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.

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28 Comments »

  1. “I emphasized 2008 not because there is no MSOffice 2008”

    The latest Microsoft Office version for the Mac is called “Microsoft Office 2008”.

    http://www.microsoft.com/mac/default.mspx

    :o)

    Comment by Jesper Lund Stocholm — April 29, 2009 @ 1:24 pm | Reply

  2. @Stocholm

    I’ll buy it in the context of the standard, although the accurate name is MacOffice 2008

    😉

    Comment by ctrambler — April 29, 2009 @ 1:36 pm | Reply

  3. The reason that there may be confusion about the “purpose” of IS29500 is that it has multiple purposes.

    The starting point to disentangling these is to understand that it is really multiple standards. (I will not use the term OOXML, since it is used informally to cover both the strict and transitional as well as other things.)

    The transitional version is “looking back”; the strict version is “looking forward”.

    An example use of the transitional format is for archiving, when you want to capture and store exactly *everything* in an old Office document, but in an XML format, even if it uses obsolete features of Office that were jettisoned more than 10 years ago. That transitional version is also the same as: 1) The format used in Office 2007, and 2) ECMA-376 (apart from one unfortunate bug, of which too much has been made).

    The strict format jettisons all obsolete features, and improves others, e.g., date formats. When a complete implementation of it becomes available in Office 2010, it should be the one used for all purposes except strict archiving. That is not to say that the transitional standard should not be maintained. Maintenance is not the same as adding features.

    In the meanwhile, since the strict and transitional formats are nearly identical, companies are using the transitional format.

    As for your comment about government, I agree. A government is just like a large corporation as far as IT goes, just maybe a bit more inefficient. Someone like PJ talks about it separately because they want governments to mandate *against* the use of ISO29500.

    Comment by Ian Easson — April 29, 2009 @ 1:46 pm | Reply

  4. @Easson

    “The transitional version is “looking back”; the strict version is “looking forward”.”

    That is what I understood as well, but if you put features available only in Office 14 into “transitional”, it is not looking backward, is it?

    The second problem is with the charter. The charter limit the scope to 2008 and below. This means Office 2009’s file format is not in the scope, therefore should not be part of the work of the working group.

    “That is not to say that the transitional standard should not be maintained. Maintenance is not the same as adding features.”

    I agree that maintenance is not the same as adding features. Maintenance work has to be carried out for every standard and it will be _wrong_ for me to complain about maintenance work.

    However, maintenance is not the question here.

    The quote from Alex Brown’s blog mentioned the keyword “new features” which leads me to believe it is not a maintenance issue, but new features, not found in Office 2008 and introduced for Office 14.

    “As for your comment about government, I agree. A government is just like a large corporation as far as IT goes, just maybe a bit more inefficient. Someone like PJ talks about it separately because they want governments to mandate *against* the use of ISO29500.”

    One do not have to separate government from corporation to want governments to mandate against the use of OOXML. I do, especially if you considers “against” to mean not on the approved list of standards.

    Comment by ctrambler — April 29, 2009 @ 2:02 pm | Reply

  5. @Ian: you wrote: “The transitional version is “looking back”; the strict version is “looking forward”. […] That transitional version is also the same as: 1) The format used in Office 2007, and 2) ECMA-376 (apart from one unfortunate bug, of which too much has been made). The strict format jettisons all obsolete features, and improves others, e.g., date formats.”

    This is not correct. In fact,
    – Transitional = ECMA-376 (1st edition) + all improvements
    – Strict = ECMA-376 (1st edition) + all improvements – obsolete features.

    This is confirmed by Alex Brown, who wrote recently: “Another hot topic of discussion is what the “transitional” version of OOXML is really for. One interesting and slightly surprising fact that emerged after the BRM is that the strict schemas are a true subset of the transitional schemas.” (see http://www.adjb.net/post/SC-34-Meetings-Prague-Days-2-3-4.aspx)

    The interesting part is “the strict schemas are a true subset of the transitional schemas”. This is why Microsoft cannot currently support the ISO version of OOXML, even the Transitional one: they first have to add all the new features that were added to the Transitional version during the BRM.

