January 29, 2008 10:53 AM PST

Microsoft makes last-gasp OOXML push

Weeks away from a crucial International Organization for Standardization vote in Geneva on the ratification of Microsoft's proposed Office Open XML standard, the software giant is engaged in a last-ditch campaign to convince the wider industry that its endeavors are in the best interests of users.

After its first attempt to have Office Open XML (OOXML) approved as an International Organization for Standardization (ISO) standard failed in September, the software giant has spared no expense to ensure that it succeeds at the ballot resolution meeting in February. Microsoft has hosted four conference calls a week with national standards bodies, and recently invited international press to a conference close to its Redmond, Wash., headquarters to set the record straight on the OOXML issue.

A stream of Microsoft executives consecutively took to the floor at the press conference to defend the company against its growing army of critics.

Several themes were reiterated.

The first was debunking the notion that there is no need for a second XML standard in the market. Advocates of the OpenDocument Format (ODF), an ISO-approved open standard XML file format developed by a consortium led by IBM and Sun Microsystems, have argued that a second standard is "redundant."

Microsoft said that there is nothing wrong with having multiple file formats. The company cannot adopt ODF in its own Office suite, it said, because it cannot migrate the legacy of billions of documents in older Microsoft formats onto it. But it does allow users to export their file in ODF format.

"Any investment we make in the future of information work has to take into account what has been done in the past," said Microsoft Office project manager Gray Knowlton. "It's very important when migrating to open file formats that we take older documents into account."

"ODF was designed to omit the functionality of existing documents," Knowlton said. "We, on the other hand, cannot start from scratch. Our customers would never accept that."

Pitching OOXML virtues
It was also argued, on several fronts, that OOXML is a superior standard to ODF.

"Many customers tell us that ODF doesn't meet their needs," said Tom Robertson, general manager of interoperability and standards at Microsoft. "It doesn't provide backwards-compatibility, nor does it reflect the rich feature set of Office 2007."

Present at the briefing was Burton Group research director Peter O'Kelly, who, in the week prior, had authored a controversial report that recommended enterprise users adopt OOXML in preference to ODF.

O'Kelly described ODF as "simplistic," while OOXML was described as "more powerful and expressive."

The Microsoft alternative, O'Kelly said, scores points for its ability to incorporate custom schemas, its wider variety of table options and its spreadsheet formula language.

"It is not that there is anything wrong with OpenOffice.org, it's just that, in large organizations, the types of things you are working with are more akin to what (Microsoft) Office can handle," O'Kelly said. "ODF is a fine open-source offering and it's a capable product but, put it side by side with the things you can do with Office 2007, and it's a very different user experience. There are things you might take for granted within Office that simply aren't there."

O'Kelly said he was "unpleasantly surprised" at the vitriol directed at his research organization since he backed Microsoft's argument.

"This is not a Microsoft-sponsored report," O'Kelly said. "We don't do any sponsored writing at all--no white papers."

Further, he said that it was "coincidental" that the report was released three working days before Microsoft's press briefing and only a few weeks away from the crucial vote.

CONTINUED: An "evolutionary" path to XML…
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27 comments

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Lies, Damned Lies, and Microsoft.
[i]"The company cannot adopt ODF in its own Office suite, it said, because it cannot migrate the legacy of billions of documents in older Microsoft formats onto it."[/i]

So, err, does someone want to explain the presence of an ODF plugin for MS Office, that Microsoft made in very short order, and gives away freely from their website?

Re: [i]"...nor does it reflect the rich feature set of Office 2007."[/i]

Translation: 'It doesn't contain the patent-laden and proprietary little bells and whistles that we jammed into Office 2007.'

Re: [i]"I think too many people are confusing open standards with open source. And too many people think that what's bad for Microsoft is good for the industry."[/i]

No, too many people know full well that open standards != open source, and that OOXML is a huge wad of patent traps and references to 'whatever MS Office does' as a 'standard'.

[i]"Robertson said Microsoft has been on an evolutionary path to move to XML-based documents for about 10 years. Thus, OOXML was far more than a "knee-jerk response" to the success of ODF within various government departments around the globe."[/i]

That would be news to the former CIO of Massachusetts' state government, whom MSFT basically bought a pink slip for.

