CyberTech Rambler

April 29, 2009

What OOXML is for?

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 1:02 pm

Over at Groklaw, PJ posted a blog post asking what OOXML is for. I did comment on a previous post about her unfair attack on Alex Brown. This post is about the other issues I mentioned in the post.

When comparing postings from pro-OOXML and pro-ODF camps, one  can see that both camps are strongly opined. The difference is pro-ODF postings from tier 1 (read quality) posters are better researched and contains references from external sources. Tier 1 pro-OOXML postings, like mine lousy posts, are personal opinions, depleted of external references.

I did learn a lot from PJ’s post. However, I have to say I disagree with PJ about the exact reason why government should us ODF and not OOXML. She says governments belong to a different category from commercial enterprise. I would not put governments in a different category from big commercial enterprise. I think governments are big commercial enterprises, but with the responsibility to take care of their weaker customers (read citizen) , not discard them like big enterprise do. Why? If I do not like a big company I can choose not to do business with them, but I cannot opt out of any government services. Therefore, when it comes to IT, they must ensure that no citizens are disadvantaged because they are weaker. That is why when an alternative, free (as in money) standard exists (read ODF-based application), proprietary standard that is not free (again as in free beer) has to be avoided because government should not force their citizen to pay to access them.

What really interest me is what PJ dug out about ISO OOXML charter:

“… capable of faithfully representing the preexisting corpus of word-processing documents, spreadsheets and presentations that had been produced by the Microsoft Office applications (from Microsoft Office 97 to Microsoft Office 2008, inclusive) at the date of the creation of ISO/IEC 29500.”  [Emphasis mine]

I emphasized 2008 not because there is no MSOffice 2008 [Stocholm point out MSOffice 2008 is for Mac, see first comment below], but because we are now in 2009. According to the charter, their work stop at MSOffice 2007, putting OOXML  compatibility with the next version of Microsoft Office (Office 14) out of scope. If so, why is the committee working on it on compatibility with the next version of MSOffice.. It is interesting because as I blogged before, I am troubled by the fact that Brown said that

“Microsoft are keen for new features introduced in the “strict” version of OOXML to be mirrored in the “transitional” version – presumably, in part, because Office 14 will use transitional features.

My objection at that time is “transitional” should mean precisely that, i.e., simply docuenting existing features and  no more feature addition, especially for future version of MSOffice. At the time of writing, I believe that whatever features added to Office 14 should go into the “strict” version only. Now having read the charter, the proposed changes should not be even in the “strict” version.

If, they follow that statement through, it means OOXML will only work for compatibility with previous versions of office documents and this stops at MSOfiice 2007.

Of course it is easy to rewrite the charter, as it is only words. However, a charter sets the guideline and scope for one’s work, in agreement with a third party. That is why people do not like to alter the charter. Think about a charter like the consitution for the group, it can be amended if there is consensus, but should not be attempted with great caution, i.e., much greater care than amending a rule.


In defence of Alex Brown

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 12:30 pm

I have to salute Alex Brown for his willingness to engage in the debate of ODF vs OOXML, eventhough he knows the opponent might twist what he said [Declaration of interest. This appears to include me. See this comment]

He commented on GrokLaw knowing that PJ is going to examine every word in minute detail. When it comes to OOXML vs ODF, PJ can at times be blindsighted by her love for ODF.

This post of PJ is something I have a bit of a problem agreeing to everything. There are other issues with the post but that is the topic for another post. In this post, I want to concentrate on Alex Brown conversion with her that was quoted in the post.  After working up that discussion thread, I think his comment was taken out of the context. I do not hink PJ actually asked him about what OOXML is for for the government, but just a general question on what OOXML is for. That means Brown did answer her question by saying what OOXML is for his company. There is no way to generalize this the way PJ did.

Revenge or public interest?

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 12:17 pm

After Microsoft sued TomTom and named some FAT patents on the lawsuit, it will be silly to say that they are not expecting slashback. So here it comes, OIN launch a campaign to examine the patents involved.

There are a few ways to see this and I haven’t made up my mind yet. First will be revenge. The theory goes that MS had fired at FOSS, so now we must seek revenge by at the minimum, give them some trouble even if we cannot overturn the patents.

