Microsoft Versus Users: Forcing OOXML On Unwilling Buyers

Monday, 2007-January-29 at 16:48 3 comments

Once again, a Microsoft employee is parroting the discredited idea that OOXML is in the best interest of the users of office applications, and therefore, opposing its quick ratification as an ISO standard means that you are against the best interests of the users.  It has been shown again and again that the only one with an interest in advancing this monstrosity is Microsoft.  Like the official mouthpieces, he blames all of this on IBM.

IBM's position on the Open XML vs. ODF standardization debate is in no way altruistic. IBM takes the position it does, not to make life better for the Open Source community or to advance the position of free software. IBM takes the position it does because this position ultimately creates more value for its shareholders. Period. It is a pity that they seem to be doing this against the best interests of their customers.

It is amazing how often Microsoft and its employees pretend that they have the users in mind when they force this unwanted OOXML on customers.  It is amazing that there are not any non-Microsoft people asking for this.  None.  Do a search on Google or Yahoo and you will see that there are zero—Z-E-R-O— people outside of Microsoft that are asking for this.

However, the problem if you are in IT services business is that complexity is your friend. Any reduction in complexity dilutes the value you can offer to your customers. This, in my view, is why IBM seems to be so focused on preventing customers from having to right to choose between two open standards for their document formats.

Likewise, complexity is your friend if you are a monopolist bent on maintaining your stranglehold.  We have already discussed (here; and here, for example) the deep-seated fear that pervades Microsoft over truly open standards and true competition.

Look.  We can put this controversy to bed quickly, and this is how: Microsoft implements full OpenDocument capability and places it in a "critical" update; Microsoft also updates OOXML to contain full implementation details of its secret sauce file formats, with a legally-binding pledge that anyone can implement the format at any time, in any application, for any purpose, running on any operating system, without any need to seek permission.  It is funny how Brian Jones and Doug Mahugh suddenly stopped whining about mean old IBM trying to shut them out once these issues were made public.

If Open XML becomes an ISO standard then customer will have a choice between it and the ODF standard. Customers will then be in a position to make a rational decision on the merits of each implementation of the standard. That evaluation will include things like the cost and complexity of deploying products which implement each standard and the costs and complexity of building interoperability between each standard and their other business systems.

That would be true if Microsoft added full ODF capability into their office suite, but that's not about to happen—competition would mean losing one of the twin monopolies that subsidize your money-losing MSN / Live services.

The brutal truth is that implementing the ODF standard is going to be far more complex than implementing the Open XML standard. Let's start by making the decision about whose exact implementation of the ODF standard you are going to choose. Is there going to be a commitment to compliance and interoperability testing between the various ODF implementations which continues as the ODF standard evolves. A couple of examples amply demonstrate exactly why ODF implementations will be wonderfully complex….

On the other hand the Open XML standard format is designed to be easy to deploy and utilize….

The fact that implementing information systems using Open XML will be far less complex, easier to integrate and will have a lower life cycle costs than implementing ODF should not be a surprise. Microsoft's business model and the means by which it generates shareholder value demands that this be the case. Microsoft business model and therefore it's underlying motivations are the complete antithesis of IBM's. High complexity in a customer environment increasing demand for IT services but creates a barrier to software adoption and upgrades. These are the very things which power the Microsoft business model. It is not surprising then that a huge proportion of Microsoft's $7+ Billion annual R&D investment goes into reducing the implementation complexity of its software products.

You are so full of it that your breath stinks.  There are already several implementations of ISO 26300 (ODF).  For most purposes, they are fully interoperable.  The OpenFormula supplement is in the approval process now, so that later this year, all fully-compliant implementations of ODF will be able to use the same standard formulas.  If it was so complex to implement ODF, why did Microsoft itself tell Massachusetts that it would be "trivial" to implement it?.  It is too late to change your minds now, especially since we can see all the problems that Microsoft's sponsored ODF-to-OOXML conversion plugin has had trying to make conversion to OOXML work.

Guess what?  This is a tech support person speaking.  I support users of Microsoft Office 2003 on Windows 2000 and Windows XP.  Complexity is the word for using your office suite.  Even simple things that our users have to do daily are complicated enough that we often have to come to the user's computer and do it for them.  Your "hide the menu choices the user hasn't used in a couple of weeks" function causes more problems than anything else, because when the user wants to do something, they cannot find the options they need.  But there are numerous such design choices that make it more difficult for end users to achieve their desired results.

I also get to try to open files saved in older versions of your software and in old versions of WordPerfect.  Lots of fun.  You ought to try it sometime.  Because of these things, I very much support ODF as a standard—after all, I'm the one who deals with users—you would also support it (and only it) if you dealt with the users of the software.  For any kind of government work, legal work (including contracts), or anything else that may need to be accessed some undetermined time in the future, only ODF combines functionality and ease of implementation into a package that meets the needs of end users.

If you are concerned about the users in your organization, call your IT department and ask that they make ODF-compliance a requirement for future office suite purchases.  This is not meant to force Microsoft out of the market, but instead to force Microsoft to do what is right for the users for once.  We know that OOXML is best for Microsoft shareholders, if and only if it passes ISO so that governments can still buy Microsoft Office without full ODF support.  But if OOXML fails to pass ISO, they have bet their whole monopoly, and so they could wind up losing a major part of the market before they decide to do what is right for the users.

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  • 1. Get together my thoughts on OOXML/ODF  |  Sunday, 2007-February-11 at 19:54

    […] attempt to respond to the latest thing I’ve read and stake out my feelings on […]

  • 2. lnxwalt  |  Sunday, 2007-February-11 at 21:06

    I read your response. First of all, there is no "backwards compatibility" in OOXML if Word 97 cannot open it. What you are looking for is faithfulness of representation, which can be done by specifying that you want to have 1/4 inch of space above a footnote, instead of saying, "doItLikeWeDidItIn1995". That ability is not specific to any particular XML-based file format.

    But it is going to be okay. After a good cry, you Microsoft guys will be fine.

  • 3. Help vanquish 'Blue mean e's « Limulus  |  Wednesday, 2007-April-11 at 18:33

    […] it any wonder that there is such concern about ‘OOXML‘?  If MS wanted to implement a really open standard, they should adopt […]

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