    So, ECMA-376 (1ed) is “looking back”, but ISO-29500 Transitional is not simply “looking back”: it is a “mutant”, that is both looking backward and looking forward. ISO 29500 Strict is indeed “looking forward”.

    “The strict format jettisons all obsolete features […] When a complete implementation of it becomes available in Office 2010, it should be the one used for all purposes except strict archiving”: I agreed with this.

    But then, we are back to the question: “What OOXML is for ?”
    – For pure archiving purpose, you should use ECMA-376 (1ed), which describes the MS Office 2007 version OOXML (at least partly, as e.g. macros are not covered).
    – For the future documents, you could use ISO-29500 Strict, but you can also use ODF, that is also “looking forward” and that also jettisoned the obsolete features of the MS Office formats.
    – So, indeed, who needs the ISO-29500 Transitional format ? Currently, nobody, as there is no application implementing it. And when Office 14 will be available, the best choice will be ISO-29500 Strict, which is a true subset of the Transitional schemas.

    Last remark: as Transitional is a subset of Strict, Microsoft should only support ECMA-376 (1ed) for archiving in XML documents created before Office 14 is available, and ISO-29500 Strict for new documents created with Office 14. Or better: they could replace ISO-29500 Strict with ODF 1.2, to improve compatibility with the other applications 😉

    Comment by Luc Bollen — April 29, 2009 @ 6:07 pm | Reply

  6. @Bollen

    Thanks for the clarification. “Transitional”, at present, is definitely looking like the superset of “Strict” the way you explained. The word “transitional”, however says to be that it is temporary. If we insist “trasitional” will always be the superset, then there is no way “Transitional” will ever be a temporary thing.

    Moreover, with the superset definition, it means anything that makes it into “strict” will automatically makes it into “transitional”, which will make Brown’s statement that the working group is considering mirroring new features into “transitional” moot.

    I will say “transitional” is the superset of “strict”, with a time limit imposed. Therefore, for a limited time only, it can be “looking forward”. What is happening is someone forgotten to specify the time limit, which leads to the discussion whether new features in “strict” should be mirrored into “transition”.

    To me, it does not make sense to put new features introduced in Office 14 into “Transitional”. “Strict”? Yes, but not “transitional” since it unnecessarily extended the time frame for “transitional”.

    One question still remains, how does one add new features to Transitional or Strict given the charter can be read to exclude new features introduced in future version of MS Office, including Office 14?

    Comment by ctrambler — April 29, 2009 @ 7:00 pm | Reply

  7. ctrambler,

    The scope of IS29500 is:

    “ISO/IEC 29500 defines a set of XML vocabularies for representing word-processing documents, spreadsheets and presentations. On the one hand, the goal of ISO/IEC 29500 is to be 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. It also specifies requirements for Office Open XML consumers and producers. On the other hand, the goal is to facilitate extensibility and interoperability by enabling implementations by multiple
    vendors and on multiple platforms.
    This Part of ISO/IEC29500 specifies concepts for documents and applications of both strict and transitional conformance.”

    Notice the use of the phrase “on one hand” and “on the other hand”. I think that allows us for including not only maintenance of IS29500 in the the context of describing the content in existing documents but also development of IS29500 in the context of adding new stuff presented to us in SC34/WG4.

    That said, I never actually thought of the potential problem that the scope could prevent us from adding new things to IS29500.

    :o)

    Comment by Jesper Lund Stocholm — April 30, 2009 @ 7:33 am | Reply

  8. ctrambler, I don’t think you should see Transitional as being the superset. It has not been *defined* as such.

    Here is my view on this: ISO-OOXML was so bloated with legacy features (such as having both VML and DrawingML included) and invalid concepts (such as 1900 being a leap year) that many people thought that a “cleaned” version was needed.

