Microsoft, ODF, Open XML, and Wikipedia

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I have mixed feelings about editing Wikipedia.

On one hand, if I think something should be in a particular piece, I’ll go ahead and edit it. On the other, it is frustrating when some anonymous person removes something that I think is important. I have no problems with it as a resource, because I never take it as the final answer on anything. Maybe that’s because I grew up in a household that had an encyclopedia printed 16 years before I was born.

Via Slashdot, there is news that Microsoft has tried to hire external people to “correct” any “misconceptions” about Open XML vs. ODF.

Think what you want about the various specs and the process (and there are an increasing number of people who have significant issues with Open XML and the process by which it was slammed through ECMA and now shoved into ISO), but stand up and say what you want to say in Wikipedia yourself. The gods of impartiality will correct you, whether or not you want this to happen.

Update: InfoWorld ran a story on this this afternoon: “Microsoft pays for Wikipedia edits: Software engineer was reportedly offered a contract by Microsoft to edit online entries about ODF and OOXML.” Here’s some absolutely free advice. The next time you look for someone who is “independent but friendly,” also add “and won’t write about it on O’Reilly.”

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


  1. The thing that I seriously do not understand is why Microsoft wants to hire a proxy to do the editing for them? Why not do it themselves. Any self-respecting proxy will come upfront and acknowledge being paid by Microsoft to do it. If the proxy don’t and people find out Microsoft had been doing it, its reputation will be tarnished. And people will bring up again the strong suspicion that Microsoft had been hiring third parties to smear mud on others in the Massachusetts campaign against ODF. Either way, they lose.

    I hope, nope, I should say I am confident, that wikipedia editors will be impartial in handling this. My preferred way is to show both parties’ view on the topic, rather than a tit-for-tat war where you erase A and write B today, I erase B and rewrite A tomorrow and the cycle continues.

    Just take for example, the argument on OOXML and legacy document raised by Jelliffe. He thinks it is an error, I say it is a controversy. I agree with Jelliffe thinks application using OOXML technically need not parase those legacy tag, but to achieve the aim of the OOXML standard, i.e., 100% compatibility with legacy documents, you need to deal with them. I agree at present that entry needs to be clarified, i.e., why opponents thinks it is necessary to deal with the legacy tags, but to delete it will be wrong.

  2. Bob, I’m disappointed that, whatever you think about the steady-state process for Wikipedia, that you linked to Slashdot as authoritative when the original sources are available.

    Doug Mahugh, who was the Microsoft employee who contacted Rick Jeliffe, provides his account here:

    Rick gave his own account and Doug’s response on Slashdot is important (see Doug’s post for links).

    Also, the topic at hand is not just OOX – ODF. I think it matters with regard to factual treatment of OOX. I notice that the Wikipedia editors have also flagged the OOX article as requiring encyclopedia-appropriate narrative and being in need of revision. I suspect that if there is more editing, it will flex into multiple articles in the same way that ODF is treated in multiple Wikipedia entries.

    I don’t think of Wikipedia as a place to find definitive sources on OOX – ODF comparison, although I found the article that is there useful as an overview of the situation. Rick has noticed some problems worthy of correction (I’m not sure in which article):

  3. So how does Microsoft Office get onto people’s Personal Computers ?

    Last time they shipped a new version, there wasn’t much Internet around. People would have to go to places like PC World , take it off the shelf, and pay for it at a cash register. There must be a significant distribution channel; real people trucking boxes full of CDs around the world, starting at Redmond and ending at your friendly local retail store.

    Now, we’ve got broadband. I expect you can go to Microsoft’s web site, key in your credit card number, download the thing, burn it to your own CD or DVD; just like Apple’s IPod/Itunes. Maybe a little holographic sticker shows up in the mail a few days later. Visualised, virtualised, and automated.

    So, all the people who used to be in the channel, what do they do now ? Does Microsoft still have a use for them ? Do they get their money somehow , or are they thrown to the wolves ?

    I get the feeling that distribution channels are the key to as well as Microsoft Office. You can download from the “horse’s mouth” ; credit card not needed. Thankyou, Sun; a great way to spend a little part of your marketing budget. Probably the key to the ISO ODF XML versus Microsoft Office Open XML, too.

    The growth of the Internet changes things.

  4. Dennis, I did link to Jeliffe’s piece right after I linked to Slahdot. I mentioned them because that’s where I first heard of the the issue. Your link provides additional insight. Thanks.

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