foobar on computers, software and the rest of the world


OOXML gets ISO blessing - bad for all of us

, posted: 3-Apr-2008 06:45

As anticipated, ISO today announced that OOXML had received the necessary number of votes for approval as a new ISO standard. So, what are we left with now? Here's my list of things to take away from this whole process:
  1. We are once again reminded that deep pockets coupled with a willingness to game the system will almost always win.
  2. We are once again left with the feeling that fairness and objectivity mean nothing when it comes to the bottom line. All is fair in love and war ... and business, I guess.
  3. ISO managed to completely loose all credibility. This is a shame considering that there are many good people involved in ISO. But by successfully compromising a few key positions in the national bodies, Microsoft managed to have those people's views and opinions ignored or overruled.
  4. Microsoft's bottom line will greatly benefit, considering that various governments now can rest assured that they buy into 'standards compliant' technology from Microsoft, thereby fulfilling at least the letter of their laws and regulations.
  5. Most decision makers in public bodies have a long history of being entirely clueless, and thus there is little hope that they will see through the farce.
  6. The nice profits for Microsoft will be paid for by you and me - the tax payers. Three times over! Firstly, our tax dollars will be sent to Redmond to buy all those shiny new Microsoft product licenses (that's not very helpful to our local economy, isn't it?). Secondly, our tax dollars will be spent on ongoing Microsoft service and upgrade contracts and further buy-in into other Microsoft products, such as SharePoint, with a large portion of that also going to Redmond (still not helpful). Thirdly, and most importantly, our governments and other organisations will store our data in vendor proprietary software, preventing proper competition for their business by other vendors and open source software, thus furthering Microsoft's monopoly and further slipping into dependency on and bondage to some single vendor.
  7. On the subject of competition and monopoly: OOXML is a deliberately bad standard, preventing anyone but Microsoft from actually implementing it, which has severe consequences for all of us in the long run.
In light of the overwhelming technical evidence for OOXML's unsuitability as an actual standard, I couldn't help but getting this feeling throughout this entire debate: Nobody spoke out in favour of OOXML who wasn't paid to do so! That's right: I claim that every single person who supported OOXML had an economic incentive for it. Paid analysts, representatives of software companies or organisations that sell Microsoft related products and services, bloggers who run Microsoft related advertising on their site, properly compromised committee chairs in ISO's national bodies. I don't think there is a single compelling technical advantage of OOXML, so its supporters must have other reasons.

I'm not trying this as an ad hominem attack, or anything. These people have to make a living after all. But seriously, I don't think I heard a single supporting voice from a neutral party in this debate. Admittedly, there probably weren't many neutral parties. But you cannot argue with the many widely and thoroughly documented technical flaws in OOXML, which make it entirely undeserving of the status and reputability that normally come along with being an ISO standard.

So, that's what I think we are left with now. Money won, reason and freedom lost. What a shame...


Tag(s):       


Other related posts:
New Zealand's national broadcaster (TVNZ) discriminating against non-Windows users?
Microsoft Office to support ODF
OOXML about to pass? Incredible irregularities reported








Comment by JohnObeto, on 3-Apr-2008 10:32

That is the most nonsensical headline, and statement I have ever heard anyone utter with respect to this, or any other disagreement, for that matter!

What is so wrong with having several document formats?

Right now, there are two, correction three: OOXML, PDF, and ODF.

What is the big deal.

Why, in your infinite wisdom, didn’t you decry the pandering of open source adherents to the IBMs of this world in their ramming of the ODF format down our throats?

Because it was open source? That make s it OK?

Why didn’t you complain that the ODF spec was incompatible with 80% or more of the entire planet’s inventory of documents?

Because it was open source? That makes it OK?

Dude, shake yourself, and step away from the flame.

Look at the reasonableness of the entire matter.

IBM, Oracle, and other vested interests, through their paid parrots and surrogates, in this case the open source/ODF movement, used money as a crock to further their interests.

If you think otherwise, then you need to go back to Uni and take Business 101

A read of Jason Matusow's blog post here kinda explains how you are feeling right now.

FYI, sour grapes has no place in business. Pragmatism does.


Comment by MoralCompass, on 3-Apr-2008 11:35

@ JohnObeto

Which Division of Microsoft do you work for?


Author's note by foobar, on 3-Apr-2008 11:40

@JohnObeto: Looking past your insulting tone for a moment...