[i]"Paoli stated that the industry, to some degree, has voted already. Apple is including OOXML as an option in its Leopard operating system, as is Adobe in InDesign and Novell in Suse Open Office. Several Linux versions are only a few steps behind."[/i]

It's called Futureproofing Against The Borg. We all already know that MSFT will jam it down the world's throat by dint of default. This says and means nothing concerning the technical (among other) weaknesses of OOXML which are still present.

/P
Posted by Penguinisto (5042 comments )
Reply Link Flag
They Say: "Never Curse The Bridge That You Have To Cross"!
... because when you are really in need of it to cross the "deep" river it may not be there. Since Lotus Notes 8.0 already supports "the OpenDocument Format (ODF), an ISO-approved open standard XML file format developed by a consortium led by IBM and Sun Microsystems" et al - It may very well be that "Microsoft's last-gasp OOXML push"? means/matters doodly-squat to some at this stage of the game. Guess the "Redmond Party Goers" had their "ISO" Dancing Shoes all destroyed last Rocking New year's Eve Ball. Huh. :-$ !
Posted by Commander_Spock (3123 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Putting things in perspectives...
... after "Ruling The Roost" for over thirty plus years and counting - time is fast catching up with the "Redmond Party Goers". Go on - Continue Partying Like It Is 1998. :-D !
Posted by Commander_Spock (3123 comments )
Link Flag
Its a fomat silly...
ODF is a document format, by no stretch of the imagination does it "provide backward compatibility" as implied by the Microsoft representative. Think PDF, another published standard, does it provide backward compatibility for reading old Microsoft doc files? No, of course not, it's a format and as such can opened up in Adobe Reader, OpenOffice and numerous other applications.

Organizations, particularly governmental ones, should standardize on published document formats for several reasons. Number one being that multiple applications can correctly read and write these documents allowing for wide range of pricing/support structures and competitive bidding in the market place.

If they were to use a proprietary format, not only would they lock themselves in but also force third parties dealing with them to get themselves locked in too. Because of this, the vendor can charge ridiculous amounts for retail copies while potentially giving the government and super-large companies big discounts to discourage them from migrating.

All this is why it's such a big deal for Microsoft and why everything they put out is be a moving target when it comes to being compatible or interoperable, including their MS-OOXML pseudo-standard.

Read the ODF alliance's response to this Burton Group's report:
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.odfalliance.org/resources/BurtonGroupResponseFinal.pdf" target="_newWindow">http://www.odfalliance.org/resources/BurtonGroupResponseFinal.pdf</a>
Posted by Goldie Simmons (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
"the legacy of billions of documents"
Is Microsoft referring to the same "legacy of billions of
documents" that they wanted to block their users from accessing
with their MS Office 2003 patch?

That type of behavior is the very reason that a standard, like
ODF, should not be controlled by any one company.

MS has used file formats to lock in customers and, IMO, OOXML
is just another attempt to do the same.

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.news.com/Office-2003-update-blocks-older-file-" target="_newWindow">http://www.news.com/Office-2003-update-blocks-older-file-</a>
formats/2100-1012_3-6224462.html
Posted by rcrusoe (1305 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Okay, Complaints Are Valid, but . . .
Since ODF can't support everything a user can save in Office 1997, Office 2000, Office XP, Office 2003 and Office 2007, what do you suggest?

One thing is to inform the user that by saving in "name the standard" you will lose some formatting. Another would be for Microsoft to invest tens of man-years in adding to ODF, but then what happens if the standards group rejects MS' additions?

I 100% believe that Microsoft is looking to continue product/format lock-in, but with 50%, 80% or ??% of the market, how do we combat the truth that ODF cannot currently fully support all the Office documents that people create and still need to edit?
Posted by regulator1956 (577 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Some format loss is better than no standard at all
&gt;&gt;
&gt;&gt; Since ODF can't support everything a user can save in Office 1997, Office 2000, Office XP, Office 2003 and Office 2007, what do you suggest? One thing is to inform the user that by saving in "name the standard" you will lose some formatting. Another would be for Microsoft to invest tens of man-years in adding to ODF, but then what happens if the standards group rejects MS' additions?

