Why Microsoft deserved to lose the OOXML standards vote

Why Microsoft deserved to lose the OOXML standards vote

Summary: I believe that the world is big enough for multiple file-format specifications. I don't think the Open Document Format (ODF) deserves to be the only format sanctioned as an "open standard." That said, I also believe Microsoft deserved to lose the ISO standard fast-track vote that was tallied this weekend. Here's why.

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TOPICS: Microsoft
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Microsoft lost its bid to fast track its Office Open XML (OOXML) file-format specification. (It's next-to-impossible to tell from Microsoft's press release announcing "Strong Global Support for Open XML as It Enters Final Phase of ISO Standards Process," but it did lose.)

As readers of this blog know, I believe that the world is big enough for multiple file-format specifications. I don't think the Open Document Format (ODF) deserves to be the only format sanctioned as an "open standard." That said, I also believe Microsoft deserved to lose this vote. Why? 1. Lobbying is legal. But certain lobbying tactics are not. Microsoft officials admitted that one of the company's employees behaved inappropriately in Sweden, attempting to influence partners to vote for OOXML approval. It's good Microsoft admitted that this was wrong. But it still makes me wonder whether company officials did the same in other countries and were just not caught. And if anyone thinks Microsoft was the only company engaging in lobbying around this standard battle, you need to stop drinking the IBM Koolaid.

2. Microsoft has a history of changing specs at will and leaving developers in the lurch. It's true you can teach an old dog new tricks (especially when the U.S. Department of Justice, state attorneys general and your competitors are all watching to make sure the dog is behaving properly). But when a specification is created and maintained by a single company or entity, it's more prone to being manipulated and abused.

3. Openness is in the eye of the beholder. Microsoft considers OOXML open, yet so far, it hasn't been able to get its own Mac Office product to interoperate with the new OOXML formats in Office 2007. Microsoft has enlisted a number of its new friends to build OOXML-ODF converters, but it has done so only an attempt to "prove" to standards makers that OOXML isn't the island that it is.

Microsoft isn't throwing in the towel: It is predicting it can overcome objections by the time the final tally is taken for ISO standardization. Between now and then, both Microsoft and IBM and other ODF backers will, no doubt, continue to lobby as to why OOXML should/shouldn't become an ISO standard.

In spite of the rhetoric on both sides, Microsoft wants OOXML to gain ISO standardization so that it won't lose out on government contracts that require "open," standards-based products. Microsoft's competitors don't want Microsoft to obtain ISO standardization because they see this loss as a chance for them to finally lessen Microsoft's 90-plus-percent market share in the desktop-productivity suite business.

This battle's not about interoperability, motherhood and apple pie: It's about Microsoft wanting to keep its desktop-suite monopoly and its competitors seeking ways to break Redmond's stranglehold on this part of Microsoft's business.

What do you think will happen next? Will Microsoft triumph in its OOXML standards quest in the end? Why or why not?

Topic: Microsoft

About

Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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332 comments
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  • What I think is funny . . .

    is that if MS would just include ODF in Office 2007, we wouldn't be having this conversation. They would meet the Open standards set by Gov agencies, AND maintain their dominance in the Office arena. But their arrogance may end up costing them.

    Even though they included .rtf in their older products, I don't see very many people using it. They used the .doc format. The same would have happened with ODF and OOXML . . .

    They're their own worst enemy, sometimes . . .
    JLHenry
    • They can't use ODF.

      Well, maybe for a simple word document but thats about it. ODF has nothing to offer to say PowerPoint or Visio.
      No_Ax_to_Grind
      • Document formats are not rocket science and ODF was designed to support all

        of the kinds of formating, etc needed for Text, Spreadsheet, Presentation, most importantly, everything needed to represent what is in MS Office formats. Why don't you try to name even one thing that can not be represented by ODF? You have to remember ODF supporters are all ears when it comes to supporting any feature required by MS Office. For them, interoperability with MS Office is job one.
        DonnieBoy
        • Tell you what...

          Grab a copy of Star/OPen Office and try importing a PowerPoint presentation. It will be very obvious that a good deal is missing. In fact use any tool (using ODF) you like and you'll see what I mean.

          As a second test, there are convertors out there to convert from Office to ODF. Again with PowerPoint, Visio, and to some extent even Excel (with macvros) you will see that the conversion simply is not possible as many things are not supported in ODF format.

          In fact, I don't beleive ODF can support any sort of macros and in the business world thats a show stopper.
          No_Ax_to_Grind
          • Been there, done that

            [i]Grab a copy of Star/OPen Office and try importing a PowerPoint presentation. It will be very obvious that a good deal is missing. In fact use any tool (using ODF) you like and you'll see what I mean.[/i]

            This isn't a new discussion. I've had several very nice dinners free thanks to colleagues who made the exact challenge you do above.

            The difference was that they had the huevos to put their money where their mouths were, so when their presentations imported and displayed perfectly they paid up instead of pretending it never happened.
            anonymous
          • Bull

            Look, I work extensively with PowerPoint and yes with OPen Office when forced to by clients and there is no way OPenOffice can match PowerPoint, it isn't even close.

