The ISO voting on Open XML is delivering even more drama this week than I expected. In addition to the reality of what's going on, IBM and their friends are finding all sorts of imaginary dragons to slay, or at least to talk about.
The search for the "smoking gun"
I see today that Rob Weir's NO-OOXML blog has a "pseudorandom" set of complaints, one of which I'd like to address. Here's the relevant quote:
"But back to Sweden. My, my, what a mess. I suspect the same has happened elsewhere, including the US. But no one has been so careless as to leak a memo over here. We feel left out! So, if anyone has a similar "smoking gun" letter sent by Microsoft to line up MS Partners in the US to join INCITS V1 at the last minute, and doesn't know what to do with it, you might consider letting me know. I'll trade an original copy of the Utica Saturday Globe of Sept 21st, 1901, the President McKinley memorial issue, with full coverage of his funeral and burial, including a still brilliant page one color portrait of McKinley with Lady Liberty on the side, weeping, draped in flag with shield. A true collector's item for any McKinley fan."
I missed the Sweden point that Rob was getting back to, but I assume it has something to do with the situation Jason Matusow covered today, involving a Microsoft employee who contacted a couple of Swedish partners about their participation in the Open XML vote. In the email the employee stated that Microsoft couldn't pay their fees for joining the working group, but the employee also referenced joint marketing activities in a way that may have been inconsistent with company policy and guidelines. I've not seen any of the details (other than all the breathless commentary on blogs today), but apparently the employee realized the mistake and took immediate action to correct it. Oh, the drama of it all!
As Jason says, "offers to pay standards participation fees are totally inconsistent with our internal policy." I've experienced that firsthand, because a few months ago I asked that very question internally: can we offer to help partners cover the cost of participating in their countries' technical committees? The answer I received was simple, clear, and consistent with Jason's description: all members of standards bodies should handle their own expenses, period, because that's how standards activity works. Hey, as I've said many times, I'm new to all this standards stuff; now I know.
As for Rob's request for a "smoking gun" regarding the Microsoft partners who are working with Open XML and have joined V1, unfortunately there isn't one. I contacted a couple of those partners myself, but I just picked up the phone and said "hey, there's this committee that is discussing Open XML but nobody involved has actually implemented it from the spec and the debate is therefore 100% theoretical, so it would be great if somebody like yourself with actual hands-on experience got involved." Man, if I'd put that in writing, I might be able to win a free 1901 newspaper! After all, I'm always glad to share the emails I send about Open XML matters.
But I don't really want Rob's reward, I must admit. As it says in the Wikipedia entry for McKinley, "McKinley ... understood that a leader who controlled the news could go far in controlling the politics. He set up the first press room for White House reporters, and gave them his version of events. The newspapers became dependent on his word."
I don't much care for that approach to leadership, and I also have a hard time with McKinley's "splendid little war" in Cuba, or the ways he censored news of it back home in the US. I guess on McKinley, as with Open XML, Rob and I will have to agree to disagree. I prefer Jefferson's view of the press, and that's why for many years I had this quote on my web site's home page: "The only security of all is in a free press. The force of public opinion cannot be resisted when permitted freely to be expressed. The agitation it produces must be submitted to. It is necessary, to keep the waters pure."
Attacking Rick Jelliffe
Rob also took issue with Rick Jelliffe's attempt to bring a more balanced perspective to a chart that IBM lobbyists have been throwing around the last few months. Well, he didn't really take a single specific issue with anything Rick said, but rather called him a bunch of names and questioned his integrity. After a snide reference to "now that the Microsoft checks have presumably cleared," Rob tells us that Rick "gives sophistry a bad name" and throws around phrases like "fantasy as wish-fulfillment," "paid advocacy," and "dubious assumptions." He also quotes some Lord Byron poem about bearing breasts and other stuff, but as is often the case Rob's argument went right over my head and left me wondering if it's time to count the spoons again.
The personal attacks on Rick tell us a lot about IBM culture. As they made clear in their reactions to Rick's work with Wikipedia earlier this year, and continue to make clear in their view of anyone who dares to join a technical committee simply because they're working with Open XML, IBM has a hard time imagining a world in which people think for themselves, a world of chaotic freedom of choice and freedom of opinion. When you see bribery and scandal in every alliance between your foes, you're telling the world a lot about your view of the essence of collaboration and cooperation.
