OpenXML sneaks up behind ODF – lets make it stop

OpenDocument Format. Everyone seems to love it. It is a guiding light in a heavily locked down world, in which it can secure the freedoms of document interoperability and prevent against the often unknown risks of vendor lock-in. With ODF, you can make the decision about what you do with your data by using an open and extensible document format that any software can implement. With the playing field levelled, you take control of your information. This is what freedom in software and freedom in document formats is all about.

And lets face it, we are all beginning to feel the ODF love. Not only is OpenOffice.org growing, but companies such as IBM and Sun have thrown their weight behind it, the ODF Alliance which represents over 210 organisations in 30 countries are behind it, and importantly, in May 2006 ODF became a ratified ECMA standard. So, ECMA determine a standard, and the world is a happy place right. Well, nearly.

It seems that Microsoft are working to “fast track” their OpenXML format to become a new European ISO/IEC standard. This standard has been submitted to ECMA, and the deadline is a bit tight to say the least. Graham Taylor from OpenForum Europe hits the nail on the head about the problem:

“There are major difficulties with ECMA’s standard, which if accepted will affect future formats of all documents on which all office and word processing software depends, and ultimately convenience and cost. It will reinforce the current supplier monopoly position, limit customer choice and increase costs for European business and consumers.”

I was under the impression that there could not be competing standards as part of ECMA, so this move is a little unusual. Not only that, but OpenXML proves to be a far more complex standard, weighing in at around 6000 pages – are Open Source applications authors really likely to inflict such eyeball glazing misery to implement such a ridiculously large standard?

So what do we do? Well, we have until 5th Feb 2007 to make complaints. Write to your local standards organisation, contact ECMA, blog about it or otherwise raise the issue that a 30 day fast track process is not exactly reasonable for a standard that weighs in at 6000 pages. We have worked so hard to make OpenDocument Format come as far as it has, lets not let it fall at the last hurdle.

  • Erik

    Don’t have all the info on this, but I did a quick search on the ECMA website for ODF which interestingly turned up a document on the OpenXMl. In this document they say the following: " Various document standards and specifications exist; these include HTML, XHTML, PDF and its subsets, ODF, DocBook, ITA, and RTF. Like the numerous standards that represent bitmapped images, including TIFF/IT, TIFF/EP, JPEG 2000, and NG, each was created for a different set of purposes. OpenXML addresses the need for a standard that covers the features epresented in the existing document corpus. To the best of our knowledge, it is the only XML document format that supports very feature in the binary formats. " From the OpenXML whitepaper at: http://www.ecma-international.org/news/TC45_current_work/OpenXML White Paper.pdf

    Haven’t had the time to read through the entire document, but obviously they think OpenXML has got a reason to exist.

  • http://urban.cream.org Martin Coxall

    I sent an email to Francis Cave, who is the Chairman of the BSI committee looking in charge of OOXML and ODF issues. The format of the email was adapted (nicked) from one I saw on LWN addressed to the ANSI committee chairman.

    Dear Sir,

    I am writing you today to ask the BSI to oppose the adoption of the Microsoft-proposed Open XML document format (“OOXML”) as an ISO Standard.

    The adoption of OOXML as an ISO Standard does not serve the public interest. The format specification has many flaws that prevent it from being suitable or desirable as an international Standard for interoperability. Among those flaws are:

    1.

      OOXML does not conform to existing ISO Standards, and in fact requires behaviour in conflict with those standards:
    
          *
    
            OOXML does not conform to ISO 8601:2004 "Representation of Dates and Times." Rather, it specifies use of date representations and date processing functions that express bugs like reporting 1900 as a leap year when in fact it is not, reporting incorrect day-of-week data, and calculating incorrect date intervals.
    
          *
    
            OOXML does not follow ISO 639 "Codes for the Representation of Names and Languages." Instead of using the language codes maintained and updated by an international registration authority, it specifies the use of a fixed set of numeric codes defined at some time in the past by Microsoft.
    

    2.

      OOXML requires support of Microsoft-proprietary formats (e.g. for Windows Metafile and Windows Enhanced Metafile for images) that are intimately bound to the specific APIs and behaviours of Microsoft Windows.
    

