision

(17) Office Open XML. The “.docx, .xlsx and .pptx” file formats used in the Office 2007 version of Microsoft’s Primary PC Productivity Applications shall implement the ECMA 376 Specification. This commitment shall apply to successor versions of Microsoft’s Primary PC Productivity Applications with respect to IS 29500. This means that Microsoft shall support the relevant standard and provide a warranty as specified in the general provisions in Section B.I of this Undertaking, effective 1 January 2010.

(18) Microsoft shall publicly document Additional Information for the ECMA 376 Specification that meets the requirements of paragraph (15) above. This commitment shall apply to successor versions of Microsoft’s Primary PC Productivity Applications with respect to IS 29500. Microsoft shall provide a warranty as specified in the general provisions in Section B.I of this Undertaking, effective 1 January 2010.

So Paragraph 15 seems interesting:

(15) This paragraph describes how Microsoft shall implement paragraphs (16) to (18) and Section 2.2. Microsoft shall make Interoperability Information available to interested undertakings relative to file formats used by Microsoft Office Word, PowerPoint and Excel that allows third-party Software Products to open, manipulate, save, exchange and share documents created by Microsoft’s PC Productivity Applications without a loss of container structure information or any instructions in the file that describe the document's formatting characteristics. For these purposes, file formats are understood as containers to hold data created by users of those Microsoft’s PC Productivity Applications and information describing associated properties of that data, and the Interoperability Information in the foregoing sentence does not include information about the functionality of these applications or the underlying operating systems that could be used to clone or port Microsoft products in whole or in part.

Now the patent pledge for open source… developers!

Patent Pledge for Open Source Developers

Microsoft irrevocably promises not to assert any Microsoft Necessary Claims against you as an open source software developer ("You") for making, using, importing, or distributing any implementation of the Technical Documentation ("Covered Implementation"), subject to the following. This is a personal promise directly from Microsoft to You, and You acknowledge it is a condition of benefiting from it that no Microsoft rights are received from suppliers, distributors, or otherwise by any other person in connection with this promise. To benefit from this promise, you must be a natural or legal person participating in the creation of software code for an open source project. An "open source project" is a software development project the resulting source code of which is freely distributed, modified, or copied pursuant to an open source license and is not commercially distributed by its participants. If You engage in the commercial distribution or importation of software derived from an open source project or if You make or use such software outside the scope of creating such software code, You do not benefit from this promise for such distribution or for these other activities.
To clarify, "Microsoft Necessary Claims" are those claims of Microsoft-owned or Microsoft-controlled patents that are necessary to implement the Technical Documentation. … Where a software development project has in all other respects the characteristics of an open source project, distribution among the participants of that project of source code developed by natural persons under an employment contract or by natural or legal persons under a contract to develop is not considered to be commercial distribution, and that software development project does not lose its character as an open source project merely because such distribution takes place among participants. Software is deemed to be commercially distributed within the meaning of this promise when the distributor derives revenues in connection with the distribution, such as from subscriptions, updates, or user-based connection fees or from services that are contractually required for a customer to obtain the current version and/or updates of the software product in question.
This promise is not an assurance either (i) that any of the Microsoft-issued patent claims cover a Covered Implementation or are enforceable or (ii) that a Covered Implementation would not infringe on patents or other intellectual property rights of any third party. No other rights except those expressly stated in this promise shall be deemed granted, waived, or received by implication, exhaustion, estoppel, or otherwise.

I wonder how much fun Brad Smith and his colleagues had with this…

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