Second, it is defence. There is a chance that MS, if it haven’t been doing that already, use the publicity as as a showcase that “FOSS violates its patents” and “There is a way around GPL to satisfy your ‘license’ obligation to MS”. Therefore, by campaigning to examine the patents involved, you blunted that edge at least, and defend against yourself.

Third. If you subscribe to the view that there is nothing in the FAT patents that is worth protecting in the sense of the law, OIN is simply seeking justice, i.e., to right what’s wronged. In this scenario, you are the victim and should see justice against your aggressor, MS.

Finally, and this is  the view I sincerely hope anyone who participate in the campaign aims for, is this campaign is about clarifying the FAT patents for the public good. Those patents, in its current stance, make the water murky for those who dare to thread it. I can see the public good in determining, not once and for all as it will take a court decision, but with strong certainty, whether the patents are valid or not.

April 27, 2009

Spin, spin and spin … and one tiny bit of useful information

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 2:43 pm

Wanna see spin management in IT? See  Secret No More: Revealing Windows XP Mode for Windows 7. All those bold prints are interesting enough, if you are an idiot in virtualization land.

So what is it about? Running applications in a Windows XP virtual machine in a way that applications looks like an application running on your native desktop. Nothing new there. Parallels, VMWare all let you do that nowadays and I presume, Virtual PC as well.

Running XP in VirtualPC, even with Windows 7 is not newsworthy enough to be the main story.

However, getting Windows XP for free with certain versions of Windows 7 is. (Virtual PC is already free) That is because a lot of corporate IT users already plan to use this route to run legacy software, telling them they can do it for free save them money, and is newsworthy. Shame it was only given a brief mention in the article.

And why oh why this capability is only for business customers (based on it only available on certain versions of Windows 7)? Surely joe public who buys other editions deserves the same capability?

April 20, 2009

Told you the prosecutors in Pirate Bay case is not that stupid

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 12:49 pm

Yes, they cock up the technology side The cock up on technology side is severe, because the seed of doubt had been casted in the judges’ or juries’ mind that technology alone is not sufficient to convict the defendents.

If you read TorrentFreak account of the event, it is easy to think that the cock up will cause them the case. I for one do not buy it. First, it is written by somebody fluent in technology but not the law, and the law deals with “abstract concepts”, something that is a superset of technology. It judges the defendent/accused on their intention, and merely treat technology as the means to achieve the intention.

Therefore, as the guilty verdict demonstrated, the prosecutors know their job. Whether Pirate Bay is unfairly/wrongly convicted is another issue altogether.  I still haven’t made up my mind yet whether the conviction is fair or right. I can see the arguement behind “contributing” to infringement but I can  yet find a definition for “contributing” (no need to be legally binding definition, but one that I, as a layman, can accept as fair) that draws a bright line on what is allowed and what is not.

Good news for SUN and Oracle, bad for MySQL/Java

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 12:38 pm

Oracle bought SUN. Good news for SUN obviously. Larry Ellison’s claims that “Oracle will be the only company that can engineer an integrated system – applications to disk – …” is not true. IBM is one company that demonstrated that capability. For Oracle/Sun combined company, the way Ellison meant it, i.e., “oracle software” to disk, is today still wishful thinking but is achievable.

Casualties? Java and MySQL for sure, and perhaps SUN’s hardware business. As TheRegister point out, the future of Sun’s hardware business is still in doubt. However, Ellison’s claim of “applications to disk” suggests that it is not throwing out the hardware business. Still, there is no mention of SPARC processors.

Java will take a hit. The Java Community Process is still too SUN heavy. Compared to the coming Oracle heavy future, the SUN heavy days will be pale by comparison. The setback will be temporary as Java is big enough to stands on its own. The worry is there is going to be a fracture between two incompatible versions if things goes really bad.

For MySQL, it could be the worst possible outcome. Remember Oracle purchase of InnoBase was seen as an attack on MySQL? MySQL can retreat into a “proprietary”-only version. The GPL-ed version of MySQL could see its biggest contributor vanish and whether the community can pick it up is questionable.

The silver lining for MySQL is I am wrong and that Oracle’s stand on MySQL had changed since the InnoBase attack. This means positioning MySQL for those who, for whatever reasons,  don’t want to pay for Oracle database, BUT provide a migraiont path to Oracle database should they change their mind.