    3.

      OOXML specifies compliance with the behaviours and misbehaviours of obsolete and increasingly difficult-to-obtain versions of proprietary document processing utilities from Microsoft and other vendors. These behaviours are only specified by reference, for example, "applications shall emulate the behaviour of a previously existing word processing application (Microsoft Word 6.x/95/97) when determining the placement of the contents of footnotes". 
    
      These behaviours cannot be properly implemented without access to the software in question (which can only get more difficult as time passes) or by contacting the vendor (if the vendor still exists) and asking for access to internal information proprietary to that vendor (if they are willing to share). Furthermore, some if not all of these behaviours are covered by licensing agreements that prohibit reverse engineering. 
    
      This is not what an international Standard promoting interoperability should require of a software developer.
    

    4.

      OOXML requires implementation of capabilities that are apparently not covered by Microsoft's patent pledge, so support for the OOXML format apparently cannot be fully implemented without a licensing agreement with Microsoft (which they are under no obligation to provide). This appears to be in violation of  2.14 of the ISO/IEC Directives, Part 1. OOXML should not be considered for adoption as a Standard until this matter is resolved.
    

    5.

      The OOXML specification document is over 6,000 pages long, and incorporates many proprietary behaviours and proprietary ancillary file formats by reference. Implementing most if not all of these behaviours would require the cooperation of Microsoft. It is doubtful that anyone other than Microsoft will ever be able to correctly implement the OOXML specification. This is not how interoperability is encouraged or achieved.
    

    The OOXML specification duplicates the features provided in an existing ISO Standard (ISO/IEC 26300:2006 Open Document Format for Office Applications (OpenDocument) v1.0) and provides no real benefit other than to protect the existing market of a single vendor. This is not what Standards are for.

    If the ISO (and by extension the BSI) adopts such a specification as a Standard, their reputations will be severely damaged. They will be seen as open to manipulation and control by sufficiently large companies, and it sets the precedent for corruption of the standards process in order to protect market share to the detriment of competition, interoperability and the end user.

    The ISO and the BSI trade on their reputations of impartiality. Do not support the adoption of OOXML as an ISO Standard — only one company would benefit at the expense of all others.

    Thank you for your consideration.

    Martin Coxall

  • http://urban.cream.org Martin Coxall

    Anyway, I also meant to add, if you’re a Britisher, I suggest you also email him.

    His address is francis@franciscave.com

  • http://feneur.com Erik

    And obviously I didn’t take the time to proofread what I just wrote, some letters were lost in the copy-paste process, so here it is in it’s entirety:

    Various document standards and specifications exist; these include HTML, XHTML, PDF and its subsets, ODF, DocBook, DITA, and RTF. Like the numerous standards that represent bitmapped images, including TIFF/IT, TIFF/EP, JPEG 2000, and PNG, each was created for a different set of purposes. OpenXML addresses the need for a standard that covers the features represented in the existing document corpus. To the best of our knowledge, it is the only XML document format that supports every feature in the binary formats.
  • jono

    Thanks Martin! :)

  • http://www.lovesunix.net/blog David Nielsen

    I’d absolutely love it if you made arguments against OpenXML based on technical problems rather than the fact that it’s a well defined spec (which by it’s nature means it’s large – the primer though is much smaller than OpenDoc).

    I seem to recall a time when we supported stuff based on merit, not “who wrote it and how big it is”.

    Jono I ask you have you personally found anything in the spec to object to, if not, then why are you calling for this act of harrashment. It’s making OpenDoc and it’s supporters look like a bunch of whiners and it’s reflecting badly on both standards not to mention the whole notion of open standards.

    I’m sure OpenXML is not a 100% thing of beauty but don’t be fooled neither is OpenDoc (just ask the GNUmeric guys about their attitude towards the spreadsheet parts).

    This seems to be “it’s made by Microsoft.. so it has to be evil” nothing more – can we please move the debate to the technical details rather than gut reactionary bullshit?

    Luckily Martin Coxall seems to at least be objecting on valid technical points, that means there’s still hope that this might be treated fairly from all sides.

