Microsoft must love ODF, and that’s fine, but this is not about ODF

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See their press release: “Microsoft Votes for Choice: Company backs the addition of ODF to American National Standards list.”

My response:

  • Any real and full support for ODF from Microsoft is most welcome. Any time they actively encourage people to adopt ODF, that rate of adoption will accelerate, so this is a good thing.
  • Microsoft believes we need many standards: the industry standards, plus the ones they themselves create. That’s why they want “choice.” If there is no “choice,” the industry might not use what Microsoft creates by itself. Sorry to be cynical, but there you go.
  • I believe the industry wants a common set of the fewest possible non-overlapping standards, and then a large choice of applications that use those standards. An analogy: I don’t want lots of standards for electrical wires and plugs in my house, I want a few standards and then a huge choice of electrical appliances. Microsoft is deliberately trying to confuse the industry and its customers with this bizarre and self-serving “choice of standards” argument, in my opinion.
  • I believe we need convergence of document standards. I would welcome Microsoft’s active and honest participation in further advancing the OpenDocument Format by adding its requirements and expertise. It’s a crying shame that they have been absent from this effort, and we invite them to take their product-specific knowledge embodied in their binary and OOXML (OpenXML) formats, and make them work more generally using modern, well-designed XML for the benefit of all. There’s hope that the China-developed UOF will converge with ODF, and I would welcome the same comrades-in-arms common effort to bring ODF and OOXML together. Remember, ODF is a community based global standards effort.
  • The longer Microsoft continues this charade of OOXML being an independent open standard rather than its actually just being an XMLification of their proprietary product data formats, the longer the industry will have to wait for the full benefits of a single standard. In the meanwhile, ODF will continue to grow in adoption. Remember, we’re only playing with the rate of adoption of ODF here, not the question of whether or not it will happen.

The press release is a PR stunt, sorry to say. The real message is in the middle where Microsoft tries to advance the case for OOXML. That is, this is OOXML promotion using ODF as the vehicle. I think this is obvious.

I’m not a cynical person by nature and I tried to watch my tone here, but a stunt is a stunt. I had hoped for better.

Finally, it’s excellent news that ODF appears to be on the way to being an American National Standard!

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


  1. Sutor dare not say it, but I will as I do not have any conflict of interest to report.

    Microsoft support for ODF certification as ANSI standard, to put it bluntly, is an attempt to allow them to say later, if ANSI has to make a decision on whether to certify EOXML **AND** IBM is against it, that IBM did not play the game in a fair and gentlemanly fashion.

    They will argue that IBM is afraid of the competition and will do everything to stop it and that is proof. They will argue they are not. For proof, they will offer this. What chance do you think there is of MS offering the reason why IBM objected in the same breath, especially how “insignificant” and “rubbish” they think IBM’s reasons are?

    Like Sutor, I will like to see action, not talk. Its cheap to vote yes, even if we adopt voice voting and MS is shouting out loud to be heard.

    That reminds me, next time, when I start an IT company, I need to make sure I put out a PR every time I decided to support any new standard on toilet paper proposed by my National body. After all, I don’t have to do anything and at least everyone will understand why.

  2. One more time — There’s a difference between dreaming and pretending (everyone sing along)

    Dreaming : an aspiration; goal; aim for continued choice, interoperability, longevity — (format is today, access it tomorrow), that there is an opportunity for community driven innovation

    Pretending : to appear falsely, as to deceive; feign: as in “to make believe it’s actually an open standard”

  3. I think the key to it lies with the schools.

    The syllabus for my daughter goes something like “Word Processing with Microsoft Word”.

    It should go more like “Word Processing. Some of us will use Microsoft software. Some of us will use . Some of us will use Google Docs. Some of us will use ‘tar -xzf’ and emacs. Some of us will use IBM Lotus Notes. And because we all use the ISO standard for how our word processing machinery represents things, we can send each other our documents and see what we have each been doing.”

    I don’t think anyone except Microsoft is going to implement ECMA-whatever-it-is, just like no-one except Microsoft is going to implement ‘WIN32’, or ‘DirectX’.

    However, the schools don’t have any money to buy anything with, so they’re not a very promising market for the IBMs of this world to sell to.

