IBM votes NO on Open XML in ECMA

We just got a call from a reporter, so I guess this information is public and I want to confirm it for you.

IBM voted NO today in ECMA on approval for Microsoft‘s Open XML spec.

I think Rob Weir and I (as well as many others) have made it clear in the last few months why we think the OpenDocument Format ISO standard is vastly superior to the Open XML spec. ODF is what the world needs today to drive competition, innovation, and lower costs for customers. It is an example of a real open standard versus a vendor-dictated spec that documents proprietary products via XML. ODF is about the future, Open XML is about the past. We voted for the future.

Anyway, just wanted you to know.

Also see:

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

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69 Responses to IBM votes NO on Open XML in ECMA

  1. Tom Z says:

    As a software developer outside the PPA industry, I just see this as a simple “clash of the Titans.” It is clear to me that both sides of the argument, and both file formats, have merit, and you could justify a decision to side with either one.

    I think standards work best when there are exactly 2 viable, competing entities. Less than 2, you have monopoly (way up until now), and more than 2, you have more splintering than application developers and end users can cope with. But with exactly 2, you have the benefits of competition (quality, innovation, drive, ambition), without the drawbacks of more, without any player being able to dominate, and it is clear that 2 standards can exist in the marketplace in the long-term.

    Examples of this that come to mind are USB vs. FireWire, DTDs vs. XML Schema, AMD and Intel for x86, etc.

    So, in my view, I would like to see both formats be viable players in this space, and I would hope to see the main vendors support both, and the prime movers for the formats keep up the competitive spirit.

  2. Pepe says:

    “Good to see technical arguments on your side. Keep up! Hope this standard wont pass,
    as it has only one implementation, and this implementation seems more authoritative than specification”

    Michal, the Open XML standard already did pass. IBM chose to use the occasion to grandstand, but it passed nonetheless, nearly unanimously.

    Secondly, there is only one implementation for now, but Novell and Corell will be implenting it as well. Apple too, probably.

  3. Bob Sutor says:

    No, Pepe, we decided to stand up and make a point about what we thought was the right and wrong direction for the industry. Sometimes you just have to do that. Moreover, in a democratic process you should vote the way you feel. We did.

    As I said above and many times before, we have been speaking to this point for nearly a year. Our vote should have been a surprise to absolutely no one who has been paying attention to this issue.

    Per my request above, please mention your affiliation should you decide to comment again. Thanks.

  4. Cyril says:

    I agree with you that in theory a standard should be defined before any implementation is made. However, I see nothing wrong when it goes the other way around, especially when it comes from an implementation that is so widely adopted and rich as the Microsoft Office System. I am a pragmatic software architect. I am not affiliated to Microsoft in any way. I have been working with OOXML for over six months now, and it is a pretty damned good format. More importantly, I can now deliver features to my customers that I would not have dreamed of before.
    As for saying that IBM’s vote is not driven by politics, this is just denying the obvious. IBM makes the same kind of moves toward SUN on the JAVA platform (Open SOA anyone?)
    Microsoft does not have a “we’re right, you’re wrong” attitude about it. It could be just a specification. But they rightfully make a standardization claim for it. Again, I do not see what’s wrong with that. I do not have the feeling that they have forced their way through. A huge number of people worked hard for this to happen. I find it a bit disrespectful to insinuate that it passed ECMA just because they are Microsoft and that ECMA is just an organization-for-hire anyway.
    You are a fine blogger, and you claim to be honest about what you write. Maybe it’s just not done conscientiously. Your initial arguments are valid, but your reasoning and your conclusions are clearly biased.

    — Cyril

  5. Chris Ward says:

    I work for IBM as a development engineer. When I write documents, they are intended to communicate their meaning forever, to whoever will read them, with whatever they have to hand to read them with. There have been lots of ways of reading them over the years; teletypes, mainframe printers, dumb terminals, personal computers, and probably games consoles next. They come out like this
    I know that if my successors have access to the reviseable form, then they will be able to revise it; even if PCs have gone the way of typewriters by then. ISO ODF XML suits my purposes just fine.