            Well, unless of course we are talking about the simplest presetations possible. When I open complex PowerPoint persentations in OpenOffice timings are changed, transitions and MANY animations turn to crap, videos and audio files do not work properly, links in the poresentaiton and to external documents works about half the time.

            No, when I do have to make a conversion like this it really means import into OpenOffice and then spend hours rebuilding the presentation to get it anywhere close to what it originally was.
            No_Ax_to_Grind
          • Don't blame the tool

            [i]Look, I work extensively with PowerPoint and yes with OPen Office when forced to by clients and there is no way OPenOffice can match PowerPoint, it isn't even close.[/i]

            Whereas none of the ones I've loaded, including ones the creators swore would never run in anything but MS, ran fine.

            Sounds like PEBKAC. Of course, talk is cheap. YMMV. HAND.
            anonymous
          • Different versions of Powerpoint

            We run into the same thing using different versions of Powerpoint on different PCs so even MS can't get it right. I don't run into anymore problems using Open Office than I do using different versions of MS's own product.
            Gerry_z
          • I do it all the time

            I have been OO only for years now, I rarely have any formatting problems. I think the question was, not go prove it yourself, but list examples of deficiencies (macro's being an example, excel macro's work BTW in both excel and word docs I import into OO after being asked if I want them activated).

            As for losing formatting, is this the rock solid preservation of formatting you are talking about?

            http://ooxmlisdefectivebydesign.blogspot.com/

            Ignore all of it, scroll to #13, see how Office 2007 preserved formatting.
            [B]Open it with any of Excel 97/2000/XP/2003, then open it in Excel 2007.
            ...
            The differences are :
            * vertical axis all set to automatic scale/min/max.
            * also impacts the number of
            horizontal gridlines in the background.
            * chart title font not the same weight
            * chart title incorrectly positioned vertically.
            * legend border incorrect.
            * legend entries incorrectly positioned.
            * spacing between the plot area and the legend.
            [/B]

            TripleII
            TripleII-21189418044173169409978279405827
          • I've done it, quite successfully

            Training is part of my job at a proprietary software company. I have a PowerPoint that is over 250 slides. I opened it in Open Office, and it worked 100% perfectly. Same with several other PowerPoints

            I've done the same with several Excel spreadsheets (the most recent of which was my d 5 yr old daughter's soccer schedule), as well as several Word documents (including large documentation files). All opened and rendered flawlessly in Open Office.

            All that said, there are a minute amount of very advanced featured in MSOffice that have no equivalent in Open Office. But 99% of users never use those, let alone are even aware that they exist.

            Also, MS keeps changing the file formats, to keep people locked in and on the upgrade treadmill, and competitors playing catch up.

            Simply put, based on my own extensive experience, for the vast majority of situations, Open Office opens and runs MS Office files just fine.
            super_J
          • Then your presentations are very simplistic.

            "Training is part of my job at a proprietary software company. I have a PowerPoint that is over 250 slides. I opened it in Open Office, and it worked 100% perfectly."

            Really, so your videos worked? You audio files played properly? All your links in the pres and to OLE based documents worked? ALL animations and transitions were unchanged? There were no changes in timing?

            Not a CHANCE and we both know it.
            No_Ax_to_Grind
          • Ever consider...

            that there are people in this world who know more about PowerPoint or OO than you do? I didn't think so.
            jasonp@...
          • Or someone is ...

            Hmmm -- lots of people report having no problem.
            You report having nothing but trouble.
            Either "hard to load" presentations are very rare, or you're trailing the bell curve.

            Me, I vote with William of Occham.
            anonymous
          • Know more about PPT than I?

            No, I doubt that very, very much given I've authored two books on it.
            No_Ax_to_Grind
          • Really? Care to name them Professor? <NT>

            <NT>
            odubtaig
          • No_Ax_to_Grind authored 2 coloring books about PowerPoint?

            Did they sell well with the 4 to 6 year old demographic?
            B.O.F.H.
          • What version of OOo did you try?

            Maybe those who have had success and are using more recent versions than you?
            PMDubuc
          • BOFH

            What have you ever written? And if they were coloring books I'm sure that's more of a contribution to the world than you'll ever make. So laugh all you want, but your laugh is hollow and meaningless.
            xuniL_z
          • Xunil, No_Ax makes some broad claims.

            Part of the problem with making claims is at some point you have to back them up with facts, something No_Ax fails at on a regular basis. Those of us who know (personally) the developers of PowerPoint (pre and current acquisition by Microsoft) have a hard time with his claims here. Given what he posts here (quality of writing), his claims to actually writing something suitable for business people to use/learn PowerPoint rate somewhere with his other claims.
            B.O.F.H.
          • the way I see it

            anyone that has blog posts or emails that are stylish and error free, has way too much time on h/is/er hands. <br>
            my posts/emails do not come close to any professional documents/manuals or even non tech stuff I've done over the years. they are quickly formulated and typed on the fly. error rates can be high. this is very common among even the most highly qualified professionals with whom i've ever collaborated.
            xuniL_z