“Open”, “Standards”, and “Open Standards”

“Anyone, then, from this day forward who is naive enough to believe a single word from Microsoft needs to see a doctor right away. That is the single most important positive result from this OOXML process, as far as I’m concerned. Now we know.”

From “And now the appeals and reactions while OOXML sits on hold”
Posted on April 2
groklaw.net

For anyone who hasn’t been keeping up on the OOXML mess for the last few years, here is [somewhat] quick overview (though the grammar leaves something to be desired).

The essentials, gentle readers, is as follows (and you are free to correct any details which may be incorrect/vague/poorly stated): OOXML is a standard devised, top to bottom, by Microsoft, for the purpose of making their Office file formats (word processor, spreadsheet, etc) portable between applications. The previous standard was known as ODF, or Open Document Format. In theory, this would create a universal office productivity document standard, so all office suites could create documents that would function correctly in other office suites.

All standards go through the ISO, the supposed end-all be-all for standards. There is a lengthy review and approval process, during which representatives from many countries cast their eventual yays, nays, or abstentions for the final standard proposal.

Not only was OOXML pushed through a “Fast Track” loophole, but over 80% of the comments other countries had regarding the standard weren’t even addressed before its vote. The OOXML proposal was 6000 pages long, as compared to ODF which was around 700. This asinine length, combined with hardly a month for countries to review the proposal and come up with comments/questions/corrections, mixed up with some very questionable exchanges of money between Microsoft and country representatives as well as outright representation of various countries by Microsoft employees, all congealed into a shaky overall recent approval of OOXML as a standard.

By labeling a Microsoft format the de facto “standard,” this gives MS Office an incredible edge over its competition, particularly Google, its most insidious and ubiquitous opponent.  The very means through which Microsoft obtained the rights to this standard clearly illustrates its intentions.

Open means being open to improvements.  Microsoft is closed; it is driven by profit.  Standard implies a methodology used by many for the sake of simplicity and ease of interactivity.  Microsoft goes out of its way to force its customers into its methodologies.

“Open Standards” is everything Microsoft isn’t.

There is an appeal effort underway to address this label of OOXML as the office standard.  I am hoping, for the sakes of both healthy competition and plain ethical software development, that the standard is revoked.

Speaking of revoked, I’m hungry.  Anyone have some food they’d like to share?

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About Shannon Quinn

Oh hai!
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4 Responses to “Open”, “Standards”, and “Open Standards”

  1. eksith says:

    The first and only reason OOXML was originally created was to allow portability between apps in Office. That was the start.

    Meanwhile, the marketing machine at MS decided, “hey, while we’re at it we’ll make it a ‘standard’. Then we can reach into other projects”. Which is exactly what happened.

    MS realized they will be up against the wall when it came to open arms and unquestioning cooperation so they stacked the panel that passed the approval process.

    It’s a “standard”. But a “standard” through paper wrangling and good ol’ fashioned politics. This is nothing new in the corporate world, but coming from a company as powerful as Microsoft, it gets noticed almost immediately.

    It’s like a politician saying, “I care about family values” while trying to hide his mistress from the public.

    But we all know nothing can be truly standard unless people use it en masse. Office interoperability has little bearing on OpenOffice users (mind you there are many companies that have already standardized on OO. Particularly Mac and Linux centric companies). So this won’t nearly be as popular as MS hopes it would be.

    A standard is only a standard when people use it.
    There are plenty of “standards” already on paper, but how many are we honestly using everyday?

    My feeling is that MS would quietly provide greater support for ODF while preserving OOXML portability. Governments in the interest of appearing non-partisan (particularly European governements) will start using ODF for official record-keeping and publishing purposes.

    I say let them play politics. Let them scream it’s an open standard all they want.
    Only adoption rates will determine who the real winner is.

    This ain’t 1998! 😉
    Those same old tricks won’t work as well any more. There’s more than one major suite on the market and more than one major OS. And plenty of people are aware of the power they have to tarnish the reputation of any large company with just a few lines on a blog.

  2. magsol says:

    Yeah, how often do I compile my C programs with the “-ansi” flag? Almost never. 😛

    It’s still frustrating that Microsoft managed to push this “standard” through – even after the allegations arose that it had bribed a few countries before the Fast Track vote! – and it still managed to pass through ISO for approval last month (or two months ago…whatever). It seems like, even with increasing pressure from competition in the last decade, Microsoft is still being allowed to engage in questionable business practices, and no one is calling them out on it. Not in such a way that would make them change their habits, anyway.

  3. Andre says:

    Time to get real for the US company and stop with its silly shared standards and its software patents advocacy.

    Get the engineers in charge and the company Microsoft would prosper.

  4. magsol says:

    I will agree that the patent system is pretty broken in this country; at the very least, it could use some major overhauls, and I sincerely doubt software behemoths like Microsoft would stand for it. Up until this OOXML move, I would also say that ISO has been a pretty stalwart figure in critically examining and approving “standards”, though what eksith said above is absolutely true: a standard is really defined by who uses it, not who says it’s a standard.

    Nevertheless, even though companies will always have some level of struggle between engineers and administrators, there is a need for both to find a way to coexist. The business people are far better at pitching the product, determining the needs of the customer, and communicating with them than the engineer is. It’s not a slap to the engineer; it’s just how things are. There are problems no matter which way you look at it, but as an engineer myself, while I am immensely proud and protective of my work, I’ll admit in this moment of humility that it would be nice to have someone keeping me in check, and vice versa.

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