    But I know that there are salesmen in the corporation — we do sell stuff, as well as research and develop it, thankfully; and I think their needs are different. They need documents like this ; flashier, but if it survives to the end of the quarter then it has done its job. Next quarter, new references, new clients, repeat business doing something new for old clients; but really no need to revise or even read the old document.

    Probably you do need something with a 7000-page-and-growing description to handle the flashiness of these kind of documents; and maybe a Playstation3 or an XBox360 with its supercomputer chip will be better at presenting them than the Personal Computer we use at the moment. But do you really need ECMA’s or ISO’s approval for the ‘sales pitch’ ?

    So I think it’s a matter of the document’s intended lifespan. Long life, use ISO standard. Short life, no need for standard.

  6. Bob Sutor says:

    Cyril, Everybody is operating here in the way they think is best for the industry and best for their technical strategy. That is the bias that everyone, including Microsoft, is showing. We have a fundamental difference of what we mean my “openness” and I see this every day. I see this every day when I walk into a government office and am told what others think about standards and openness. This boils down to a basic philosophical difference and we and any many others have different views than Microsoft. Let me paraphrase someone dear to me: “Of course I’m going to argue with you. I think I’m right and I’m wrong.”

    What I write and what I say come from my experience in the industry and from the behavior, sometimes not public, that I’ve seen over and over. As to any insinuation, I don’t believe I’ve said anything specifically about ECMA. We’re a member there as well as in hundreds of other places. They are all different. I respect your opinion, but I also maintain my conclusions come from my experience and knowledge.

  7. Michael Osborne says:

    I used to be an IT Manager on a large Gov project. That project started with DOS and ended with XP. We were required to keep project records for 40 years. There were many documents created at the beginning of the project that were unreadable by the end. Some of the companies that wrote the software used were long gone.

    I know first hand the issues of long-term storage and readability. I’ve also dealt over and over again with compatibility issues between file formats, both between programs and between different versions of the same program.

    I think the difference between OOXML and ODF is best summed up by their respective charters:

    From the ECMA TC45 Charter:


    The goal of the Technical Committee is to produce a formal standard for office productivity applications within the Ecma International standards process which is fully compatible with the Office Open XML Formats. The aim is to enable the implementation of the Office Open XML Formats by a wide set of tools and platforms in order to foster interoperability across office productivity applications and with line-of-business systems. The Technical Committee will also be responsible for the ongoing maintenance and evolution of the standard.

    From the Oasis ODF TC Charter:

    Statement of Purpose

    The purpose of this TC is to create an open, XML-based file format specification for office applications.

    The resulting file format must meet the following requirements:

    1. it must be suitable for office documents containing text, spreadsheets, charts, and graphical documents,
    2. it must be compatible with the W3C Extensible Markup Language (XML) v1.0 and W3C Namespaces in XML v1.0 specifications,
    3. it must retain high-level information suitable for editing the document,
    4. it must be friendly to transformations using XSLT or similar XML-based languages or tools,
    5. it should keep the document’s content and layout information separate such that they can be processed independently of each other, and
    6. it should ‘borrow’ from similar, existing standards wherever possible and permitted.


    Note that the TC45 charter states in the very *first* sentence that they intend to create a standard “which is fully compatible with the Office Open XML Formats.” A little clever word play there since OOXML is also the name of the standard. What they mean there is the format used by Microsoft Office 2007. That’s a pretty serious constraint and certainly isn’t open when only Microsoft decides what format is in Microsoft Office.

    Note that the ODF spec does not state that it will be compatible with *any* particular piece of software, not, not StarOffice, nothing.

    Unlike TC45, the ODF TC erected no barriers to changes.

    Also, it is possible for individuals to participate and vote in the ODF TC. Only companies may participate and vote in TC45.