Some posters here seem intent on blurring the line between applications and file formats. The thing is , other than Microsoft, there is not a SINGLE OTHER application which interprets OOXML (a file format) and faithfully or fully recreates the look of Microsoft's legacy binary documents. It can't be done! Microsoft holds the key.

Yes, OpenOffice does manage to render all these proprietary binary formats fairly well but this is only possible through thousands of man-hours of reverse engineering and hundreds of thousands (millions) of lines of programming source code. I'm sorry, but this should not be the backbone of a standard. Reverse engineering is the exact opposite of "open and published". Standards should be for the good of all.
Posted by Goldie Simmons (2 comments )
Link Flag
I'm curious
Exactly what elements of Office 97-2007 can't be supported by ODF. Are we talking about Office Basic which is a proprietary language requiring a license from Microsoft to interpret but has been replaced with Open Office Basic which performs the same functions but is structurally and syntactically different to avoid licensing issues? Or are there some other features that you're referring to?
Posted by maldain (3 comments )
Link Flag
Too many commenters don't read/understand the issues
&gt; So, err, does someone want to explain the
&gt; presence of an ODF plugin for MS Office,

The ODF plug-in was mentioned. It means you can EXPORT an MS Office to ODF, it's a lossy conversion.

What Microsoft is talking about is using a format as the _native_ format, one that will not loose any of the data you have loaded from a .doc or by using features in Office which aren't part of the standard.

"Supporting" import/export ODF is not the issue, it's already done.

Why should Sun, IBM decide what can and what can't be saved in Office format. They don't have 100 million users like MS Office, they are in no position to dictate what apps should and should not save to disk.

Why should the industry be held back by the lowest-common dominator of whatever is supported in Open Office. That's crazy anything-but-microsoft thinking. It's IBM's and Sun's way to make sure that Office can't get new features and breaks existing features that they can't clone so they can more easily move users onto Web apps, it's not for the benefit of the user. It's made to sell Sun and IBM web solutions and hardware. It's made to set the lowest-common-dominator as the standard.

&gt; MS has used file formats to lock in customers
&gt; and, IMO, OOXML is just another attempt to
&gt; do the same.

No one is locked in .doc or excel, these can be loaded directly in Open Office and other application, and they can be converted into any other format. They are the most widely supported formats in the world. Almost no one supports ODF.

The reason why corporation use Office is because everyone else is using it, and because it's a developement plateform for in-house solution. The format being or not an ISO standard is irrelevant to corporation. Your data is never lost when it's saved in Office format.

If critics were really serious about this 'lock-in' issue, then all that would be necessary is opening up the MS Office format, not have them support _another_ file format instead.

The dishonesty is from critics of OOXML, not from Microsoft. Forcing MS to support _another_ format is about limiting the features and growth in Office to whatever IBM/SUN and a committee dictates instead of what the users want.
Posted by ulric2 (65 comments )
Reply Link Flag
RE: Too Many Commenters Don't Read/Understand the Issues
My good person, you miss some of the points.

a. Why does MS need to introduce OOXML? Why not just stick with their proprietary format and not attempt to undermine a progressing standard? No one is forcing MS to adopt or push this new standard besides themselves. Many people will still choose to save in XLS / DOC / PPT instead of ODF or XLX.

b. As for making OOXML their standard format, why? Why in name at least... why not just implement it in a new version of Office like they have made so many changes in the past?

c. As stated before, if it is important for MS to have a capability in an open document format, they should just propose that it is implemented and go through the process as anyone else would... until that point, they maintain their "standard .doc" format.

OOXML makes no sense.

MS should support ODF in its entirety, which they can, but don't have to.

MS does not have to limit their program capabilities with their proprietary format.

MS can make the next version of .doc .xls .ppt a xml based format.

MS can write extensions for ODF.

MS can request to make additions to the ODF.

ODF standards are not controlled by Sun or by IBM independently. New standards of ODF are not fully implemented in any application at this time.

I do believe that there is only a requirement for one document standard that is OPEN to all and is able to grow to meet evolutionary needs. ODF does that. ODF is what is needed.