I guess you are not realising it (maybe you didn't read my entire post, because you prematurely flew off the handle?), but you completely made my point: Only those who have a financial interest in OOXML succeeding are supporting it. There we go! Look, MS stuff and Vista is your business, so we won't fault you for this incredible blurb you have just let go.

To address the points: Nothing is wrong with multiple standards. Vendors using underhanded tactics to press so-called standards through the committees is a different story, though. Seeing purely commercial interests undermine ISO is a different story. Seeing how this will be used to continue the market dominance of a semi-monopoly is a different story. Seeing how it is possible for a rich corporation to wield such influence around the world, and so obviously buying votes is a different story.
Seeing how this will give governments the excuse to continue to pay our tax dollars to a unscrupulous corporation, capturing our data in that vendor's proprietary data format, is a different story.


Author's note by foobar, on 3-Apr-2008 11:51

@MoralCompass: No, he has a blog that talks about Vista, and he spews forth stupid bile and rants against Linux. Actually, in hind sight, I probably should have not even bothered responding to him, since he can't be taken serious.


Comment by William, on 3-Apr-2008 12:43

ahhhahhhhahha - that's just downright funny what that John guy said. Good grief.

What about the ubiquitous .DOC format? He didn't even mention that? And including PDF with ODF/OOXML - wow.

Interestingly, most of his blog posts cannot be commented on.....


Comment by Bruce Cameron, on 3-Apr-2008 13:49

I think JohnObeto is right!

Now, why don't we all just get along; rally around Microsoft Open XML format; install Microsoft Office just like normal people; allow ODF to waste away in a museum somewhere.

Then, when the time comes to upgrade our office software, well, we can upgrade to Microsoft Office because we have no choice ... just like the good old days!


Comment by Jeremy, on 3-Apr-2008 16:51

"What is so wrong with having several document formats?" - Nothing. And that is not the issue here.

"Right now, there are two, correction three: OOXML, PDF, and ODF." - Once again, this is not the issue.

"Why, in your infinite wisdom, didn't you decry the pandering of open source adherents to the IBMs of this world in their ramming of the ODF format down our throats?" - IBM didn't come up with ODF, they merely support it. No one is "ramming" ODF down anyones throat. Stop talking nonsense.

"Because it was open source? That make s it OK?" - ODF is open source, it is an ISO standard (not that it matters now that Microsoft has destroyed the credibility of the ISO). ODF is a completely open standard which anyone can fully implement with full compatibility from multiple vendors.

"Why didn't you complain that the ODF spec was incompatible with 80% or more of the entire planet's inventory of documents?" - You mean its incompatible with Microsoft's proprietary .doc etc formats ? OOXML is not compatible with them either. They and OOXML are not fully implementable by anyone but Microsoft.

"Look at the reasonableness of the entire matter." - There is nothing sensible about your arguments.

"IBM, Oracle, and other vested interests, through their paid parrots and surrogates, in this case the open source/ODF movement, used money as a crock to further their interests." - Of course everyone has vested interests, as do governments and individuals, we all have an interest in this. Are you going to suggest Microsoft hasn't used money and corruption in this issue ? You're hopelessly naive if you do (or on the payroll). We want open standards that can be implemented properly by anyone, just as an international standard should be.

"FYI, sour grapes has no place in business. Pragmatism does." - This is not sour grapes, this is a serious issue which concerns interoperability and the preservation of documents in a standard format which everyone can read without a corporation shifting the goalposts and rendering old documents unreadable. It is hardly pragmatic to go against these needs.


Author's note by foobar, on 3-Apr-2008 16:59

@Jeremy: You make good points. John's initial rant is completely overblown and void of relevant facts and rich in distortions. However, I actually don't think he is on Microsoft's payroll. Nevertheless, looking at his blog (and possibly his related business?) seems to indicate that - one way or the other - he is heavily vested in Microsoft technology. Thus, it is not surprising that he shows up as a defender of OOXML, albeit an entirely biased and unreasonable one. This just supports my point: Unless you are paid for it (directly or indirectly), you will not support OOXML, since no good reason to support OOXML exists.


Comment by Manav, on 4-Apr-2008 03:05

Sorry foobar, but I agree with John. You completely ignored IBM and SUN's vested interests in promoting ODF.

It is business either way. Companies are pimping Open Source *NOT* because they are a part of Stallman Crusade but because of their vested business interests.