  8. hAl says:

    IBM seems oblivious to what people using Office applications really want.
    People do not choose MS Office because of it’s format but because of it’s features and usability. People do not want to lose any of that functionality for some standards discussion. Therefore the OOXML format has merit in that it support what the people using MS Office want and also makes the format useable for others.
    Probably ODF is a simpler format for others to use and it reuses other standards but at the moment it wouldn’t be usefull for what we the people want. It is mostly usefull for what idealists want.

    Btw, I am glad you aren’t moderating the way Rob Weir does in his anti-ooxml campaign and that this blog at least allows for some discussion between people wanting to discuss merits of fault in BOTH formats.

  9. Bob Sutor says:

    hAl, No, no, no! I want anyone to use any application that they want! That’s the choice customers should have. Of course I recognize Microsoft’s market position with Office and know that its feature set is one of the reasons why the marker position is what it is. My main point is that that ODF will enable many applications, some with more or fewer features, to all use the same format. Microsoft’s Open XML is designed so that only Microsoft will be able to implement it all.

    Word processors etc. are not rocket science. We’re not going to see a lot of need for extensive format changes. ODF does not slow down innovation there one bit, and I think it will encourage innovation on what people use the information for. ODF will continue to gain momentum and evolve because the community will work together to make sure it is as featurefull as necessary but with a good design that everyone can use.

    I think MS will eventually have to respond to their customers and provide first class, native support for ODF. At that point you will have your cake and eat it too.

  10. Olivier says:

    I completely agree with Bob and IBM position .
    If Microsoft wanted to improve the interoperability and their service to their customers, they would adopt ODF and give up with their uggly and
    obscur format. Instead they are busy with manoeuvres to keep and
    strengthen their monopoly.
    Competition is not a matter of format but tools and services!

  11. Gerard Fernandes says:

    [QUOTE] hAl
    IBM seems oblivious to what people using Office applications really want.
    People do not choose MS Office because of its format but because of its features and usability.[/QUOTE]

    I did not see Bob Sutor or Rob Weir make any comments advocating use or disuse of Microsoft Office. The point they’ve been trying to make is of the document standard. To anyone who has cared to go into any detail on this issue, it is quite clear that the MS Open XML is not easily transformed via XSLT. That in itself should be sufficient to make it a flawed specification.

    The point here is that MS is hijacking the standardistation process because it wants to retain control of user-data.

    Only those of you who do not understand this, or do not care about their own data, will happily embrace MS Open XML.

    For people who care about their own data and real interoperability, the choice is obvious.

    But of course, freedom of choice does allow short-sighted and unconcerned people to choose what they think best for themselves.

  12. Marbux says:

    Bob, you are very apparently being astroturfed on this article.

    Mr. hAI is the most frequent vandalizer on the Wikipedia OpenDocument-related pages. He is also one of the primary authors of the Wikipedia Microsoft Office Open XML pages, which are a fount of disinformation. You will also find many of his fawning comments on Brian Jones blog.

    Tom Gustavson is apparently a newly-minted monicker. I did a thorough Google search for both “Tom Gustavson” and “Thomas Gustavson.” The identity he describes seems to have never before posted anything on the portion of the Web indexed by Google. Given his supposed qualifications, that seems beyond unlikely and regardless, it does not explain why he apparently chose this article for his first-ever posts on the Web.

    Add to the above the fact that the points being made by those two and a couple of other commentors are taken directly from Microsoft’s ODF disinformation talking points, and I find their comments unworthy of response. These people — I would not rule out the possibility that they may be the same person using different nyms — are attempting to create the illusion that there is this teeming mass of people out there who are demanding EOOXML. There is not. EOOXML’s “grassroots” wave of advocacy is manufactured entirely by astroturfers like “hAI” and “Tom Gustavson.”

    They are easy to spot not just because they work from Microsoft’s script but also because they deal in disinformation, making the kind of statements that might seem plausible to the layman but are preposterous to those familiar with the technology.

    You spoke an undeniable truth in your article: “ODF is about the future, Open XML is about the past.” Please don’t let the astroturfers divert you from documenting that truth.

  13. Bob Sutor says:

    I’ve tried to let all the comments through even if they repeat points from the standard list of talking points, if only to document them and let people publicly refute them.

