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OOX-ODF: Oh the Outrage, the Stridence, the Indignities, the Inhumanity, ...

If we are seeing “interoperability theater,” the public and the publics’ documents will be its hostages.  I don’t want that to happen.  A truce, and an effort to have interoperability that works, would be far more rewarding.  Peaceful coexistence strikes me as a desirable state.
       -- Orcmid's Lair, 2007-03-16

We are seeing conversations and posturing reminiscent of the cold war, the "axis of evil" proclamations, and other excesses of global politics.  You'd think the stakes were civilization as we know it.  I suspect many of the participants believe exactly that.  All I can say is, "Follow the money."  Then get a grip.

I was recently asked "What's happening with Orcmid?  He's pretty silent on OOXML and the run-up to the JTC1 ballot-period deadline."  Mostly, I have found little to comment about that I haven't commented on already.  

I favor adoption of an ISO standard for OOXML.  I am generally aligned with the running commentary that Rick Jelliffe has provided over the course of the ballot period.  I'm content with his recommendation too.  As a bystander, I can provide no fact-based information on the ISO JTC1 process better than that.  I am certainly in no position to counter all of the outrage that is splattered all over the web and the trade press on the conduct of the ballot period that ends today. 

From my perspective, the OOXML and ODF efforts are merely the start of an important journey where we improve our mutual understanding of what it takes to operate with standard document formats in collaboration, interchange, and preservation using different implementations (of the same or different formats).  This is important work, and we need these standards as a starting point.  It's a long and winding road ahead, and we need to have as many positive contributions as can be found.

Concerning the inflammatory statements that are happily exaggerated and perpetuated, I have nothing to offer but my disdain.  There, that's done.  Now what?

It is not possible to prove negatives, and if I could I am not the one with the facts.  So any response would be simply opposition of bluster with more bluster.  I am a proponent of light, not heat.  Countering outrage with more outrage is not getting us anywhere.  In particular, what can one do when those outside of the process allow their credulity to erupt in echoing outrage without any determinations of fact (my one example that I am willing to link to), and technology writers abandon investigation and exploration for understanding in favor of their own outrage and expression of ridicule (my other pet example).

I do want to provide some link love to Matthew Aslett's article "When the Standards Are Low, No One Wins."  Matt says, in anticipation of the ballot that ends today, that

"The approvals process has been one of the most petty, underhand, deceitful, and childish events I have had the misfortune to witness during ten years in the technology industry. Whatever the outcome there is little to be proud of."

Notice how everyone who cites this quotation (often without linking to the full article) or comments on this post thinks this is an indictment of Microsoft alone.  Also, he catalogs the allegations that have been made, he does not do anything to claim the facts beyond the obvious one that this is a terrible situation.  With that much reality distortion by those who appeal to this article as evidence for truth of their allegations, what can I possibly add that won't come off as more of the same (whether supporting a different "truth" or not)?

All right, enough of this.  I do have more observations to contribute around the problems of document-format standards, how we achieve interoperability, and what is needed for conformance to be meaningful to people with work to do.  But that is separate from the ISO JTC1 process, however today's completed stage is found to have turned out.

With regard to the interval from submission to ECMA and our arrival at this point, here's a summary of previous materials that I find to be relevant today.  This is the easiest way to understand what I value, what I think is important, and how one can go about reconciling these differences in a professional, considerate manner.

