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!
Doug - I completely agree that there is nothing to discuss regarding the BIFF format. My understanding has always been that you could get access to them if you wanted to, and I have never wanted to because I have been neck deep in other arcane binary formats. It took a new paradigm such as the XML formats to make it worth moving into the documents arena for me personally.
And I agree that it is FUD of a sort in reverse to push Microsoft to reveal what it has always been quite willing to reveal. I wish it were even possible to stay on topic in these sorts of discussions, but human nature is what it is.
- Ben Langhinrichs
people and technical committees all around the world (not only IBM) are only despising OOXML because it completely lacks any technical merit as a standard as it currently is. I will say again, technical merit is the question. there is no worldwide conspiracy against the corporation, only a massive refusal of accepting something defective.
basically, OOXML is defective by design. see for instance http://ooxmlisdefectivebydesign.blogspot.com/ . there is no doubt about that on anyone's mind, so OOXML should not be made a standard by ISO, very simple to understand.
instead of keeping going on about pushing this defective standard, Microsoft would do much better PR and receive much better marks from the technical community if it just helped develop the already existing ODF format. If you believe ODF could be improved, instead of forcing OOXML through, just improve ODF through the correct channels at ISO, in harmony with the rest of the world. everybody will benefit, inclusive Microsoft.
Simultanously putting 'true facts' and nooxml.org in one senctence actually made me smile.
I admit I was not aware of http://support.microsoft.com/kb/840817/en-us# .
I am about to email Microsoft and ask them for a copy of the specs for their binary documents. I am a bit worried however about what they call "initiating the agreement signup process" (wtf!?). They also ask for my company/agency name, mailing address, city, state or province, zip code or postal code, country, contact name, contact title and contact telephone number....
They really make it almost as easy as getting a PDF from a web server...
We'll see how successful my request is...
Is there a mapping between the binary file formats and the OOXML formats? That would be very useful.
"I still don't understand why this topic of access to binary formats comes up so often, since they're freely available."
They were freely available then the SDK was either removed or access was limited. I don't remember the exact timing or specifics of that, but I do remember it causing issues for some colleagues when it happened. They are freely available now, but many people who used to use the SDK and found other workarounds aren't aware of it.
When a vendor giveth, then the vendor taketh away, very few people expect to see the vendor giveth again. :-)
"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?"
Why did you feel the need to ask such as question in the first place, Doug?
I have both Bob Sutor and Rob Weir on my feeds list. I don't get these repeats. It doesn't mean that edits aren't happening. It just means that the post does not repeat (on Google Reader) if or when it happens.
'When a vendor giveth, then the vendor taketh away, very few people expect to see the vendor giveth again. '
Which is why it is good to have a standard, so they cannot take it away if the winds of business change.
Out of curiosity, does the license agreement you need to sign for the binary formats really say you can't use the information to work on a product which competes in any way with MS Office? While I understand why it might, it certainly means something very different than making it freely available.
well looks like your prediction of "more scandals" is dead right. Care to elaborate on Microsoft's role in the U turn from Poland?
I do not see any such restrictions in the PDF with the licensing agrement that you find on that site.
@Quark, I have indeed visited nooxml.org. Looks very authoritative and professional. I loved this page, of course: http://www.noooxml.org/forum/t-18198/doug-wants-drama
@Antoin, I don't know of such a mapping. The concept has been much discussed, but I think an even more useful mapping for the future will be one between Open XML and ODF, as DIN has started organizing a group to work on: http://www.fokus.fraunhofer.de/fokus/fokus/presse/meldungen_fokus/2007/05/DIN-E.pdf
@Mike, I felt a need to ask because I had talked to a Microsoft partner in Europe who has Open XML development experience and was interested in joining his local technical committee, but he was concerned about whether his manager would approve of the costs involved.
@W^L+, that's interesting you don't get repeats with Google Reader. I use Bloglines, and get a repeat every time there's an edit.
@Ben, it's my understanding that we used to have some verbage like that, but it has been removed and now we license them to anyone who wants them.
@Alan, I don't know anything about Poland, so I can't elaborate. Did something scandalous happen?
Doug - Thanks. Good to hear. I hope that that whole debate is put to rest now.
Also, Rob Weir and Bob Sutor both have blogs that report edits way too frequently. I have done tests to see if they actually changed content, and in most cases they had not. Bob Sutor's reports a change every time there is a new comment, which is a horrendous design, but has no evil intent. Rob Weir's edits seem more random, perhaps just when there is a link back, but I can't see the pattern. In any case, I have yet to catch either updating or changing any information except typos (I change those myself) or updates that are noted.
Alan - What is the scandal about Poland? Is this about the switch of committees at the last minute or something else?