One standard that all governments (I don't care about private industry) should be required to put all their documents in so it is universally accessible by people regardless of the platform they choose to use to access it (it could be Linux, MS, Apple, IBM applications) but citizens should never be forced to buy a commercial product to access their government's documents or access their government. Bottom Line!!!

I use MS and I use Open Office and I have used WP and Lotus. I have also used other applications, but have settled on MS for work requirements (necessity presently) and Open Office for personal uses.

I have rarely seen any document that couldn't be recreated in ODF by the government or my work. Those are "advanced and niche" uses.

Get real. MS is doing this because they want to stand in the way of progress. There is no logical reason for them to implement a competing standard when they can maintain their own proprietary formats and do as they wish. Which brings me to my last point, that if MS wanted a truly open document format, they would open up their own .doc et. al. documents and fully disclose the formats... but they don't!
Posted by mcniela (2 comments )
Link Flag
Your data is never lost when it's saved in Office format?
Seriosuly? You(ulric2) don't mean that right?
Okay so I agree with the fact that most commenters here are driven by the "Deny MSFT at all costs" attitude, and with your point that we shouldn't force people to use one office app over the next (this IS all about freedom of choice after all isn't it?) BUT to say - Your data is never lost when it's saved in Office format - is an outright lie. In this article MSFT itself points out its legacy of backwards compatability issues. Try opening a docx file in Office 2000, or better yet an Office 97 file in Office 2007. Outside of plain text files, anything with formatting will be a serious hassle. MSFT's plan is to lock users in (and why not, this is business right?), and the idea of ODF being the one and only standard stands in their way significantly. In the end the users will decide (as always) and MSFT will continue to look for ways to extend their lock on office apps, just like IBM, Sun and Google will continue to try and draw more people off the client and to the Web.
Posted by Shecky27 (4 comments )
Link Flag
OH YEAH, MY FILE FORMAT
CAN BEAT UP YOUR FILE FORMAT!!!!
Posted by suyts (824 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Standards
Setting standards for some of the oldest legacy applications in the industry is a tall order. No single company should be hurt or be given a leg up. However, the 800 lb gorilla in the room is and always will be the largest software company on the planet, Microsoft. MS is 13 times larger than all the other software companies COMBINED!

To deny MS reasonable accomodations on any standard is to deny millions upon millions of their users the main benefits of standards in the first place.

So instead of these stupid knee jerk anti-MS digs how about we send these boys and girls back to the drawing board to find a workable standard where the maximum good of all is served. Otherwise, the incompatibility wars continue.
Posted by msbeal (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Oh No!
... "the 800 lb gorilla in the room is and always will be" IBM's OS/2 Warp; and, (armed with IBM's Lotus Notes, Open Lotus SmartSuite, Lotus Symphony...) it is quietly awaiting the right time and place to start clobbering the "Redmond XML "1998" Party Goers" all over the planet. ;-) !
Posted by Commander_Spock (3123 comments )
Link Flag
Standards... adapt current not propose competing
As is pointed out by others, ODF is extensible and MS just needs to follow process to expand the ODF format to meet additional needs. MS just needs to jump on the standard and participate instead of trying to be master/leader of all.

See earlier post for questions about why OOXML to begin with.
Posted by mcniela (2 comments )
Link Flag
Sure....
... "The Microsoft alternative, O'Kelly said, scores points for its ability to incorporate custom schemas, its wider variety of table options and its spreadsheet formula language..." that all suffer from the "ERR" ACHILLES HEELS syndrome that hurts badly. :-\ !
Posted by Commander_Spock (3123 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Sorry but you are wrong
anyone using MS-Excel and OOXML can use this "NewERR" function based on the OS/2 Lotus 123 3.0 ERR math formula that you gave me:

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.news.com/5208-13860_3-0.html?forumID=2&#38;threadID=34504&#38;messageID=370441&#38;reply=true" target="_newWindow">http://www.news.com/5208-13860_3-0.html?forumID=2&#38;threadID=34504&#38;messageID=370441&#38;reply=true</a>

Unless the math formula you gave me was not the right one? In which case that makes you a liar.
Posted by Andy kaufman (291 comments )
Link Flag
MS dishonesty
&gt; Why should the industry be held back by the
&gt; lowest-common dominator of whatever is supported
&gt; in Open Office. That's crazy
&gt; anything-but-microsoft thinking.