Open Standards Implementation, I: Celebrating MassachusettsOrcmid's Lair (web log), 2007-04-18.
There's an exchange with Rob Weir in the comments and my colleague Bill Anderson makes an important observation. This is my most-recent commentary related to the OOX-ODF jihad. I now have as many as four more pieces in draft. I suspended posting when the controversy over allowing OOXML in the 2007 update to the Enterprise Technology Reference Model arose. That issue is resolved for now and I will pick up on this sequence at my leisure.   The importance of this appraisal, for me, is to show how reason and prudence lead to competent, professional outcomes in the face of unexpected public scrutiny and controversy.  It also provides some concrete reality in opposition to the sloganeering about the "miracle in Massachusetts."
OOX-ODF: National Body Review Comments on Office Open XML File Formats, ISO/IEC DIS 29500 (ECMA-376).  Orcmid's Lair (web log), 2007-04-18.
In all of the he-said, she-said back and forth, it is extremely important to look at the actual documents.  These materials are the basis for the review and ballot period that ends today, September 2, 2007.  I'll not comment on the result tally and the comments that have been submitted until the smoke has cleared and all materials are available.  Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the run-up to availability of this material were the different interpretations that were made without providing access to the sources.  Perhaps the most remarkable event in the time since is the degree to which the antagonism became more strident and inflammatory with terrible assertions of misconduct of many kinds.
Why Not .rtfx?  Professor von Clueless in the Blunder Dome (web log), 2007-03-26. 
This was inspired by my noticing that Massachusetts had added RTF to version 3.6 of the Enterprise Technology Reference Model, the specifications under which the Commonwealth's Information Technology Division carries out its policies for preference to open specifications.  Rob Weir contributes a comment.
OOX-ODF: Why Have Peace When You Can Have War?  Orcmid's Lair (web log), 2007-03-16.
"It sometimes appears that it is even more objectionable when Microsoft takes steps to cure a situation that has been the subject of previous complaints.  I’ve not found a straightforward way to account for this amusing aspect of human nature at its most frustrating." There's more about all of the energy invested in keeping the fight alive, something that has me wonder what the fight is really about.
OOX-ODF and the Mystery Document FlavorsOrcmid's Lair (web log), 2007-02-11.
Where I do a little detective work to figure out how the ECMA folk produced two forms of the identical material and that gave rise to automatic suspicions that ECMA-379 had been altered after adoption. I don't think ECMA will raise a lightning rod like this again.  More seriously was the degree to which OOX adversaries announced their darkest fears without doing some simple homework to realize that there is no difference, no harm, and they simply invested way too much in tying reviews to PDF page numbering instead of the official document page numbers. Sheesh.
OOX-ODF: The Danger of Finding What You're Looking ForOrcmid's Lair (web log), 2007-02-11.
There is a well-known blind spot by which we continue to see what we are looking for, failing to look deeper and recognize when matters are not as our cynicism has us blindly transform into believed facts.  I use two examples from the reviews of ECMA-376 during the ISO contradiction-review period.
Without Context, Every Open-Format Standard Is the BestProfessor von Clueless in the Blunder Dome (web log), 2005-12-20.
At this point, OOXML was submitted to ECMA and the licensing issues that colored the earlier antagonism to OOXML would appear to be resolved.  Nay-sayers will continue to fear hidden patent traps along with their expectation that Microsoft will extend their implementation of OOXML into a proprietary prison. There being no way to disprove a negative, and having no way to speak for Microsoft, the recent shift of the conversation to a new strident level is one that I don't partake in.  For people who see technical show-stoppers, I will continue to point out that the same yardsticks can and should be applied to ODF and OOXML equally.  We should be concentrating our energies into getting experience and making repairs, not tearing down the specification we don't intend to use.  This post is an argument against disembodied, decontextualized claims of advantage and disadvantage between ODF and OOXML.  Those arguments, primarily from those arguing that OOXML is simply unnecessary at best or evil at worst, simply impeach the objectivity of those who make such claims.  It is striking to me how much the OOXML supporters talk about what people are doing with OOXML and what benefit they see in it.  ODF advocates would be better served by similar attentions to ODF benefits and repairs and less fixation on OOXML.
Magical Thinking and the Universal Document ElixirProfessor von Clueless in the Blunder Dome (web log), 2005-10-17.
This is where I challenge an assumption that still goes uncorrected (especially in the technical press) that document formats (especially the ODF) are universal in the sense that one can do everything another can do that is of any importance.  Ben Langhinrichs makes a nicely-balanced observation in the comments.  Stephen Walli has a recent post that points out how difficult this is with separate implementations against the same document-format specification.  Adopters of ODF-supporting software should take heed ... and get busy.

I first entered this discussion over the unbalanced disputation around licensing issues.  Those issues should be past us, despite the continued claims of proprietary submarines lurking in ECMA-376.  I also found it necessary to dispute the completeness of ODF for unreserved embrace.  The problem of ODF under-specification and the absence of a reasonable conformance condition and means for asserting conformance remains.  This material, last revised in 2005-12-23, reflects neither the ODF 1.1 revisions (which don't change these observations) nor the final ECMA-376 treatment of conformance.  Today, the value is mainly in Table 3-1, which could use some additional clean-ups whenever I get around to providing a much-needed repaving for this material:

Dennis E. Hamilton.  Microsoft's IP-Infringement Specter: Continuing Toward Adoption, Writings folio W050601g version 0.81, 2005-12-23.  Orcmid's Lair (web site). 

[update 2007-09-03T17:00Z: I fix up two more difficult passages in my annotated links.  Also, in my response to Zaine I should mention that I also sat in on the Open Formula work until it was absorbed back into the OASIS ODF TC.  Zaine also claims, on his web site, that ODF is a universal format.  I, of course, don't believe there is any such thing, in theory and especially in practice.  That's worth its own post.
update 2007-09-03T01:45Z: In some of my annotations to older links, I found some of the statements to be clumsy and I repaired the ones that poked me in the eye.  I like the restatements better.  You might not.
 update 2007-09-03T00:22Z: I went through and checked all of the hyperlinks in this text.  One of them was broken.
 update 2007-09-02T23:35Z: I saw some troubling phrases that I cleaned up and then also noticed that I had one of my own blog titles wrong.  Situation normal ... ]

From your articles, it appears you've confined your writing to pro-Microsoft arguments alone, and given the demonstrated history of Microsoft's lack of integrity on any issue, much less MS-OOXML (and its sad behavior to date on behalf of MS-OOXML in front of ISO), I'm both surprised and disappointed you chose to drink their kool-aid. I give you credit for going through great verbal gymnastics and contortions to support MS-OOXML within the limited scope of your reading and references.