You would be so naive to think that IBM and SUN were not in this for purely financial reasons. They want a share of office software pie and the only way to get it is to displace MS office. Thyey pimped ODF to attack Microsoft.


Author's note by foobar, on 4-Apr-2008 04:14

@Manav: But of course I know that IBM/Sun/Others pushed ODF for financial reasons. I have said before: Large corporations do what they have to do. Maximizing shareholder value is their only purpose in life. No susprise there at all. Why does anyone think that I wouldn't know that?

The point though is: ODF is an open standard, which can be implemented by anyone. It was actually intended to make interoperability between products easier. However, OOXML isn't. OOXML was exclusively designed to further Microsoft's strategy of user lock-in, combined with giving Microsoft the ability to stay in or enter into accounts that demand standardized data formats, while making it impossible for anyone but Microsoft to actually implement it.

ODF was technically an acceptable standard. OOXML is technically completely unacceptable.

I don't care if IBM or Sun had financial motives for backing ODF (of course they had). I care about free software and freedom from vendor lock-in. With ODF we get that, with OOXML we don't. Did I not make that clear in my posting?

In the process, Microsoft was forced to use the tactics they did, because OOXML is such a bad standard. Do you think the resistence against OOXML would have been as bad as it was if OOXML had actually been a good standard? I don't think so. So, to get it through the committees, Microsoft ended up making a mockery out of ISO. That's what my post was about.

Did I not make that clear?


Comment by barf, on 4-Apr-2008 12:12

you are all wrong! OOXML is not designed as an unimplementable standard, jesus they could have made binary-offset-based format if they wanted to, some credit is due (just not any good credit).

it is designed as a namesake standard so that Microsoft can tout better interoperability 'efforts' whether or not it actually is implementable. this marketing edge is the reason and MS are marketing geniuses.

microsoft have little to no technical edge what built the company was their licencing model, marketing and business sense. Linux hippies will not be able to change this but business Linux will kill Microsoft and they know it.


Comment by Exception, on 5-Apr-2008 17:53

There is lots of FUD here, and seeing you obviously have some sort of problem with Microsoft, I guess it's not surprising...

"But by successfully compromising a few key positions in the national bodies, Microsoft managed to have those people's views and opinions ignored or overruled."

Presumably they would have had to do this in enough national bodies to swing the vote their way - so can you provide evidence that they did this? Not just one or two bodies, but in enough to make a difference?

"Microsoft's bottom line will greatly benefit, considering that various governments now can rest assured that they buy into 'standards compliant' technology from Microsoft, thereby fulfilling at least the letter of their laws and regulations."

If you think that standards compliance is all government customers think about, then you are somewhat naiive. There are a number of issues that come into customer decisions. Standards are becoming increasingly important, but to think that _if_ OOXML had failed to go through that MS would be locked out is crazy. Microsoft would provide a standards compliant solution one way or another if that is what is required.

"Most decision makers in public bodies have a long history of being entirely clueless, and thus there is little hope that they will see through the farce."

Are not ISO standards committies comprised of decision makers in public bodies? Is this really what you think of the standards bodies? Would you suggest that anti-OOXML and pro-OOXML people were the only intelligent people in the debate? Perhaps you'd reduce it to just the anti-OOXML crowd - which you are obviously part of?

"The nice profits for Microsoft will be paid for by you and me - the tax payers. Three times over!"

It is six of one and half a dozen of the other. Either you pay licensing fees or you pay service fees (to OSS people) to keep the systems running. Sure you could argue that this money is local, but then with far too few IT people in NZ, it seems crazy to go this way and risk not being able to support it in the future due to lack of staff anyway.

"Thirdly, and most importantly, our governments and other organisations will store our data in vendor proprietary software, preventing proper competition for their business by other vendors and open source software, thus furthering Microsoft's monopoly and further slipping into dependency on and bondage to some single vendor."

Well, then again, you could simply put all your dependance on one or two people who set it up in "open" systems and then leave just so some other poor guy with or without the same skills who can come along and try and figure out what they have done and how it works - at least with proprietary software - in MS's case there are lots of people who understand it and it works consistently.

"On the subject of competition and monopoly: OOXML is a deliberately bad standard, preventing anyone but Microsoft from actually implementing it, which has severe consequences for all of us in the long run"

Deliberately bad? Is it better or worse than the .Doc format? Sure it might not be perfect, but it is a step in the right direction. Oh - and didn't you hear? There are lots of people who have already implemented OOXML. There is an old list at http://blogs.msdn.com/smcbreen/archive/2007/08/24/people-implementing-ecma-office-open-xml.aspx

Still - I'm sure all this is water off a ducks back - so flame away.