    The first proposal was to *deprecate* the obsolete features, but on one hand it was quite ironic to deprecate features in the first version of the standard (i.e. deprecate features that were never defined previously…), and on the other hand the legitimization of OOXML was based on its ability to represent the old documents (i.e. the obsolete features had to remain in the standard).

    So, the solution was to rename the full version as Transitional, and to prepare a cleaned version of the schema named Strict. The remaining question now is to find a purpose for each version…

    Either you consider Transitional as temporary, but then you don’t need it at all: you are better served for archiving the current documents by ECMA-376 (1ed), which more accurately describe the existing Office 2007 documents. Or you consider Temporary as the true reference, but then you must include each new feature in both Strict and Temporary, and in fact you no longer need Strict, because Temporary will remain forever !

    My conclusion is that both ISO-29500 Temporary and ISO-29500 Strict are not needed. As I said above, Microsoft would be better inspired to scrap ISO-29500 once and for all now, and to keep the solution existing currently in Office 2007 SP2: to support ECMA-376 (1ed) and ODF!

    Comment by Luc Bollen — April 30, 2009 @ 10:22 am | Reply

  9. @Bollen

    Thanks for your view on what “Transitional” is. I thought that the working group had decided that will get rid of “Transitional” format in a few years time, i.e., still in use, but only for older (pre 2009) documents.

    I still think we will get rid of “Transitional” format. But rather than mandated by working group, it will depends on when Microsoft stop writing “transitional”. Overall, the status quo haven’t changed, i.e., in whichever case the decision to stop using “Transitional” still depends on Microsoft. Still, given the perceived dominant of MS on OOXML, you would had thought Microsoft would throw the working group a bone byabiding to its rule on scraping “transitional”, rather than dictating it to them. 😦

    Comment by ctrambler — April 30, 2009 @ 12:01 pm | Reply

  10. @Stocholm

    It is strange to have “on the one hand,… on the other hand” in a charter statement, but I suppose that is a style issue.

    I can see what you meant. My cultural disposition is to say that they are identifying two conflicting issues and potentially unreconciliable, but I do not think I can read it this way. That was why I read both as equal to meaning the same thing, i.e., to facilitate extensibility and interoperability by enabling implementations by multiple
    vendors and on multiple platforms but only on Office 97 to 08 inclusive.

    Having said all that, may be I am the only one who read it this way. ;-(

    Comment by ctrambler — April 30, 2009 @ 12:06 pm | Reply

  11. ctrambler,

    “Having said all that, may be I am the only one who read it this way. ;-(”

    Well … maybe. I am sure it won’t be a _real_ problem. In case anyone wanted us to stop working on new stuff, I am sure we’d change the scope or stop working completely.

    🙂

    Comment by Jesper Lund Stocholm — April 30, 2009 @ 12:12 pm | Reply

  12. ctrambler, you are right in your comments, but when you write “it will depends on when Microsoft stop writing “transitional””, note that Microsoft has not yet started to create Transitional files: what they are producing now in Office 2007 is ECMA-376 (1st edition) files. So, it will depends in fact on what Microsoft produces in Office 14: Transitional files or Strict files.

    But note that Microsoft is currently muddying the waters: they are currently producing Binary files, ECMA-376 files and ODF files. We can assume that one day they will start producing ISO Strict files. If in between they produce also ISO Temporary files, that will be 5 different flavours of Office document files put in the wild by Microsoft in a few years.

    At the same time, their new motto is that they want to improve interoperability ! I think that a better way to achieve interoperability would be to limit the different flavours of files being produced, not invent a new flavour each year. 😦

    Comment by Luc Bollen — April 30, 2009 @ 12:22 pm | Reply

  13. @Bollen

    “note that Microsoft has not yet started to create Transitional files”

    Now I see your argument. I must admit I had forgotten that MSOffice had yet to implement ISO OOXML.

    I agree they should stick to ECMA-376 (1ed) and ODF. May be “Strict” or otherwise there will be no office application who can “write” OOXML yet. Read? Plenty. Write? A lot more difficult to find.

