Microsoft Office Open XML Formats / Open Document Format Follow Up

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Given the subject matter, I maybe shouldn’t have been, but the traffic to the piece I wrote last week still surprised me a bit. A bunch of folks – ZDNet, Josh Hallett, Sun’s Simon Phipps and the Seattle PI’s Todd Bishop among them – linked to it, and I appreciate the pointers as always.

As is often the case, the most interesting aspect to the post wasn’t the original content, but the conversation that has since been spawned. In addition to the folks linked to above, Bob Sutor from IBM chimed in on his blog here.

But the most fascinating reaction I’ve seen yet was posted today as a comment to my original post by Gary Edwards. It’s very inside-baseballish, and I reprint it here for those of you who don’t subscribe to my comments feed. I don’t agree with every word, but I guarantee you it’s worth the read.

MS “Open” XML, and the attending MS XML Reference License are examples of MS “Shared Source” masquerading as “Open” and “Standard”.

So far i’ve found MS XML to be refreshingly open in a declarative sense, but totally lacking in participation. It’s still a permission based model where a single vendor has proprietary control over access to and implementation of the MS XML file format. You can look, but you can’t touch. Where’s the participation? Where’s the collaborative community of contributing parties? And where’s the Open Standards Group that Microsoft promised the European Union back in November of 2004 when Jean Paoli triumphantly announced that the EU had accepted MS XML version 1 as both “open” and “standard”? Of course Jean Paoli then went on to explain that the current agreement with the EU was based on Microsoft’s promise to collaborate with Sun on creating “filters” that would transform MS XML to OpenDoc XML. The future promise Microsoft made to the EU was that they would provide an Open XML Format submitted to an Open Standards Group.

Unlike the headline hunting hounds in Massachusetts, who no doubt were successful in extorting from Microsoft far more than the few meager licensing concessions made public, the EU stood tall and held their ground. They are determined to get an Open XML file format backed by a recognized Open Standards Group.

So how is this version 2 of MS XML any different from MS “shared source”?

Since MS XML looks to be a clone of OpenDoc XML, i think it’s disingenuous to imply that Microsoft put so much time and effort into creating a duplicate XML file format to meet their “legacy” needs. This is a knockoff clear and simple. The work was done by OpenOffice.org, Sun Microsystems, and the OASIS OpenDocument Technical Committee.

So what about the legacy issue and the 400 million user base that’s been tormented since time immemorial by designed in incompatibility, and the ever profitable promise that the next upgrade will finally deliver interoperability?

If the upgrade to get all your file formats compatible treadmill has finally ground to a halt, it will be because of the OASIS OpenDoc XML work.

The first 18 months of work at the OASIS OpenDoc TC (then called the OASIS Open Office TC – name changed in September of 2004 at the suggestion of the EU TAC/IDA group), was focused near entirely on legacy systems. Especially legacy systems
wedded to Microsoft binary file formats.

The OpenDoc TC was very fortunate to have a wealth of expertise in reverse engineering the legacy maze of incompatible MS binary file formats. Experts from Corel Office, StarOffice, Boeing, Stellent, ArborText, and SpeedLegal among others had long made their living reverse engineering MS file formats. Phil Boutros, the legendary binary cracking wizard representing Stellent, near single handedly represented what would have otherwise been thought to be the full cooperation of Microsoft in solving these legacy issues. With over twenty years expertise in wrestling with legacy MS file formats, one couldn’t help but feel Phil did a far better job at this than anyone Microsoft could have sent to the TC. To be honest, i don’t know of any Microsoft worker bees old enough to be packing the level of expertise that was routine on the OpenDoc TC. If Jean Paoli has a MicroSerf in mind who can stand toe to toe with Phil Boutros, i would pay for a front row seat.

At any time Microsoft was and is able to jump into the TC discussion’s about their legacy file formats and the transformation issues that were eventually resolved in the OpenDoc XML specification. They did after all have an official membership on the OpenDoc TC. Rabih Filfili, a Software Engineer at Microsoft has been the official observer of record for Microsoft since the inception of the OASIS OpenDoc TC. He can be reached at [see original comment].

Since the first 18 months of the OpenDoc TC’s life was spent on legacy issues, most of which concerned MS file formats, it doesn’t surprise me at all that they cloned the OpenDoc specification. But then to try to take credit for the enormity of work the OpenDoc TC put into the transformation process? Who are they kidding? The least they could do is send a thank you note and give credit to the real experts who actually did the work: Phil Boutros (Stellent), Paul Langille (Corel), Tom Magliery (Corel), Simon Davis (Australian National Archives), Jasson Harrop (SpeedLegal), Daniel Vogelheim (Sun StarOffice), Michael Brauer (Sun StarOffice), Doug Alberg (Boeing), Paul Grosso (ArborText), Patrick Durusau (Society of Biblical Literature), and David Faure (KOffice-KDE).

Where the first 18 months, or phase I, of the OpenDoc TC work was dedicated to MS legacy and transformation issues, the second phase took on the issues of emerging Open XML Technologies, and next generation collaborative Internet computing.

Yes there is still a need to expand the compound document capabilities of OpenDoc XML so that the specification covers far more of the desktop productivity environment than that defined by the typical desktop Office Suite. With both OpenOffice.org and KOffice now road testing implementations before they hit the specification, OpenDoc XML has considerable advantages towards developing a truly portable and structured, compound document file format that is completely independent of applications, platforms, and proprietary vendor permissions.

Some of the productivity environment expansion possibilities include the following: Michael Brauer has submitted a database proposal for consideration. David Wheeler is working on the OpenFormula Project. I’m hopeful that with their WorkPlace workflow integration and project management expertise, IBM will assist the TC to perfect a Contact Management-PiM-Project Management enhancement. And there is always the possibility that new member Adobe will assist the OpenDoc TC in expanding the metadata model based on the excellent cross enterprise work Adobe has done with XMP.

The core of the next generation work however is the embrace of W3C Open XML efforts such as XForms, SVG, and SMiL. I think when all is said and done, and we finally get to exercise our “shared source” rights and get to see the details of the MS XML clone, the most notable differences will not be those pertaining to the maze of legacy transformation issues Microsoft is now pointing to. No, the important differences will center around next generation collaborative computing capabilities where OpenDoc XML XForms, SVG, and SMil implementations will compete directly against whatever embrace-extend variation Microsoft conjures up.

I sincerely appreciate your efforts Stephen to provide some balance and perspective to this discussion. Keep on keeping on,

Gary Edwards
[email removed – see the original comment]

OpenOffice.org volunteer representing the open source community on the OASIS OpenDocument Technical Committee

Thanks for posting, Gary, and as for the balance and perspective, all I can say is that I try 😉