Believe it or not, Rick says exactly what he thinks, and he neither knows nor cares about things like Microsoft checks clearing. That's a type of person I can find quite satisfying to work with, even though he has occasionally pushed my co-workers nearly to cardiac arrest with his opinions and statements. (So do I, as this post is evidence -- anyone who thinks this post was preapproved by management is part of Microsoft "master plan" needs to step outside and get some air. This post will probably be seen as inappropriate by some of my colleagues, and it's not the first time and won't be the last. We're not all controlled by a single master brain in Redmond, no matter what you've heard.)
I welcome Rick's thoughts on why he supports "No with comments." We can disagree on many of the details and still work together toward a common goal, making Open XML the best standard it can possibly be. There are more ways to explain these types of collaborations than "somebody must be bribing somebody."
Does FUD work?
I've wondered before whether all these sleazy anti-Open XML tactics are working. Are IBM and their friends succeeding in creating FUD in the marketplace? It seems they are, in some cases.
For example, Xerox's Francois Ragnet says today that he has not taken a stance, and yet in the very same post he says INCITS "had advised against OOXML," implying that some type of last-minute change happened in INCITS's position. I'd guess that Francois had probably read the deliberately misleading posts by Rob Weir and Andy Updegrove that attempted to spin the lack of supermajority consensus within V1 as a "failure" for Open XML, and thereby missed the point that INCITS has never advised against Open XML, and at both the technical committee level and the executive board level, approval of Open XML is the only position that has ever had majority support within INCITS.
Score one for Rob and Andy there, but I do agree with Francois's conclusion: "Whatever the outcome though, there is a strong need for an XML-based representation of documents, and once the dust settles, this effort should be beneficial for all of us."
Coming soon: MORE SCANDALS!
The dust can't start settling too soon, but I suspect next week will be even worse when it comes to drama in the blogosphere.
IBM has set the stage for many more cries of foul, by misrepresenting various details of the ISO process. Just as they did during the contradiction comment period, IBM's strategy is to convince the public that some theoretical position is ISO or JTC 1 policy, and then when ISO follows its own rules they scream foul and leap up to defend the poor common man whose rights have been trampled by the process.
For example, Bob Sutor started a rumor that over 150 countries are elligible to vote, rather than the 104 voting members of ISO/IEC that actually have a ballot in this matter. Rob Weir has repeated that misrepresentation, so next week I'm expecting to read somewhere about how Microsoft must have corrupted the process in some way, preventing 50 countries from participating. Oh, the drama of it all!
IBM: no comment
Finally, the Wall Street Journal has covered the situation today, with quotes from a few people here at Microsoft wondering aloud about IBM's recent tactics. Unfortunately, "An IBM spokesman declined to address Microsoft's accusations."
"No comment" is turning into an IBM mantra lately. Bob Sutor has disabled comments on his most recent posts about Open XML (example, example), apparently having found the whole "Open Blog" premise has grown inconvenient for his work as an anti-Open XML lobbyist. He has also created an “OOXML is a bad idea” blog entry compendium that has comments disabled, and he often adds a link to that one after the fact to other posts (example, example).
How do I know Bob adds those links after the fact? Well, I subscribe to his RSS feed, and after every edit you get that same post again. It's an interesting comparison, to watch how often IBM anti-Open XML bloggers edit their posts after the fact, compared to Microsoft's bloggers.
I guess there's one thing most everyone agrees on these days: somebody is trying very hard to influence the ISO process!
I'm of two minds about the OOXML standards process myself. I consider myself part of the FOSS community so I was outspoken when I defended OOXML on my blog (only to have some of my factual assertions about ODF readily disproven, and then see Microsoft bloggers like Brian Jones and Jason Matusow continue to assert the same things for months afterwards, like "ODF doesn't address spreadsheet formulas"). I wanted to take issue though with one of your points.
'There are more ways to explain these types of collaborations than "somebody must be bribing somebody."'