Too bad. What will you write when Microsoft no longer supports MS-OOXML in a few years? (It's coming, so don't save too documents in that format.)
Hi Zaine. I do save all of my new Office documents in OOXML. And when I post documents for distribution, you will see that I am using OOXML, ODF, and PDF. I am perfectly happy to see these multiple standards, and more. This is not an end-point; it is a beginning.

I have never opposed ODF or its standardization, and there has been no debate about that to make any argument for. I have objected to claims about ODF that do not hold up to technical scrutiny. That is remedied by devoted technical effort and gaining more experience, especially in inter-product interchange. Not by harangues against OOXML standardization.

Also, in your claim of "the demonstrated history of Microsoft's lack of integrity on any issue," I find that to be typically an extreme exaggeration not supported by day-to-day evidence. The one thing that has been determined in court is that Microsoft abused its monopoly power (not itself a crime) with regard to licensing, and it is still struggling with the remedies and internal recognition that monopolies are not permitted the same liberties as smaller players.

If you think that the large, commercial opponents of OOXML are not invested in creating an opening for their own product/services lock-in, I think you need to look at who those players are and why they are investing so much effort in attacking OOXML. Kool-aid comes in many flavors.
While I would agree that ODF is not the picture of perfection people would like to imagine, and also that Microsoft is not the den of iniquity that some would also like to imagine, I think there are some serious issues with Open XML and that Microsoft has lost sight of the need to work to make the standard better, rather than simply try to prove they can push it through. In this, Rick's late recommendation to vote "No, with comments" makes sense to me. I think Microsoft made a mistake early on when it felt it had to rush Open XML through the process, even though I fully understand the tremendous internal pressure to not let ODF take hold and shake Microsoft's near monopoly. Microsoft still should have done a better job of proactively changing the really glaring issues, because they certainly give the strong impression that they have no interest in anything other than a pseudo-standard. It reminds me a lot of IBM's efforts several years ago to "incorporate standards", but in such a way that you were forced to use IBM's products. It took IBM a lot of time, money and failures to find out that the public would catch on and refuse to go along (and IBM doesn't always seem to get this even now). Microsoft seems to be at the other end of this learning curve, mystified why the public doesn't flock to Vista and Office 2007, and continuing to show a complete lack of respect for the ability of the outside world to see through their schemes, and losing just the way IBM did.

I truly hope that the BRM manages to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, with the victory not being Microsoft "winning" or the FOSS movement "winning", but the standards process itself winning. I hope it, but I somewhat doubt it.
I share Ben's desired outcome from the Ballot Reconciliation Meeting and whatever process that is put in place around that. It is the way that we all win and I am hopeful. It requires courage from all parties.
Convergence with some form of interim OOXML ISO ratification is what the French NB asked, but you know I doubt they'll get it.

Microsoft didn't go the ISO route willingly. Events like the ETRM and ODF ISO ratification forced its hand.

Nevertheless had it done so gracefully, with a serious effort to produce a good spec, its weight in the marketplace would have made a lot of people look the other way (so long ODF, nice for playing, you'll get a footnote in tech history).

But events didn't go like that. Microsoft wrote a bad spec, then chose a proxy for its willingness not to look into problems, then spent months of aggressive lobbying instead of fixing the problems people pointed at them.

I've read some of the ECMA justifications sent to NBs. They're pure marketing drivel I wouldn't expect of a technical body.

The anti-OOXML coalition didn't form because IBM seeded money in the right place. You don't get people submitting negative comments to NBs in the middle of august this way. It formed because of Microsoft's arrogance and belief it could shove a bad spec through ISO without addressing technical problems (with a "trust us, we'll look into problems later" ha ha ha every IT professional heard often enough before to know its value)

Well this kind of tactic may work in the enterprise it seems it didn't in ISO. (It may eventually work in february)

Unless Microsoft makes a serious effort to make its spec more palatable, and de-polarizes the debate by forgetting its ODF/IBM rants, it will leave a lot of angry people behind that will weight during its contract renewals. Microsoft is not a company people love (except partners, in public), and this last incident is not helping things.
hi dad, I'm new to all blogging so I don't know how well this is going to work. I checked out your facebook profile and I was curious about learning more about what you mean by "there is no such thing as right and wrong" ?
Doug, I didn't know that my Facebook profile was that public, not that I mind.

There's probably a better place to address your question.

Let me say here that you want to focus on "no such THING", and consider how the statement could be true. Consider that right and wrong (good and bad) etc., are judgments and THINGs don't inherently have such a quality.

The stronger belief, which I also hold, is that there is no absolute right or wrong in any sense. This doesn not mean that we don't have values and that we don't find actions and situations acceptable or unacceptable personally, as a society, etc. That's us at work, not the world, it seems to me.
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