The calendar according to Excel, or why Open XML is standardizing mistakes

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See Rob Weir’s blog entry “A Leap Backward.”

This is more evidence that Open XML is an attempt to standardize the functionality and behavior, even if wrong, of Microsoft’s own products. Rob ends with:

So there you have it, two ways in which Microsoft has created a needlessly complicated file format, and made your life more difficult if you are trying to work with this format, all to the exclusive advantage of their implementation. I wish I could assure you that this is an isolated example of this approach in OOXML But sadly, it is the rule, not the exception.

Does this remind anyone of this old joke?

Q: How many senior Microsoft engineers does it take to change a light bulb?
A: None. Bill Gates will just redefine Darkness� as the standard.

Sorry, couldn’t help myself.

One last quote from Rob:

The burden of a bug should fall on the product that has the bug, not everyone else in the world.

Also See: An “OOXML is a bad idea” blog entry compendium


  1. Microsoft’s approach always has to do with ‘prettiness’, at the opposite end of the spectrum to ‘meaning’.
    For example, their ‘math formula expressing’ is set up so that a printer can get the font hinting right; compared with the OpenOffice way, where a ‘math formula’ would be expressed in a way that a calculator could carry it out.
    This is also behind most of the problem with anything except Word opening a Word document; the Word document is full of hints to the page layout process as to how the page should be laid out (and their meaning is not documented), but doesn’t tell you obvious things about the document such as ‘this is a paragraph’, ‘this is a heading which should go in the index’, and ‘this is where the table of contents should go’
    The ‘prettiness’ thing makes it hard to repurpose a Microsoft document; a machine can (in principle) lay it out on paper, but can’t extract meaning from it.

    I think there’s going to be more of this with their upcoming ‘enhancement’ to PDF. We engineers are perfectly happy with PDF; it’s an open standard for the published format of doccuments; from an engineering point of view changing it would be like ‘enhancing’ your auto with 5 extra foot controls beyond the accelerator and brake. Microsoft are intending to come up with a different representation, which will presumably allow things to format more prettily, but for sure will require rework in any application which does anything with ‘PDF’ files.

    I won’t say Microsoft’s approach is wrong … it has made them many billions of dollars over the years … but it is very awkward for those of us who have to cope with the consequences.

  2. I’m told that Microsoft has lost the ‘hobbyist’ programmers; that they are all programming Linux, OSX, or games consoles nowadays.

    It doesn’t hurt their current business; they don’t sell to hobbyists, they sell Windows to Personal Computer manufacturers such as Lenovo, and Office to businesses (at full price) and to schools (at deep discounts).

    But it does say something about the future.

  3. Chris Ward, this (Microsoft having lost the hobbyist programmer) is backed up by the free-as-in-beer Visual [Programming Language] Express program. Knowing Microsoft, they would not have taken such a loss-leader approach – and the Visual [PL] Express product line is quite usuable; it’s not crippleware in any sense – if they didn’t know they stood to lose out completely to the F/LOSS Windows-based toolkits.

    I’ve made some comments in some Microsoft blogs, that Microsoft should open up the source code of the Visual [PL] Express product line, under their Microsoft Community License, in order to insure a future for those products; knowing Microsoft I expect that action will be taken on that in about four years from now.

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