April 16, 2009

“Apple tax” report backfired on Microsoft. Really?

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 2:20 pm

Over at The Industry Standard, Paul Boutin reported that a Microsoft commissioned “Apple Tax” report backfired at Microsoft as people in the technology world pick it apart. I share the opinion that the report was based on flimsy facts and was picked apart mercilessly and in my opinion, it deserved it.

However, I do not believe it had backfired as I do not think it is aimed at people who have their pulse on the technology. It is aimed as business people.

I see it as part of Microsoft anti-Apple strategy. The first part is to target retail customers. This is what the TV ads are about. The second part is to target business customers, encouraging them to buy more Windows computers than Apple computers. This is what the report is for.

This report is so badly written that I am sure there are people in Microsoft who already picked it apart before the blogosphere do. It is still released. Why? The target audience, those business people are not savvy enough to dig deeper. All they will ask when someone, most likely non-Microsoft sales rep, raise the “Apple Tax” issue is to show them the proof and hey presto, the sales rep point to the report and case closed. While their IT people will protest, even pointing out reports, such as Boutin’s, to support their case, the bottom line is the seed of doubt had been planted in the mind of business people, and importantly, in the mind of those who hold the purse string.

Pick apart by people in the know? Not a problem and there is no need to care about them. We simply go above them and target the “clueless” that is in control of the $$$.

April 14, 2009

Windows and Office going into reduced support phase

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 12:57 pm

Highly anticipated, my only question is, why did it took so long?

Windows XP (and Office 2003) is going into reduced support. It just means maintenance to it is no longer free, but security bug fixes are still free. Having older version of Windows moving into reduced support phase is a routine matter by now and is usually noted as such. Not this one. Unlike moving previous Windows edition to support, this one generate a lot of anxiety because Windows Vista is quite frankly, not up to scratch.

It will now be interesting to see whether the “reduced support” phase might be extended. Only time will tell. This is still not a sure thing as it will depends on Windows 7 performance in the market. If it does not do well, then Microsoft will want to hold on to existing Windows XP customers rather than pushing them to upgrade for the fear of alienating them.

April 13, 2009

MXM License should be disapproved

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 11:06 pm

Carlo Piana submit the MXM license on behalf of MPEG convener for approval by OSI. He got some flanks for doing it because he is seen to be trying to test the water whether is it possible to separate copyright from patents and still get OSI blessing. 

Academically, it is a nice exercise to see whether patent license can be disentangled from copyright license in open source. Unfortunately fro Piana, if he succeeded I am sure the OSD will be rewritten to make sure at least implicit patent grant is required.

As for MXM license, it turn out it is not necessary. When I read his submission for approval email, before I even read the license, I immediately spotted the reason why it cannot be approved. From Piana’s own word:

“I have insisted and obtained, however, that an explicit patent covenant be inserted, to the effect to exclude from any patent concern all who don’t distribute the compiled version of the software and to those who compile it only for internal purposes without direct commercial exploitation. “

That immediately failed the “No Discrimination Against Fields of Endeavor” clause (OSD#6), as Chuck and others point out. In fact, OSD#6 specifically mention that ” … it [Compliant  License] may not restrict the program from being used in a business, or from being used for genetic research.”

I think what happened was Piana was too preoccupied with patent that he forgotten about other aspects of  OSD.

[Aside: That statement reminds me of all the academic-oriented licenses I see at work. A lot of them says no commercial use and for that alone, I concluded that they have no hope whatsoever of being open source. If MXM was accepted, then I really have to go back and re-evaluate them. In addition to no commercial use, a lot of them will say no commercial research and some will even say no redistribution. All these clauses look reasonable on paper for the purpose of “spreading knowledge” among the academic committee. But they do all have unintended consequences, e.g., difficulty for users who are less computer literate than developers to download from multiple sources and integrate them into a final application.  Who am I to complain? I am earning my keep by exploiting this!]

Failing the “No Discrimination Against Fields of Endeavor automatically close the door on MXM license getting the blessing of OSI. This means we do not have to even consider the patent license. However, as a mental exercise, and academically speaking, it will still be interesting to visit the patent issue and dissect the MXM license.

It turns out that a lot of people, Larry Rosen included, believe the patent license, as envisaged by Piana, means an additional license is required to use the source code licensed under MXM. This will fail the “Distribution of License”  clause (OSD#7) which do not allow additional license to be attached to the source code.