I couldn't agree more.
But yet EVERY Microsoft post on the issue - including yours - continues to insist that the driving force behind opposition to OOXML is IBM.
Sure, IBM has an interest in ODF, as does Sun. But I don't understand how you (Microsoft) can't have figured out by now that the Open Source community is NOT driven by corporate politics? We defeated software patents in Europe (at least temporarily) despite enormous lobbying and plenty of corruption, without ANY large companies backing us, least of all the biggest patent holder in the world, IBM.
The opposition to Microsoft and to OOXML is massive and it's grassroots. The most rabid and irrational of all influential anti-MS advocates that I'm aware of is none other than PJ of Groklaw, who on every subject OTHER than Microsoft I admire greatly. But nobody could reasonably accuse her of being an IBM flunky.
Bloggers like Jason, Brian and yourself talking about the real issues COULD help to dispel some of the animosity - after all, Microsoft bloggers have radically changed MY image of the company from overwhelmingly negative in the past few years, and I know I'm far from alone. But as long as every post carries this air of "omg it's an IBM conspiracy, they're out to get us!", you're not going to change any minds.
Hi Stuart, thanks for your comments. I appreciate your distinction between the open source community and IBM, and since some of my closest friends consider themselves part of the FOSS community, I hear that perspective pretty often.
As for your suggestion that every post contains a response to IBM or a suggestion they're out to get us, I don't think that applies here. I've done 90 blog posts this year (they're all listed here: http://blogs.msdn.com/dmahugh/pages/archives.aspx) and it looks like I've covered IBM's tactics once in August, once in July, and twice in January, for 4 total on that topic, and 86 total on other Open XML topics. Yes, there has been quite a bit of coverage of IBM's tactics on the Microsoft blogs this week, but they've really ramped up their attack as the voting deadline approaches and I think that's why you're seeing this trend. (An interesting counterpoint to your point is to take a look at the IBM blogs and measure the percentage of their posts that are about Microsoft and/or Open XML.)
You say that "the opposition to Microsoft and to OOXML is massive and it's grassroots." I'm not sure why you say that, but it doesn't match my experience. Yes, there is a general anti-Microsoft bias in FOSS communities in general. Microsoft is the world's most successful software company, and I'd expect that. But I've attended some FOSS events this year, and I've not found much anti-Open XML sentiment. There is suspicion of Microsoft, and a tendency to assume the worst about us in some cases, but I've not yet met a FOSS developer who shares the intense fear and distrust of Open XML that IBM and others exude in the anti-Open XML lobbying that's been going on.
You mention Pam Jones, but with all due respect I find it hard to take seriously a secret person whose true identity is hidden (and therefore their true allegiances are a mystery). Also, I've personally had my comments on that site deleted (and eventually just gave up posting there), and I've met several other people who have had the same experience. I have a lot of respect for the straightforwardness and candor of some of the FOSS people I know, and I sure don't put "Pam Jones" in the same league, based on that person's behavior. They may not be an IBM flunky, but if not that makes it even harder for me to understand the reason for a need for so much secrecy, deception, and censorship.
I'm confused by your statements around formulas in ODF. They don't support formulas.
The current ODF spec does nothing more than to define where formulas should go, and that they should be namespaced. The is no definition of the actual grammar for the formulas though which means there is currently *zero* interoperability.
There is an Open Formula working group that is aiming to get formulas into the 1.2 release of ODF, but they aren't done yet.
I've talking with Jody Goldberg who used to work on the open formula working group and it sounds like they have made some good progress. I believe they are pretty close to wrapping things up, but I'm not positive on what the timelines are.
From the looks of their mailing list though it appears they having a hard time getting folks to participate: http://www.oasis-open.org/archives/office-formula/200706/msg00000.html
I've got a possibly paranoid question first, then a more serious response to your comments about grassroots support.