    Comment by ctrambler — April 30, 2009 @ 12:49 pm | Reply

  14. […] to be that interested in OOXML any more and some possible reasoning behind the apparent apathy. The other quite literally had me in hysterics (ROTFL). It’s not the post so much as the comments […]

    Pingback by The Open Sourcerer » OOXML: Nobody knows (or cares) what it is for or why. — April 30, 2009 @ 8:42 pm | Reply

  15. “Notice the use of the phrase “on one hand” and “on the other hand”. I think that allows us for including not only maintenance of IS29500 in the the context of describing the content in existing documents but also development of IS29500 in the context of adding new stuff presented to us in SC34/WG4.”

    Jesper, that statement unqualified makes no sense. Adding new stuff, to what purpose? There is already an ISO approved format for editing documents, and its called ODF. ODF is the only format for new documents. OOXML’s purpose, according to ISO, was ONLY to have backward compatability with Microsoft binary documents.

    So if you are adding anything new to the OOXML format please confirm you are only adding pieces that will better enable OOXML to have backwards comptability with Microsoft’s old formats. Any new functionality for any new documents whatsoever, created anew and not as part of some old Microsoft ecosystem must be added to ODF, the only ISO format for that.

    Adding “new stuff presented to you” to OOXML? Sure. But new stuff presented to you only FOR WORKING WITH MICROSOFT’S OLD FORMATS, right?

    Comment by Santonioni — May 1, 2009 @ 5:30 am | Reply

  16. Hi Santonioni,

    “Jesper, that statement unqualified makes no sense. Adding new stuff, to what purpose? There is already an ISO approved format for editing documents, and its called ODF. ODF is the only format for new documents. OOXML’s purpose, according to ISO, was ONLY to have backward compatability with Microsoft binary documents.”

    That is actually not true. JTC1/SC34 set up ad ad hoc group (AHG1) at the Oslo plenary in Spring 2008 (as I recall it) to look at how ISO should handle IS29500 in the future. Do remember that it is the prerogative of ISO to handle any standard ISO approves in any way it sees fit. The AGH1 meeting in London in Summer 2008 made some recommendations, the most important one was to create a working group to handle IS29500.

    The notes from this meeting are available here: http://www.itscj.ipsj.or.jp/sc34/open/1055.htm . Notice section 4.2 that says

    “4.2 WG description

    – The WG description scope shall be “Maintenance of, and projects directly and exclusively related to, ISO/IEC 29500”.

    – [Note: “Maintenance” in JTC 1 terms includes the following activities: revision, withdrawal, periodic review, correction of defects, amendment, and stabilization.]

    – [Note: see http://www.jtc1sc34.org, Directives 2.6]”

    “amendments” are additions to the specification.

    These recommendations were later approved by the SC34 plenary in Jeju in Fall 2009. The resolutions are here: http://www.itscj.ipsj.or.jp/sc34/open/1099.htm

    Resolution 2 says:

    “Resolution 2: Establishment of Working Group 4

    SC 34 establishes Working Group 4 as follows:

    Title: Office Open XML

    Terms of reference: Maintenance of, and projects directly and exclusively related to, ISO/IEC 29500

    SC 34 instructs its Secretariat to issue a call for participation to the SC 34 members and to request ISO and IEC to publicise the existence of WG 4 to encourage participation from all who are eligible.

    Unanimous”

    So SC34 has chosen to work with IS29500 – even when it goes further than sync’ing with the old binary document formats.

    “Adding “new stuff presented to you” to OOXML? Sure. But new stuff presented to you only FOR WORKING WITH MICROSOFT’S OLD FORMATS, right?”

    Well, no. If Microsoft presents something for us, I’d presume it was because they had plans to use it in their product. Should IBM or any other vendor present something for us, we’d consider this as well as the ones from Microsoft.

    Actually, the first extension proposal has already landed on our desk. It is from the Japanese national body and you can read it here: http://www.itscj.ipsj.or.jp/sc34/wg4/archive/sc34-wg4-2009-0027.pdf

    Comment by Jesper Lund Stocholm — May 1, 2009 @ 6:53 am | Reply

  17. Ctrambler – did my reply to Santoioni dissapear?

    Comment by Jesper Lund Stocholm — May 1, 2009 @ 7:53 am | Reply

  18. Ctrambler,

    Never mind – it’s there now.