Regardless of whether the MXM license satisfy the Open Source Definition, the reference implementation is going to be very useful for the MPEG user community. The truth that community move quite a lot towards sharing source code with the reference implementation. To them, they are going to have pay under RAND anyway so having separate patent license is simply a non-issue. They are also trying to reach out to others who wants to join them. All they ask is that the you join them in what they consider to be the level playing field: Pay for patents just like everyone else if you want to make a buck on the the standard. That is not unreasonable.

However, their current effort do not satisfy the open source requirement.

April 12, 2009

Leopards finally revealing their spots?

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 4:34 pm

After being prompt by Jomar Silva (someone I do respect and is surprised he took the time to comment on my blog) to re-read Alex Brown post, I did and as you would had expected, I am picking up things that I miss the first time round.

First up. Alex Brown says that “I was personally very pleased to see National Bodies well-represented (the minutes are here)”. Counting the nation represented shows that there is only a few countries that attended. I don’t know how to evaluate this information but it does strike me as the norm for only a few nations to attend.

NOW, the criticism based on attendee list. Well-balanced list Mr Brown? Sorry, I do not think so. Only one company which actually produce office application, i.e. Microsoft. Novell don’t, neither do RedFlag. (They do contribute to, but they did not  participate strong enough to qualify as writing it.) The rest are users. Therefore, you are vendor-lite. I do not think this is a good thing, because technical discussion cannot take place since they will require intimate knowledge of how an office application works.

And, as Mr Brown said

“…I’d now ideally like to see some more big vendors coming to the table so their views can be heard. Microsoft (of course) was; but where (for example) are Apple, Oracle and the other vendors who participated in Ecma TC 45 while OOXML was being drafted?”

Good question Mr Brown. Please permit me to add the British Library to the list of notable absentees. If you ask me, and I am sure you will agree, it is not surprising. They all achieved their aim: They want to be able to read older Microsoft binary file in a standard way. The best is to throw a carrot at Microsoft, i.e., help it get OOXML as ISO Standard. The bonus of the process is they can get access to the newer, XML format as well. Now that the aim is already achieved, there is no need to spend money to participate, especially in a credit crunch.

The non-participating Apple is particularly disappointing, as Apple’s iWork is really a refreshing take on how a office application works and I would love to see it use the experience to contribute to OOXML. And while I am attacking apple …. if Apple is serious about OOXML, it should at least provide OOXML output.

Second, at the risk of being accused of nitpicking, this is what Alex Brown said about “strict” and “transitional”

Personally, I think the “strict” format is a new format”

As you will recall, the separation of “strict” and “transitional” is made between the final draft and the BRM. No wonder OOXML has so many defects that need fixing and the committee cannot fix it. If taking a year to define OOXML is bad enough, chunking out a “new” format in less than 6 months is even worse.

Third, and this is a BIG point, why is Microsoft trying to introduce features in “strict” format into “transition” format? As I understand it, “transition” format is suppose to help everyone move from existing Office XML schema, and old binary file to the newer “strict” format. By definition, it is not something under active development. It should be corrected for defect and in no way should new features added to it.

With this revealation, I cannot understand why Mr Brown is prepare to accept consider adding features to “transition” format while at the same time criticises ODF for having two conformance statement, i.e., “Conforming OpenDocument Document” conformance and “Conforming OpenDocument Extended Document” conformance. His criticism centered on the fact that there should only be one conformance statement, i.e., it is conforming or not. I can see the beauty and simplicity of having only one conformance statement. When I read it, the first thing that crossed my mind is OOXML itself has two conformance statements, i.e. “transition” and “strict”. However, I was prepare to give Mr Brown the benefit of doubt, after all, I can accept that “transition” format is not a conformance statement in the long run as it is simply a bridge from older formats to the new one. Unfortuantely, “transition” format is a conformance statment  if one is developing the “transition” format, as Microsoft is proposing to do with the feature addition. Why? the number of documents covered by the “transition” format will increase, not decrease, as expected in a “transition” format. Moreover, it is going to cover documents that are yet to be created. This is a mockery of the term “transition”. The increased lifespan of the “transition” format means it qualify as a second conformance statement and why is Mr Brown OK with this, but not with ODF?

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