Here is the paranoid question: You state quite clearly what the Microsoft policies are. You make it quite clear that you believe that a Microsoft employee in Sweden on his or her own initiative and without any authorization offered to compensate partners who joined SIS and voted "Yes" to offset the cost of membership. Assuming that you believe that this was completely isolated and without authorization, and completely against Microsoft policies, how can you possibly assert that there is no smoking gun in the U.S.? You have absolutely no way of knowing. You yourself were not sure of the policy before asking, but you are certain that no other Microsoft employee in the U.S. (and there are quite a few, remember) went out on their own and made the same sort of offer. Again, how could you possibly be sure?
OK, enough paranoia. Here is the question about IBM and grassroots support. In your post above, you mention IBM twelve different times, continually referring to an "IBM mantra" and "IBM lobbyists" and "IBM has set the stage". Regardless of what you have posted elsewhere, you imply over and over that this is an IBM campaign. Now, I don't know about Pam Jones being a secret identity, but I think you will find that I, Ben Langhinrichs, an independent software vendor, have been speaking out about Office Open XML for about a year, vehemently opposing the stress on getting OOXML through at any cost, pointing out issues in OOXML before Rob Weir and others, despite the fact that I am not associated with IBM (except as the lowest level of partner, which I am with Microsoft as well - no dues or anything) and have not been solicited by IBM in any way or pressured by IBM in any way. I am a real person without a secret identity. I think you will find that Andy Updegrove, whom you reference above, is also a real person not associated with IBM. You may have read some of the inciteful and incendiary remarks from Stéphane Rodriguez, whom I fully believe to be a real person unassociated with IBM. I can continue, but I challenge you to stop repeating the Microsoft mantra, which it certainly seems to be, that IBM is behind all opposition to OOXML.
And in case it comes up, I am not a proponent of open source software or part of the free software movement or any of those things. I make commercial software, which I have sold to companies in 46 countries in the past ten years. Some of my software is aimed at IBM customers, some is aimed at Microsoft customers moving away from IBM, some is aimed at operating with both together.
I am not anti-Microsoft, but I am increasingly anti-OOXML, because it is a pain in the butt to use and is badly written and badly described, alternatively overdocumented an underdocumented, and containing many redundant and annoying artifacts of previous implementations (e.g., VML) that make a developer's life hell. Since I am not a proponent of FOSS, your experience with an anti-Microsoft bias there would be irrelevant.
So does this prove that there is a massive grassroots effort? No, but I have seen little evidence for the massive effort you suggest by IBM to alter the votes of various countries. No smoking gun memos, no rush of members joining to vote "No", no signs of vast lobbying except for the repetitive drumbeat of Microsoft proponents saying it is so. Aside from Rob Weir and Bob Sutor, and perhaps Ed Brill, can you name two IBM bloggers who have written about OOXML more than once or twice? Where is the evidence for the massive effort by IBM, and if it exists, are they so inept as to be unable to turn out the partners the way Microsoft has? I just don't see any signs of it other than reflected in Microsoft paranoia.
- Ben Langhinrichs
A win for OOXML is a loss for consumers as they will be forced to continue to purchase a product with no real alternatives. I also think a win for OOXML would ultimately be bad for Microsoft as the lumbering beast would continue to become complacent and inefficient.
Higher and higher prices for an inferior product... not something to fight for in my book.
Most ISO standards are designed to be "good". Most people want standards to be "good". Microsoft want a standard which is "theirs" and they won't let ethics get in their way.
"immediate action to correct it" doesn't mean finding a scapegoat after you got caught.
Sweden switches Vote to Abstain
The Swedish board invalidated the OOXML vote citing a voter irregularity - someone voted twice. It's now Abstain...
As you say - drama.
[quote]But nobody could reasonably accuse her of being an IBM flunky.[/quote]
Strange as many people have done just that in the past. If there is any doubt about Groklaw neutrality it has always been about links to IBM.
I have a question for you: If Microsoft cares about interoperability and open standards, why doesn't it just publish the full specification of Office 97-2003 binary formats so that billions of documents around the world can be read properly by competing software?
You can just send an email to Microsoft and then you get the Office 97-2007 binary formats specifications. And that includes a covenant not to sue so you or anyone else can implement them !!!
