Microsoft Needs to Get The Facts Straight on OpenDocument

Posted by tadelste on Dec 19, 2005 8:12 PM EDT
LXer; By DC Parris
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  LXer Feature: encore January 1, 2006

LXer editor Don Parris says it's one thing for Microsoft to promote their own format in favor of OpenDocument, yet quite another to misrepresent the facts regarding OpenDocument's development.

Microsoft's FAQ on their new XML format represents a blatant misrepresentation of the facts regarding the development of the Opendocument. No matter how you look at it, they got it wrong - most of it, anyway. Their claim that the OASIS committee did not focus on Microsoft's customers actually points to their refusal to join the OpenDocument effort from the beginning. Not only have they misrepresented the facts surrounding OpenDocument, they now pretend that the OASIS committee had no interest in Microsoft's customers.

According to Andy Updegrove, an attorney who blogs on the OpenDocument battle, "the gratuitous and false statements about Sun, ODF and OASIS add a jarring note that represents at best a PR gaffe, and at worst an indication of the degree to which Ecma may allow Microsoft to write the script for the standards process to be conducted in its name." Updegrove goes on to point out that it would be difficult for the OASIS OpenDocument Technical Committee to focus on Microsoft's customers since Microsoft chose not to join the committee. Microsoft, a member of OASIS, had opportunities early on to participate in the OpenDocument TC. Even now the door remains open to them.

Let's look at one of Microsoft's statements a little closer. "Sun submitted the OpenOffice formats to a small committee in the OASIS organization." Small? Compared to what? The OASIS OpenDocument TC started with the same number of members as Microsoft's Ecma International committee. I would say that's pretty small of Microsoft. Then again, they may have considered their TC at Ecma quite large if they were surprised by the turnout.

Another of Microsoft's statements reads: "The record shows that there were almost no material changes to the OpenOffice specification from the time it was submitted to the time it was approved by the working group at OASIS." Yeah, right. In fact, there were changes made, and it took over a year for the committee to approve the final specification. How important those changes are is dependent on a number of factors. A small change could have a big impact in the grand scheme of things. And, if there were no 'material' changes, it could be due to the fact that the document format is based on years-old technology, and thus requires very little change indeed.

Here is another Microsoft claim: "The OASIS committee did not focus on the requirements, constraints, and experiences of Microsoft customers." Hmmm... Let's see. Microsoft chose not to join the technical committee when it was formed. They failed to heed the advice of the European Union's TAC to join the OpenDocument TC. Now, in the wake of being forced to 'bow' to the State of Massachusetts with respect to open standards, Microsoft makes the claim that the OASIS committee did not focus on their customers.

Never mind that any half-breed monkey with the brain of a flea that has ever programmed an office suite since Microsoft captured the marketplace has bent over backwards to ensure the highest level of compatibility with MS Office they could offer. Anyone looking to win over Microsoft's customers would have to have their requirements, constraints, and experiences especially at the forefront of their minds. However, given the lack of a published specification for Microsoft's binary and XML formats, it would be difficult to provide an ideal migration solution without Microsoft's participation. Given that they had plenty of opportunity to join the TC, their claim is purely bogus and clearly disingenuous.

Microsoft actually claims that their XML format have a number of "unique" design requirements. One of those is "Backward compatibility with billions of documents produced over decades." Excuse me? How is backward compatibility a unique requirement? Are they stupid, or do they really think I am? Their comment on robust testing is just as bad. According to the OpenDocument Fellowship's website, OpenDocument is based on technology from 1972, which makes it far more mature than Microsoft's XML format designed in the past few years. Furthermore, their current XML format is probably not as widely used today as OpenDocument, since most people still use the binary format.

Microsoft either intentionally sought to kill the adoption - if not the development - of OpenDocument from the beginning, or hoped it would simply go away. They might have had their way except for Mr. Peter Quinn, and his decision to adopt OpenDocument as a standard. Given that they have a monopoly position, they may have decided that no one would take OpenDocument seriously if they chose not to support its development. Now they choose not to support the document format in their office suite, and even to misrepresent facts about it. Thus, it seems most likely that they are being quite intentional in their efforts to kill the adoption of OpenDocument.

It would be ridiculous to assume that Microsoft has merely "misunderstood" the facts surrounding OpenDocument. For while they are not a corporate member of the OpenDocument TC, they do have an employee listed as a member. They also had the opportunity to comment on the OpenDocument specification, to which IBM and Sun both offered rebuttals. While I understand that Microsoft wants its document format to succeed as a standard, it is insulting to the intelligence of the typical IT shop manager to claim that your competition does not have your customers' needs in mind. Furthermore, one wonders just how serious Microsoft is about supporting the needs of those who use OpenDocument-supporting applications.

So, instead of intentionally misrepresenting the facts about OpenDocument in an effort to bolster their own claims about their XML format, I suggest that Microsoft instead focus simply on what it considers to be the strength(s) of their own format. Microsoft should revise their FAQ page to either reflect the truth about OpenDocument, or omit all but the most generic references to it. I further recommend that anyone paying any attention to this debate investigate as fully as possible any claims Microsoft makes about OpenDocument (or anything else for that matter). Finally, if Microsoft's intentional misrepresentation of the facts amounts to a violation of some standard or law, I should hope that advertising watchdogs will be so bold as to point this out.

Don Parris is a devoted family man, ordained Baptist minister, and author of the widely recommended "Penguin in the Pew". While he is a member of the OpenDocument Fellowship, this article represents his personal view, and does not necessarily reflect the views of that organization.

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