  • Gavin
  • http://www.lovesunix.net/blog David Nielsen

    Yes, nothing wrong with contracting a technical writer to do writing – they were even open about the fact that they did so. Wikipedia is an open forum for everyone, including Microsoft – contested sections will be moved to a debate page untill issues are resolved, that will be based on facts.

    It’s called free speech under moderation of the facts. What Jono is calling for is supression of speech based on no facts. All I ask is that we make this about the technical merits of the OpenDoc and OpenXML formats rather than a witchhunt. I really thought we as a community were above this kind of childish behaviour.

  • http://lnxwalt.wordpress.com/ W^L+

    Dave, that Rob Weir article is not about hiring a technical writer to write the standard. The article is about the technical flaws in the standard, and the patent and copyright issues that will prevent anyone else from fully implementing it.

    From the standpoint of someone who supports users, it is vitally important to have multiple vendors’ applications that support the same file formats. It gives you the flexibility to buy whatever product best fits your needs and still be able to exchange documents with other people seamlessly.

    I support ISO 26300/ODF because it is open, that is, it is well documented and available for anyone to use in any application at any time without the necessity of getting permission. I also feel that it has technical benefits, such as re-use of SVG, MathML, and other standards. By contrast, OOXML, with all of its bulk, does not detail what its “legacy” options contain, and the promise not to sue specifically excludes anything not fully-described in the standard. OOXML also contains failed features such as VML (in place of the proven SVG) and untested features in place of other proven standards.

    Finally, the reason for ISO standardization is for government agency use. It is just plain wrong for government agencies (which are owned by the citizens they represent) to require their citizens to purchase a specific vendor’s software in order to access THEIR OWN DATA. That is why ODF is so important, and why ISO should not endorse OOXML.

    Microsoft should implement full ODF support in their applications, in compliance with current ISO standards, if they desire to remain in the government supply market. Why don’t they do it? http://lnxwalt.wordpress.com/2007/01/21/whose-finances-are-on-the-line/ tells the story.

  • http://www.lovesunix.net/blog David Nielsen

    ah since the link was not clickable I accidently copy pasted it, but what I had in my buffer was the other article (about hiring the technical wrtier). My bad.

    But see now we are getting somewhere, technical merit rather than plain saying “OpenXML bad, OpenDoc good”. Doesn’t that feel much nicer?

  • jono

    David – I didn’t say “OpenXML bad, OpenDoc good” – the aim of this post is to highlight that the fasttrack process is unsuitable. I have various technical, social and ethical reasons why I support ODF, and I am not going to re-iterate them every single time I mention ODF in a blog post – that was not the intention of this post.

  • http://bolt.beetlebolt.com Peter

    Do you know who we can contact in the US?

  • http://u32.net sb

    My submission from the US…

    To: isot@ansi.org From: Scott Bronson Date: Jan 21, 2007 2:12 PM Subject: Please give OpenXML the attention it deserves

    I would like to voice my concern about the OpenXML standard. Even though OOXML is over 6000 pages, it is incomplete. In particular, it leaves a number of tags undocumented (autoSpaceLikeWord95, mwSmallCaps), fails to define important concepts (Word 95 Full Width Character Spacing”, “Word 97 Text Wrapping Around Floating Objects”), and mandates proprietary technology (Windows Metafile).

    As written, it is more a convention than a standard. It does not yet merit the ISO label. Please take the time to ensure that OOXML’s loose ends are cleaned up before accepting it into your canon.

    Thank you very much for your attention.

    Scott Bronson San Francisco

    Feel free to crib but please write your own letter… I don’t think receiving 400 identical emails will convince many committee members.

  • http://blog.wolkje.net/?p=142 Martin Sturm » Blog Archive » Watch out for OpenXML

    [...] Jono Bacon, community manager of Ubuntu, calls everybody to protest against the standardisation of Microsoft’s OpenXML format as an ECMA standard and European ISO/IEC standard. While I’m not very involved in the discussion of the various word processing document formats, I think it is better that everybody uses one common standard. Because OpenDocument was the first of this kind of formats to become an international standard, I think it is reasonable that everybody uses this standard. I think it is not a good idea to let Microsoft again decide about the standards for the document formats used in word processors (and other office software), because the prove in the past that they do not like to let others use their format and seems to be incapable to define a decent standard. According to Jono Bacon, the OpenXML standard is 6000 pages, but Microsoft is trying to make it a standard using a ‘fast track’ procedure. [...]