    How do we fix it ?

  4. Ward,

    “The syllabus for my daughter goes something like “Word Processing with Microsoft Word”

    That’s not the only one that I see. I have a moral objection when public schools teaches students how to use a particular software that is not “free as in free beer”. I believe the school has the responsibility to ensure a level playing field for their students and such actions will disadvantage less well off students or drive them to become pirates.

    I would also want teachers and students to be using the same software to avoid slight different in formatting if one ‘s teacher is using different program.

    I cannot speak for IBM, but I don’t really think they are interested in the K12 market.

  5. A problem I see (additionally to what you point out accurately), is Microsoft is famous for “embrace and extend”. If they realy do embrace ODF as they claim, they may try to add proprietary extensions to it as they did with Samba/CIFS, and TCP/IP (among other things).

    But, yes, they are most likely playing a “we supported you, you dot’ support us” game.

  6. Indeed, they’ve already added proprietary extensions to OOXML. (See previous blog entry).

  7. FYI, I managed to type in the wrong acronym for the Chinese document standard UOF two times before I got it right. As a bonus for your patience, I added a link to an ars technica article that discusses the history of the convergence proposal.

  8. Well, it’s quite hard to sell things to schools and make a profit at it (at least, if you’re IBM). And if you’re not going to make a profit, then maybe you should leave the business to someone else.

    IBM used to sell things to schools; Personal Computers, OS/2, Lotus SmartSuite, Edmark Software. But IBM’s sold all of those that it’s going to sell; Lenovo, Serenity Systems, and Riverdeep, might sell some more.

  9. ODF is the best candidate for being The standard document format. MS is welcome to release their special purpose format, OOXML (ECMA-376), but trying to turn it into a standard is just abusing the system.

  10. As pointed out elsewhere, it’s that same old argument about ‘choice’, precisely where choice does not belong. Standards are about unification. It was so transparent for one to see this. The press release revolves around that ECMA paper pile.

  11. Have to agree. This seems like a ploy to deflect attention away from Microsoft’s patent stink this week. To steal from Jonathan Schwartz recently: ODF (open source) is a genie you can’t put back in the bottle.

  12. As far as schools go, I think that there is a case for “grass roots agitation”. Ask you r school board why it is spending its resources on MS Office when it can get OpenOffice for free. The argument about MS being the standard doesn’t stack up because MS change the interface of their software in each version. By the time the kids leave school they will have to be re-trained in the new version anyway, all the conceptual stuff that they need to learn is in OpenOffice.

  13. The schools all get Microsoft software for pennies on the dollar, and I don’t personally have the resources to maintain an cluster for them (becuase of having a day-job); so I kind-of wash my hands of it.

    They’d have to show an interest; something more useful than ‘no software to be brought in from home, nor any downloaded from the Internet’.

    I found another pile of interesting open-source software at NASA , for example, and I’d be perfectly willing to help my kids’ schools make something of it. It’s not just ‘operating systems and word processors’ … which are severely commoditised by this stage … but piles more.

    But they do have to ask.

  14. About “I cannot speak for IBM, but I don’t really think they are interested in the K12 market.” . In a sense you are right; IBM does not try very hard to sell to the K-12 market. There are products which might be of interest; and come to mind ; but you have to look at the ‘direct’ channel because all the IBM salesmen are busy trying to sell things to enterprises and governments which have serious money to spend.

    However, IBM does encourage its employees to volunteer their personal time to help in schools. There are some guidelines in respect of open-source software; broadly that an IBM employee cannot evaluate the suitability of something like ‘KnoSciences’ for a school (the school would have to evaluate that for themselves); and that an IBM employee can neither give nor download such software for a school (but can show the school how to download it for themselves).

    The IBM response when an employee does volunteer is to give the school something; usually a Lenovo Personal Computer (which will of course come with Microsoft Windows). It doesn’t matter whether the IBMer has been teaching the use of open-source software, or refilling the school’s printers with toner, or helping out with math lessons; any ‘volunteering of personal time’ will qualify the school for the gift.

    If you take a ‘fishing’ analogy, I’m not allowed to give a fish to a school; nor to evaluate whether the fish would be wholesome to eat; but I can teach the schoolkids how to use a fishing pole.

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