  14. hAl says:

    [quote]Mr. hAI is the most frequent vandalizer on the Wikipedia OpenDocument-related pages. He is also one of the primary authors of the Wikipedia Microsoft Office Open XML pages, which are a fount of disinformation.[/quote]

    I have never vandalized the OpenDocument article. I cleaned up a lot of POV or old stuff on it and a lot of double links. Please name the part I vandalized which wasn’t double old or POV.
    I indeed wrote most of the current OpenXML article as well. Name one bit of disinformation I added in that article please. Try and look at wat it was before. It is now a clean article describing what OOXML is. If you want to bitchfight about OpenXML vs ODF then keep it out of wikipedia please. Leave that on groklaw Marbux where I believe you burn OOXML every few articles. That is fine. I read that too with great interest.

    And I do not just write on Brains blog but also on Rob Weir blog but not all comments on that blog are allowed.

    And your comment about using multiple identities is just pathetic. It is like me suggesting you work for IBM as well…

  15. hAl says:

    [quote]hAl, No, no, no! I want anyone to use any application that they want! Thats the choice customers should have. Of course I recognize Microsofts market position with Office and know that its feature set is one of the reasons why the marker position is what it is. My main point is that that ODF will enable many applications, some with more or fewer features, to all use the same format. Microsofts Open XML is designed so that only Microsoft will be able to implement it all.[/quote]

    Frankly I do not think that there will be more than a few applications that are able to compete in using the ODF format in full. Even implementing ODF and the standards implied by that is a huge undertaking. I would expect 4 to 6 main suites that are going to take a swing at it for real. I hope the competetion might lead to a better competitor for MS Office as well.

    When I say the people want the functionality of OpenXML I do not mean they compare functionality of ODF with OpenXML. Clearly ODf has some nice strong points in using open standards. But the problem is with ODF is that it does not offer the people that buy Office software anything that Ofiice Open XML doesn ‘t also give then and then OOXML give s the reassurance that is is compatible with all that the people already have. That is a strong point for OpenXML. The open standards are good for OSS an mayby even for politics but they do not really do much for users unless the applications that offer ODF formats can outperform MS Office in functionality and in userconfidence.
    I think our organisation will choose for OOXML for at least the next 5 years for several reasons:
    a) the formats fits our needs and provides all required office functionaity
    b) the format is compatible with most of our millions of documents
    c) the format is likely to be accepted by 90% or more of our contact within a year.
    ODF we think only fits requirement a) and then bearly as we consider version 1.0 as insufficient but at least 1.2 is starting to look better.
    We also note quite a few flaws in OOXML but we also think that in a year that will improve at which time we might consider our new office suite choices.

    At the moment ODF does not yet fill us with the confidence needed for it to be our choice. I wish IBM and all the pro-ODF people would focus more on improving their favorite format and not just look to MS for their obvious flaws. To us who have to spend the money I do not like giving it to MS aggain but at the moment I certainly wouldn’t put it down for what ODF implementations there are now.
    I n chi\anging my mind you need not bash OOXML but you need to convince me that ODF is what I would want.
    Make me want ODF and not just because it is loveable and idealistically standardised. Make me want it because it provides better stuff I can use !!

  16. Bob Sutor says:

    Ok, I’ve let those comments come in, but let’s keep this focused on Microsoft Office Open XML, Open Document Format, and standards. Let’s all try to be constructive and avoid the personal attacks.

    hAl, have you actually looked at the specs and compared documents written in each?

    Incidentally, there is no reason for the world to just hack Microsoft’s format and make it a little better. Many of us believe that there are times when we can significantly improve the technology and move things to a new level. I fully understand that sometimes the best technology doesn’t win, but that is a very bad excuse to avoid trying to improve that technology.