  • Neil Greenwood

    In the second paragraph, you say that ODF was ratified by ECMA. I believe that’s incorrect.

    I think ODF went through the OASIS consortium, and was ratified by ISO/IEC on the date you mention.

    Groklaw ran a project on its sister site, GrokDoc, to find inconsistencies in the OOXML spec. in order to try to halt the fast-track process. I can’t find the URLs at the mo, but try searching those sites.

    Neil.

  • http://schestowitz.com Roy Schestowitz

    I am sure that Microsoft will pay whoever and whatever is needed to had this joke approved. There’s too much money in stake. The Office monopoly is worth almost hundreds of $billions (80% of the Division’s revenue) and the company has a history of fraud, corruption, blackmail, and crime.

  • http://thotz.wordpress.com/2007/01/26/odt-vs-openxml-if-microsoft-wins-this-battle-we-office-workers-will-have-a-big-problem/ ODT vs. OpenXML: If Microsoft wins this “battle”, we [Office workers] will have a big problem! « @ Home >> Meine Seite

    [...] Verfasst von Thomas am 26. Januar 2007 From http://www.jonobacon.org/?p=871  OpenDocument Format. Everyone seems to love it. It is a guiding light in a heavily locked down world, in which it can secure the freedoms of document interoperability and prevent against the often unknown risks of vendor lock-in. With ODF, you can make the decision about what you do with your data by using an open and extensible document format that any software can implement. With the playing field levelled, you take control of your information. This is what freedom in software and freedom in document formats is all about. [...]

  • http://www.lovesunix.net/blog David Nielsen

    Jono, I have used Google to search your blog for references to OpenXML and the closest I can get is http://www.jonobacon.org/?p=647 which speaks in favor of giving Microsoft a chance. No technical issues pointed out. I’d like to know exactly where you elaborated your criticism of the OpenXML because it sure is not in the archieve of your blog.

    I’m honestly interested especially since uptill as recently as April 2006 you seemed to be willing to give Microsoft a chance to open up. I’d love to know what changed your mind, I went the other way recently because I realised my personal opposition to OpenXML was based on emotional outrage rather than on any technical merit. As I said I’m sure there’s ugly stuff in there and those must naturally go away, mostly it seems the implicit demand for WMF support is a sticky point to being an open standard but that’s entirely fixable provided we oppose it on those real issues rather than ideology.

  • jono

    Like I say, my opposition in this situation is that ODF has been ratified as an open standard, and this is clearly a competing standard, and I was under the impression there should not be approved competing standards.

    When it comes to ODF vs. OpenXML, I am in favour of ODF as:

    • ODF is an independent open standard that is developed and supported by a range of organisations
    • I have heard of issues with OpenXML involving blobs inside the standard.
    • ODF is better supported in Open Source standard
    • ODF is a source of openness, not a reaction.

    I am sure OpenXML is a great standard, but ODF has already been accepted as a standard, and the fast-track approach being used here for OpenXML for such a large spec seems nuts to me, and that is my primary inspiration behind this blog entry.

  • http://spellbook.infinitiv.it/2007/01/25/jono-bacon-openxml-sneaks-up-behind-odf-lets-make-it-stop.htm Jono Bacon: OpenXML sneaks up behind ODF – lets make it stop – Spellbook – IT mage’s best friend

    [...] post by Planet Ubuntu Tagged: Linux, Ubuntu Trackback                [...]

  • Jennifer Webber

    Hi, Thanks for publishing this – if anyone can rally the community I’m thinking it will be you…IMO, the two biggest arguments are the contradictory status of OpenXML to ODF and the large spec being rushed through the 30days – which hasn’t been done before. Of course whether the BSI will listen is a different thing…

  • jono

    Thanks Jen! :)