Comment by Matthew Holloway, on 8-Apr-2008 12:03

I've posted a few things about OOXML here on my blog, and in particular you might find this post interesting.. http://holloway.co.nz/blog/?p=12


Author's note by foobar, on 8-Apr-2008 15:23

@Matyhew Holloway: Good writeup!

@Exception: I won't dig up all the references here, but just to address some of the red herrings you are pulling out of your hat:

 * It has been documented that Microsoft offered monetary rewards to business partners (I think that was in Sweden?). There also has been a surge of P-members joinging ISO bodies just before the OOXML vote, and which now are not showing up for any further votes, leaving ISO paralysed in many aspects now. Again, there has been plenty written about this. I'm not a search engine, so you can find those yourself again. But you probably read all of that and chose to ignore it?

 * Of course standard compliance is not all that matters for government adoption. But if lawmakers specify that only those IT solutions are allowed that can store data in standardised formats then having your format standardised is a great help now, wouldn't you think? It is definitely one big stumbling block out of the way. And would Microsoft have made their data standards complient? Yes, well, they could have by simply storing it in ODF, right? But did they want that? Of course not, because they would have lost control over their customers. But you probably read all of that before...

 * About your ISO standards body comment: Yes, I should have been more clear. The 'clueless' comment is a generalisation I made for effect, and it refers to the buying decision makers, rather than the ISO bodies, which could be considered public bodies. And as I said: "Clueless" is a generalisation. Not all the buying decision makers are clueless, of course. But many will just go with what is comfortable and fits nicely into their already existing (Microsoft) infrastructure. So, they have no reason to change to a truly open standard.

 * You said: "It is six of one and half a dozen of the other. Either you pay licensing fees or you pay service fees (to OSS people) to keep the systems running." That, of course, is quite naive. In larger installations of any software you will always have service contracts as well. So, for proprietary software you will have the license cost PLUS the service cost. And if you say that you won't always need the service contracts then I can say that the same is true for open source software. And in that case, you still pay for licenses for the proprietary software, but you can get your OSS equivalent for free.

 * Crazy to go for local support options? If you think so, just buy your support from an overseas OSS support organisation then. You are happy to pay for overseas support from Microsoft, no? Your argument makes absolutely no sense at all.

 * You are saying: "Well, then again, you could simply put all your dependance on one or two people who set it up in "open" systems and then leave just so some other poor guy with or without the same skills who can come along and try and figure out what they have done and how it works - at least with proprietary software - in MS's case there are lots of people who understand it and it works consistently". I think you may have made a few typos there, because I cannot parse your statement about the one or two people vs. the poor guy. Honestly, I actually don't know what you are trying to say? Please clarify. I won't comment on your assessment that Microsoft software works consistently. But let me just ask you: Compared to what?

 * OOXML as the deliberately bad standard. So, are you saying that because Doc is really bad, OOXML has to be a good thing, because it's better here and there? 'Better' does not necessarily equal 'good', you know? And about being able to implement OOXML: Yes, they will even put that into OpenOffice. So, sure there will be people who will have a go at it. But it is NOT an open standard if the standard has tags that essentially say 'do this like Word 97 did'. Doc was never opened, and all the writing and reading of Doc format files by OSS like OpenOffice was achieved by painful reverse engineering. With tags like these there is only one company that can implement OOXML. Another point is that the language is ambiguous and therefore will lead to different interpretations on how things should be done by the different implementors. A 6000 page spec with thousands of additional comments cannot be reviewed on the fast track. A reviewer would only have had very little time per page. That's why there are all the issues still with it, and that's why it was and remains a very bad standard.

 * Water off a duck's back? How about you and anything I said here? Or how about the things that Matthew Holloway said in his blog: http://holloway.co.nz/blog/?p=12 ?


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New Zealand


  • Who I am: Software developer and consultant.
  • What I do: System level programming, Linux/Unix. C, C++, Java, Python, and a long time ago even Assembler.
  • What I like: I'm a big fan of free and open source software. I'm Windows-free, running Ubuntu on my laptop. To a somewhat lesser degree, I also follow the SaaS industry.
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