Microsoft rebuts "back-of-envelope" man-year calculations to offer full Office Open XML support

Summary:Looks like we have another case of he said, he said in the blogosphere. In one corner is Adobe's Andrew Shebanow.

Looks like we have another case of he said, he said in the blogosphere. In one corner is Adobe's Andrew Shebanow. In the other is Rick Shaut who works in the Macintosh Business Unit at Microsoft (the guys who bring us a far better looking version of Office than, well Office...yes, the Windows version). The debate takes place against the backdrop of the file format war du jour: the OpenDocument Format (ODF) vs. Microsoft's Office Open XML (OO-XML). ODF was recently approved as an international standard by the International Organisation on Standardization (ISO) and a final specification for OO-XML was recently published by the Ecma consortium and it itself is on its way to the ISO in hopes of being ratified as an international standard (yes, the greatest thing about standards is that there are so many of them [for the same thing]).

Since the two formats were first pitted against each other on the international stage, a lot of mud has been flinging back and forth about this or that shortcoming and, whether he intended to or not, Microsoft's Shaut hung a softball over the plate that my two-year old could have knocked out of the ball park (sans steroids). Schaut explained why users of Office Mac can't have OO-XML support overnight: 

So, one handler per developer, and, on average, it's fair to assume productivity of one handler per dev per day.

At that rate, a team of 5 developers will implement 25 handlers a week, which means that we'd have all the XML handlers written in 44 weeks. Well, a little more than that, because I've rounded the number of elements down to the nearest 100. Nevertheless, we’ve taken a little less than a year to get the converters reading the new file format. We still aren't writing the new file format, we have the RTF side of things to worry about, which is actually more complex than the XML side, and I’ve completely left out all of the design and coding for the intermediate representation of the file. The intermediate representation, itself, is at least 6 to 8 months worth of work.

In other words, we're almost halfway through the schedule, with less than a quarter of the development work done. You want more developers? I don't have more developers. This is just for Word. We need additional teams for Excel and PowerPoint.

My two year old was apparently too busy to knock the stitches of that ball, so Adobe's Shebanow stepped up to the plate to take a swing:

Got that? It would take 5 developers a year to do a quarter of the work. That means the whole job is roughly 20 man-years of development time. That doesn’t include testing, documentation, or localization. That would probably double the number of man-years, at least....But it gets worse (citing the need for additional work on Excel and Powerpoint)...Back of the envelope, we’re now talking about 120 man-years. For Mac Office, Microsoft decided such an investment wasn’t practical, so instead they waited for Win32 Office to go final and are now porting the Win32 code to the Mac.....

.....Breaking out my envelope again, we’re now looking at 150 man years to do the job for a competitive PPA. How can competitors afford to make that level of investment? Novell says they will support import and export for Open XML with financial and technical help from Microsoft. Corel says they’ll do it too. Guess we’ll need to wait and see how successful they’ll be at maintaining fidelity and compatibility, though given what Rick has to say, I’m not super confident.....

Shaut, playing deep center, went back to the warning track to field the long ball made the catch but still had to keep the runner on third from tagging up. Schaut, clearly having learned a vicious lesson about how, in the blogosphere, your own words can be turned against you (and your employer) updated his initial blog entry with a rebuttal:

I’d like to clear up some things about what I said earlier.  My back-of-the-envelope estimates included a lot more work than just supporting Open XML in Mac Office.  Open XML is the easy part.  It included the work required to generate RTF in both directions and to implement tools for developers.

If we had to add support for Open XML to Mac Word 12 without being able to port code from Win Word, the read/write estimates shrinks down to about 8.5 man/years (44 weeks x 5 devs x 2 for read+write).  As I recall, this about half of what it took to add HTML support to Word: 10 or so devs over a release cycle of 2 years.  Doing the work for PPT and Excel isn’t strictly a multiple of Word, because about 30% of the XML elements are shared between the three apps.  So, for all of Mac Office, I’d estimate it would take a total of about 5 devs over the release cycle to add full Open XML support starting from scratch, as part of the larger project.

Meanwhile, in other file format wars news, perhaps some of you can recall the earlier days of the feud when ODF was getting tossed to the wolves for it's lack of accessibility to people with disabilities (PWDs). Now however, ODF appears to be getting some PWD fortification. In InfoWorld, Elizabeth Montalbano reports:

When Massachusetts' government decided to use Open Document Format (ODF) as the default document file format throughout its agencies, a key concern was that ODF would not allow the visually impaired to use assistive computer technologies.....On Wednesday, IBM said it has helped solve that problem by developing technology that will allow applications based on ODF to better communicate with products used by the blind to access visual information on computer screens....Through Project Missouri, IBM developed application programming interfaces, (APIs) collectively called iAccessible2. These APIs will make it easy for visuals in applications based on ODF and other Web technologies to be interpreted by screen readers that reproduce that information verbally, IBM said....iAccessible2 not only will help ODF communicate better with screen readers that assist blind computer users, but it will also allow charts, pictures and other visuals based on AJAX and DHTML to be discerned by the visually impaired through those readers....The technology is based on interfaces IBM originally developed with Sun Microsystems to make programs on Java and Linux platforms accessible to the blind.

Topics: Microsoft

About

David Berlind was fomerly the executive editor of ZDNet. David holds a BBA in Computer Information Systems. Prior to becoming a tech journalist in 1991, David was an IT manager.

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