  17. hAl says:

    I definitly wish that ODF was such a much better technology Bob but currently it isn’t much better. It has some things that are better but other that I have doubts about. I like the fact that it reuses standards but also I fear that it might work against ODF in pushing technologie forwards as some of those standards are rusty of might have independant paths to the future.
    I like the thought of programming support from the OSS world but I think it probably the OSS community needs to focus that support for ODF. This might be where for instance Sun and IBM could assist.
    One thing I definitly need is more reference implementations of ODF. Currently I find the spec just is not good enough to easily create documents from it. I can only create documents using myself using example documents made by OOo and then soemtimes even allthough I alter them in such a way that it seems in complete accordance with the specs the documents do not show my alterations or even become invalid. ODF needs large libraries of example documents and of example implemetations of each part of the spec. As a former programmer the OOXML spec is a lots better start at the moment just because a lot of items are explained a bit better within the spec itself. Also MS Office is a much better reference than OOo. Not because it is a better application but because I know that all will follow MS in it’s implementation of OOXML. I do not worry about alternate implementations with OOXML where with ODF I might have KOffice users using KOffice as a reference and OOo users using OOo as a reference. A spec that is ment for interoperability and use by many applications needs to be a lot more tight on its specs and especially the implemetation of them. I see a lot of room for improvement in this area. Already some parties are creating reference documents but I miss a central place for this you might even say I miss a technology leader as well.

    I hope that ODF will grow better and compete with OOXML not just on the least pages in the spec or on reusing other standards but also on some of those thing that will make OOXML succesfull.

    p.s. Rob, open your blog for more than just people agreeing with your view.

  18. Gerard Fernandes says:

    [QUOTE]But the problem is with ODF is that it does not offer the people that buy Office software anything that Ofiice Open XML doesn t also give then and then OOXML give s the reassurance that is is compatible with all that the people already have. That is a strong point for OpenXML. The open standards are good for OSS an mayby even for politics but they do not really do much for users unless the applications that offer ODF formats can outperform MS Office in functionality and in userconfidence.[/QUOTE]

    1) You are blurring standard with product. ODF became a standard before OpenXML. If Microsoft was serious about standards, they could simply adopt ODF. If you want to buy Microsoft Office, nobody is stopping you. Nobody is saying that you HAVE to switch to OpenOffice.
    2) OpenXML does not offer 100% compatibility with all MS Word documents since the beginning of time. MS Word itself does not offer compatibility with all Word documents produced across all versions of Word from the very first version. So your statement is simply rubbish. ODF on the other hand, guarantees forward and backward compatibility.
    3) Open standards are good. Period.

    The very fact that Microsoft rushed through creating an XML format because the state of Massachussets chose an EXISTING OPEN STANDARD (ODF) should speak volumes about what Microsoft really wants to do here – control user data.

    Let me spell that out again for you since you insist on turning a blind eye – CONTROL USER DATA.

    As long as Microsoft CONTROL USER DATA, Microsoft controls the user upgrade cycle. Microsoft FORCES people to stick to Microsoft Office simply because no one else can duplicate Microsoft Office.

    If you disagree, this is the same argument that applies to Firefox vs IE. Despite being standards compliant, Firefox has to keep tracking IE irregularities just to be IE compatible.

    If you don’t see that this is Microsoft’s way of ensuring their monopoly, you are quite simply one or more of the following:
    1. Blind
    2. Exrememly short-sighted
    3. Don’t care about interoperability because you run/work in a Microsoft only shop
    4. Don’t care about who controls your data
    5. Are perfectly happy to let a vendor dictate when you need to upgrade

    Rob Weir:
    Please continue to keep people who show a genuine lack of fore-sight or common-sense away from your blog. Thank you.

  19. Bob Sutor says:

    Ok, and with that I’m going to wrap up the comments on this entry. Thanks to all those who participated. I think we got a lot of opinions from both sides.

    The debate, however, will continue. This is a fundamental question of how the industry will proceed. Will we adapt old proprietary ways with a little openness sprinkled on top, or will we really move to a community-based approach where experts can all work together to innovate and give us a platform for the future. It’s going to be a long process because of the amount of money involved. We will get to the latter situation, but it will take time. We need patience and perseverance. That said, this is all moving faster than any of us imagined.

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