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February 11, 2008

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Rob Brown

Guy,

While I applaud you for responding to the ODF Alliance, your responses suffer from the same omissions and lack of objectivity that the original report suffered from.

In point 8, you are asserting that Sun wields unacceptable power over ODF. The ODF Alliance showed the structure of the OASIS committee and made the telling point that "ODF 1.0, the standard, is owned and controlled by OASIS".

Yet you expect people to believe you and un-named "vendors", and you ignore the most important point of all: "the strong direct control Microsoft asserts over OOXML, its having sole chairmanship of the Ecma TC45, and its having secured a committee charter that prevents any changes to OOXML that are not compatible with Microsoft Office. "

This point is the main reason that I am rejecting OOXML. It will lead to a different kind of lock-in: while having a veneer of "openness" and "standardisation", MS Office will define the standard, and other software will always be playing catch-up. This will not be too much of a problem for ecosystem products from the likes of Altova and Mindjet, but will greatly hinder products which compete directly with MS Office itself.

Why did you ignore that point in your response? Are you happy that OOXML will always be whatever Microsoft decides that it should be, and sure that their decisions will always put their customers first (rather than their business aims)?

In point 10, you are still suffering from your confusion between file formats and applications. Of course there are fidelity issues with the Open XML/ODF Translator Add-ins for Office, because that product is still immature, but it will improve. Meanwhile, OOXML is still changing and its future is undecided. What are the translators trying to translate: MS Office 2007 documents? OOXML(draft) documents? OOXML-1.0 (as yet unpublished)?

With your comment "Specifications for Microsoft’s binary file formats have been available for free since 2006", what relevance does that have to the ODF spec published in 2005?

Meanwhile on the application front, OpenOffice has for a while been in many cases a better tool than MS Office, for opening legacy documents. Even leaving aside Microsoft's breathtakingly arrogant decision to kill their own legacy files with Office 2003 SP3, issues with Office versions opening documents from previous versions are well known. Or were you unaware of that? I can provide examples if you'd like.

In point 12, you are dismissive of the Swedish vote-rigging incident. I find it very, very troubling, and I welcome the EU's decision to open an investigation into Microsoft's behaviour.

As a side-note:
In point 7, your "table complexity" argument completely misses the mark. Look into object-oriented design, and note the meaning of "abstraction". As an example, when building an object of type "car", you may choose to use an abstraction called "wheel", with characteristics like diameter, width, material etc. It is then useful to use that "wheel" as the basis for your tyres, steering wheel, gearbox gears, or whatever; for each higher-level object you add extra characteristics as appropriate.

There is no "subjective architectural call" here: the use of a single "table" abstraction in ODF is completely valid. If the OOXML designers have used a different model then that's fine, but it's no basis for stating that ODF is limited by its design.

Not that my opinion carries any weight at all, but here's my vision of file-format nirvana: ODF is established as The One document format standard, and the OASIS committee which owns it is populated by Microsoft, Sun, IBM, Novell, and stakeholders from the wider industry. Microsoft Office competes on its quality, unprotected by file format lock-in and anticompetitive behaviour. Note that Microsoft would still make truckloads of money in this model;
their market presence and momentum, plus the fact that they can make good software when they need to, will guarantee that.

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