    :o)

    /Jesper

    Comment by Jesper Lund Stocholm — May 1, 2009 @ 8:09 am | Reply

  19. I can’t see Jesper’s reply. Engine problems?

    – Alex.

    Comment by Alex Brown — May 1, 2009 @ 8:35 am | Reply

  20. WTF – now it’s gone again?

    You blog seems almost as solid as Alex’s old blog software.

    🙂

    Comment by Jesper Lund Stocholm — May 1, 2009 @ 8:39 am | Reply

  21. @Stocholm, Alex,

    Sorry for the delay.

    Stocholm’s reply to Santonioni was misclassified as “spam” by the word press engine so manual intervention was needed to reclassify it correctly.

    When I tries to reclassify it, my connection to WordPress.com was intermittent and that added to the delay.

    Apology for the delay.

    Comment by ctrambler — May 1, 2009 @ 12:46 pm | Reply

  22. @Stocholm, Santonioni

    Santonioni: I think you and I will have to accept that OOXML camp do not think that ODF is the only forward-looking document format.

    Stocholm: Santonioni post was not about the mandate of the working group. One would had presumed, and you prove us correct, that the working group is there to work on all aspects of ISO OOXML. However, the working group scope is _still_ limited by the charter, which I reads as limited to Office 2008 and below.

    I accept that you and others might not agree with my reading of the charter. In my opinion, the charter is poorly written and should be revised.

    I do not think I am the only one who read the charter this way. When OOXML vs ODF battle was red hot, i.e., before the BRM, a lot of pro-OOXML bloggers argued that ODF has a different scope from OOXML because OOXML is designed document existing MS office document file. The key issue here for me is there is no mention of any forward looking, i.e. incorporating new post 2009 features in any office applications. The forward looking part is so important to any document format that in my opinion, the omission speaks louder than its inclusion. This, in my opinion, supports my interpretation that the charter limits ISO OOXML to backward compatibility. In fact, looking back it is us pro-ODF camp that is banging on the drum saying that it will incorporate new features for future office application because it supports our case that OOXML is in conflict with ODF.

    Charters are just words, they can be altered if there is enough consensus, and approved by ISO. If you do you will get some flanks from me, but who am i? Especially my opinion is likely to be in the minority.

    Comment by ctrambler — May 1, 2009 @ 1:11 pm | Reply

  23. @rambler

    First, on a point of detail the thing you’re calling a “charter” is in fact more properly referred to as a “scope statement”; the text you are reading was newly drafted and accepted during the BRM. If you read the whole thing you’ll see it has a “on the one hand … on the other” construction which clearly defines OOXML as being “for” both past, and future, documents.

    Specifically, it states: “On the other hand, the goal is to facilitate extensibility and interoperability by enabling implementations by multiple vendors and on multiple platforms”.

    Also remember that ISO has no other forward-looking format. ODF is *not* being maintained within JTC 1 and there is no guarantee that future versions of ODF will be PAS-submitted to JTC 1, that they will be accepted if they are, or even that the PAS submission process will survive the current round of JTC 1 reform. The only role JTC 1 has for ISO/IEC 26300 (ODF 1.0) is defect handling.

    So, OOXML is the only active project within ISO for forward-looking XML office document formats.

    And, of course your opinion matters!

    – Alex.

    Comment by Alex Brown — May 2, 2009 @ 8:37 am | Reply

    • @Alex

      “First, on a point of detail the thing you’re calling a “charter” is in fact more properly referred to as a “scope statement””

      To me, a charter is not much different from a scope statement. However, I accept that the proper name is a scope statement.

      “[I]t has a “on the one hand … on the other” construction which clearly defines OOXML as being “for” both past, and future, documents.”

      I believe the statement is very poorly written and I do not see the statement construct as including “future” documents as well.