No, it is the desire to establish and adhere to open and technically correct standards. MS has proven time and time again that it is a sales-driven company. The quality -- or lack thereof -- of their software shows it.


&gt; The reason why corporation use Office is because
&gt; everyone else is using it, and because it's a
&gt; developement plateform for in-house solution.

Can you say "circular reasoning"?


&gt; The format being or not an ISO standard is
&gt; irrelevant to corporation. Your data is never
&gt; lost when it's saved in Office format.

Are you joking? Although the clueless will always be among us, some of us computer types take our jobs seriously and attempt to do the right things for our companies.


&gt; If critics were really serious about this
&gt; 'lock-in' issue, then all that would be
&gt; necessary is opening up the MS Office format,
&gt; not have them support _another_ file format
&gt; instead.

MS Office format is junk. We don't want to use it. ODF would support its supposedly valuable "features" if they were any more than just window dressing and lock-in ploys.
Posted by Alton Moore (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
You are an ignorant tool
The only person here who is being biased, is ignorant and clueless is you.

MS Format is not junk and neither is the ODF format which goes to demonstrate the hypocrisy of Apple fan boys and OpenSource trolls. Rather than have an adult and objective argument around facts all you do is offer your own superior personal opinion without any consideration for what businesses want and need and the TCO.

Grow up!
Posted by reddunefilms (5 comments )
Link Flag
Finally, some truth from M$
At least the article started off with the truth:

" ... campaign to convince the wider industry that its endeavors
are in the best interests of users."

It's twisted, but it's there. The "best interest of users" are in their
wallets, which is where M$'s "endeavors" are! Translation: "we
just want your money!"

You can stop reading the article right there, for there isn't a hint
of truth anywhere else in it. OOXML is nothing but a shoddy
attempt at keeping their customers locked into a proprietary
format masquerading as an open format.
Posted by Dalkorian (3000 comments )
Reply Link Flag
MS downfall will be their own
"It's very important when migrating to open file formats that we take older documents into account."

What a bunch of garbage. MS released Office 2003 SP3 service pack for intended purpose of not supporting previous versions of Office docs (they say its something their customers wanted and is for security sake and other made up reasons... ha). They want to push their newer versions of Office, thats all. And why doesn't MS very well promote the "Office compatibility pack" to allow previous versions of office apps open &#38; edit Office 2007 docs.

ODF is fine. If MS doesn't want to join the party then that's their downfall.
Posted by Woodmon (29 comments )
Reply Link Flag
hmm. oh really?
"Any investment we make in the future of information work has
to take into account what has been done in the past," said
Microsoft Office project manager Gray Knowlton. "It's very
important when migrating to open file formats that we take
older documents into account."

Umm. Yeah. That must be why months passed while the new
office for windows cranked out files that couldn't be read by the
(until recently) most up-to-date version of msoffice for the mac.
Posted by Arlen Carey (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Sure! And Jefrey Dahmer Promotes Table Manners!
Can anyone really take this seriously as anything more than a last-gasp grab to control file formats?
Posted by Sumatra-Bosch (526 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Way too many OpenSource trolls and Apple fanboys on here!
There are way too many ignorant and biased OpenSource trolls and Apple fanboys on this site and this post.

I love the hypocrisy of their so called superior opinion (let me repeat opinion and not facts) around debates such as document formats without any consideration for real world business and the consumers who overwhelmingly use Microsoft products. I am an IT manager for a very large global company and we are representative of the majority presence of Microsoft products and technologies because of TCO. All software has problems and we have experimented with Linux and other opensource related applications and TCO in the end and user interfaces and usability is better with Microsoft products.

How dare people say that someone like Microsoft has little consideration or right to determine a file format for users or businesses when their software in this case Office represents some 90%+ of users.

And the sheer ignorance of saying ODF is superior is so childish it is not worth responding to.

Both formats have their pros and cons but independent organisations not aligned to educational institutions have said OOXML is a better format.
Posted by reddunefilms (5 comments )
Reply Link Flag
 

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