I agree with your point: I can't know for sure whether there's a smoking gun as Rob speculated, just as he can't know for sure whether there's a similar smoking gun that explains the last-minute appearance of Red Hat and Oracle members in V1 who were there simply to vote against Open XML and have never contributed to any of the actual technical discussions. However, I was right in the middle of the whole situation, as both a V1 member and the person who contacted some of the people who got involved in V1, so I think if there were a smoking gun, I'd be likely to know about it.
I understand that you and Stephane are not associated with IBM, and I didn't mention either one of you in the post above. But I'll be honest, Ben: I wouldn't call either of you an objective non-aligned participant in the conversation. You criticize and analyze Microsoft's actions often, but have either one of you ever criticized IBM's actions in this matter? By your own acknowledgment, IBM has at least two people working full-time to oppose Open XML and trying to influence the ISO process: do you believe that they've never misrepresented anything in those efforts?
As one of many potential examples, do you agree that Rob's post about "OOXML Fails" in the US was a fair and accurate statement of the facts, and was clearly not an effort to influence the vote in other countries? If you do agree with statements like that, I think you'll have a hard time convincing others watching this debate that you're a truly objective and non-aligned participant. And if you don't agree, then why give IBM a free pass? Why don't you hold them to the same standards of integrity and professionalism that you (rightfully) hold us to? As for your statement that there are no smoking gun memos from IBM, are you saying that their authorship of Kenya's contradiction comments was less important than the memo about the Microsoft employee in Sweden? At least we stand up straight, look people in the eye, and say "yes, that was bad judgment" when one of our people makes a mistake.
@Nest, we give the binary formats away to anyone who wants them. As part of that process you sign a license agreement that basically says you acknowledge that any file corruption you cause is your own responsibility. Surely you'd agree that Microsoft shouldn't have to support those situations. Per the conversation with Ben above, I'm curious ... do you ever ask IBM the same question about Notes's proprietary format?
Dough, if I follow correctly your way of thinking, IBM is indeed a lot worse than Microsoft (close to 2000 times worse) : while Microsoft influenced only 20 votes in Sweden, IBM bought more than 39000 votes for the NoOOXML petition...
Just be serious. It will be of no help for Microsoft to "put oil on the fire" as we say in French. All you will get is a backfire.
Just face all the technical problems in the OOXML draft, and prepare a better version. This will be a lot better for Microsoft than their current marketing tactics.
Doug, I criticize IBM fairly frequently, actually. For instance, last Wednesday, when I was fairly obnoxious about IBM's idiotic handling (or lack thereof) of nested tables, both in Notes rich text and in the new Productivity Editors, but also over the years I have criticized IBM's marketing, heavy handed tactics with customers, etc. In fact, I have criticized IBM a great deal more than I have ever criticized Microsoft. It is Open XML I don't like, not Microsoft, although your shenanigans around Open XML are starting to make me question that, and have led to a few fairly obnoxious posts recently. But those are a result of Microsoft's recent behavior, and hardly warrant a claim that I am "aligned".
As for your snide comment to Nest, do you have any idea what you are talking about? The Notes rich text format which underlies almost all Notes data, as well as all the other Notes storage formats, are documented completely in the Notes C API toolkit, which is available for free and without any particularly restrictive agreements, and has been since Notes was first released. IBM has never made any effort to hide it, and goes to a lot of effort to promote it. You could download the Notes C API toolkit today and see. Some of it is so nasty it would make your hair curl, but it is documented. Aside from that, the only other storage formats used are MIME (widely documented) and ODF in the Productivity Editors (obviously widely documented). The question appears awfully close to FUD when looked at with that information, but perhaps you don't expect people to have that information?
Didn't have that information myself, Ben -- thanks for sharing it. So it sounds like Notes wasn't a good counter-example, since that format, like BIFF, has widely available documentation. I'll not use Notes as an example again.
I still don't understand why this topic of access to binary formats comes up so often, since they're freely available. It seems we agree there's nothing there to talk about.
The war for OOXML is not about the war of MS vs IBM!
Not at all!!!
It is about the true nature of OOXML, if you don't know what I am talking about please visit http://www.nooxml.org/ and if you can contest the disadvantages of using OOXML shown there (with true facts!), than I'll believe you OOXML is a good thing for whole mankind and there is a world wide IBM conspiracy.