      Since you had been following some of my posting, I am sure you will agree that English is not one of my strong point. However, on the “world” scale, I am sure I am above average. If I have problems understanding the statement _and_ if I am not alone, then the statement does need revising.

      “Specifically, it states: “On the other hand, the goal is to facilitate extensibility and interoperability by enabling implementations by multiple vendors and on multiple platforms”.”

      I read that. But I put it in as restricted to “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”, i.e., the other “hand”

      “And, of course your opinion matters!”

      Thank you. But I don’t believe it should coz I am a nobody.

      Comment by ctrambler — May 5, 2009 @ 10:34 am | Reply

      • @rambler

        I think it’s quite important it’s a scope statement, as that makes it actually part of the standard. A charter can be changes; the scope statement is (effectively) set in stone for the published standard.

        Please look at it again, the “one the one hand … on the other …” construction makes it clear that OOXML is not *just* about legacy content. And for any active project within JTC 1 the expectation is that a published standards will be fixed, amended — that is the normal day-to-day activity of standards committees. National Bodies are free to propose extensions to OOXML, as Japan already has. It is only when the standard becomes “stablised” (a special state) that it is no longer extended (though it is still bug-fixed, even in that state). National Bodies can ever change the scope statement for future amendments of the standard (which are, in effect, new standards).

        And of course your voice matters – but if you are saying that the scope statement of OOXML either (a) resticts it to legacy content or (b) prevents the normal rules of ISO/IEC JTC 1 from applying, then I don’t think that’s right.

        – Alex.

        Comment by Alex Brown — May 6, 2009 @ 10:46 am

  24. @Alex: “OOXML is the only active project within ISO for forward-looking XML office document formats.”

    Please, could you tell us who cares, except some SC34 members (a significant part of them being Microsoft employees), that OOXML is maintained within JTC1 ? And in fact, who still cares about JTC1 for defining Office document formats ? And who still cares about OOXML ?

    Since OOXML has been accepted as a JTC1 standard, I saw not a single government stating that they want to make ISO-29500 their official document standard. Maybe because they know that ISO-29500 implies Microsoft lock-in… Indeed, nobody except Microsoft is currently implementing ISO-29500, and even Microsoft is far from ready to support it. Who will ever propose a competitive Office suite based on ISO-29500 and fully supporting it ?

    About the Transitional and Strict schemas: do you think that Microsoft should support in MS Office 14 the Transitional version or the Strict version ? My view is that if they start generating Transitional files, the lock-in will be even more blatant, as nobody will ever be able to implement an Office suite fully supporting the Transitional version that would be fully compatible with the Microsoft version. And if Microsoft go directly for the Strict version, who will ever bother to support the Transitional version ?

    In other words, the time spent by SC34 correcting, err… maintaining the Transitional version either will be beneficial only to Microsoft (if they ever implement it), or is simply time lost (if Microsoft never implement it). And in any case, whatever is written in the ISO-29500 standard doesn’t matter if Microsoft decides to implement something else. So I repeat my question: according to you, who cares about the OOXML work done at JTC1 ?

    Comment by Luc Bollen — May 3, 2009 @ 12:42 am | Reply

  25. @Luc

    > Please, could you tell us who cares, except some SC34 members
    > (a significant part of them being Microsoft employees), that
    > OOXML is maintained within JTC1 ?

    The members of JTC 1 (and SC 34) are National Bodies, and they voted for the thing – so you need to ask them. I know of small software companies, large software (and non-software) companies, governments and public sector organisations who are all “interested”.

    It is true, however, that standards maintenance is a niche interest. But compared to what we normally maintain in SC 34 however (DSSSL anyone?), OOXML is simply huge.

    I must say, I find it highly amusing how many commentators are taking so much care to promote the idea that “nobody cares”!

    > And in fact, who still cares about JTC1 for defining Office
    > document formats ? And who still cares about OOXML ?

    As I’m sure you’re aware, governments and international organisations have a strong preference for specifying International Standards – which is why ODF is nearly always specified as ISO/IEC 26300 (ODF 1.0) in these contexts.

    > Since OOXML has been accepted as a JTC1 standard, I saw not a
    > single government stating that they want to make ISO-29500
    > their official document standard.

    You should be aware that the UK govt. has named both 26300 and 29500 as suitable formats (for all such statements are worth, which is – sadly – not much). You can expect to see that mirrored in a number of countries in the coming months. As with ODF 1.0, you can expect a gap of several months to several years between standarisation and this kind of official blessing.

    > Maybe because they know that ISO-29500 implies Microsoft lock-in…
    > Indeed, nobody except Microsoft is currently implementing ISO-29500,
    > and even Microsoft is far from ready to support it.

    Again, as you know (and as I showed last year at http://is.gd/wjB0), 29500 is adrift of Ecma-376-1 in a handful of minor ways. Once those minor differences are reconciled all those implementers of “OOXML” will become implementers of ISO/IEC 29500.

    > Who will ever propose a competitive Office suite based on
    > ISO-29500 and fully supporting it ?

    Well OpenOffice reads OOXML, and IBM have recently announced that Symphony will too. Frankly, I do not much care about these mega software corporations and their office suites, I am much more interested in the infrastructures within organisations for document processing, and for such organisations MS Office documents are everywhere.

    (However, I would observe that any software company that wants to topple MS Office “just” needs to develop an office suite that reads/writes OOXML and is a better value proposition than MS Office. How hard can that be?)

    > About the Transitional and Strict schemas: do you think that Microsoft
    > should support in MS Office 14 the Transitional version or the Strict
    > version ? My view is that if they start generating Transitional files,
    > the lock-in will be even more blatant, as nobody will ever be able to
    > implement an Office suite fully supporting the Transitional version that
    > would be fully compatible with the Microsoft version.

    That’s not right; all this stuff is documented (Transitional too), so people can implement what they want – even AutoSpaceLikeWord95 if they are so minded !

    For my thoughts on T vs S, see http://is.gd/vOOp

    > And if Microsoft go directly for the Strict version, who will ever
    > bother to support the Transitional version ?

    All those people who need toolchains which process existing MS Office 2007 documents. And there are hundreds of millions of those documents out there.

    > In other words, the time spent by SC34 correcting, err… maintaining
    > the Transitional version either will be beneficial only to Microsoft
    > (if they ever implement it), or is simply time lost (if Microsoft never
    > implement it).

    Why are you so focussed on Microsoft? The real constituency for this standard is the users of OOXML as a format (generally in “back office” systems), and the secondary software market — not MS. MS already *knows* what the format does.

    Which software vendors manage to benefit (or not) from this standardisation is not a question for JTC 1, but for the markets.

    > And in any case, whatever is written in the ISO-29500 standard doesn’t
    > matter if Microsoft decides to implement something else.

    I think that’s unlikely, don’t you? But even then, what is written *does* matter as 29500 is a free and comprehensive guide giving the technical details on hundreds of millions of document, a proportion of which will need to be processed at the XML level.

    > So I repeat my question: according to you, who cares about the OOXML
    > work done at JTC1 ?

    See above!

    (Also, I think the “who cares” argument is both childish and unintelligent. You have to remember that many of the veteran standardizers in SC 34 laboured through the wilderness years making SGML when nobody cared — “Sounds Good; Maybe Later” was the joke. However, because *they* cared we have – for the benefit of the world – markup-based office formats and a markup-based Web. I guess that the difference between people who really make a difference, and those whose sole contribution is sniping from the sidelines.)

    – Alex.

    Comment by Alex Brown — May 3, 2009 @ 8:40 am | Reply

  26. […] to drive people to OOXML and make ODF interoperability look poor. What is OOXML for anyway? Here is one good answer to this question: If, they follow that statement through, it means OOXML will only work for compatibility with […]

    Pingback by Microsoft’s ODF ‘Support’ is a Scam | Boycott Novell — May 5, 2009 @ 12:19 am | Reply


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