Even Insiders Can Be Wrong

Friday, 2007-February-02 at 16:30

Recently, Miguel de Icaza of Novell wrote a post that criticized those of us who are opposed to single-vendor "standards". Rob Weir responded to Miguel's post with his own post. M. David Peterson then writes in support of Miguel's view. This is a response to Peterson's posting. It appears that it might have been moderated out of his blog, so I'm putting it here, where it won't be censored.

I use ODF-aware applications all the time on both Windows and Linux. For my word processing documents, only AbiWord is substantially different. For spreadsheets, I have to admit that I don’t do many formulae, so my experience may not be typical. Having said that, my spreadsheets in Windows OOo work fine with Linux KSpread. As far as Gnumeric goes, my distribution’s version is not yet ODF-aware, so I cannot check its quality.

I have read about 25% of the ODF specification so far, and none of the OOXML spec. One thing that is clear from reading ODF is that it is designed to enable multiple implementors. The reports from those who have read the OOXML spec are that it is definitely not designed for this purpose.

There are a couple of purposes that are clear for any “open standard”:

  1. Give customers the ability to mix-and-match readily. When you hear comparisons with electric power sockets, this is what they mean. If a standard is open, I as an IT person in an enterprise, ought to be able to get the same results with multiple applications. In fact, I would say that from a technical support standpoint, if there are not multiple implementations, then it is not an open standard.

    This is one of the reasons the LAMP platform is so attractive: if PHP isn’t meeting your needs, one can switch to Perl, Python, Ruby, or any of the other scripting engines. This makes the enterprise less vulnerable to licensing issues, for example, or even performance issues.

  2. Make it easier for various competitors to produce fully-compatible products which can be swapped in and out in customers’ environments as desired. In other words, the software vendors produce their applications and merely have to map their functionality onto the input/output formats specified by the standard. This means that vendors no longer have to roll their own formats.

    If you look at mobile phone chargers, you’ll see that the cost of designing a new charger for each new series of phones means that it is costly for the companies, so when you have to buy a replacement charger, you pay more because that design cost is spread over fewer chargers. This extra cost and hassle, by the way, is why some Asian countries are now mandating that new phone designs use one standard charger design.

However you look at it, the only way that is good for users is to have one open format standard for exchanging files that can be implemented by all vendors. If there was no other reason, that would be enough to oppose pushing a second standard into government (which is really what ISO-standardization is about in this area) usage.

The reason for all of the so-called "anti-EOOXML FUD" is Microsoft’s anti-competition stance. We already know how difficult it is for competitors to fully-implement the existing binary formats. In my employment, I find that Microsoft’s own products have difficulty with their older binary formats, so I am not surprised that other vendors also have problems with those formats.

Like William, I find that above all, Microsoft fears and detests competition, using file formats to block out competitors time after time. Since their marketing proposition is “we are integrated–everything we make works together”, it is clear that they do not wish to give that mix-and-match ability to customers (or end-users, if you will).

Read the things on their advocacy blogs. Read their legal documents. Read the things their chairman spouted at the Microsoft-Novell announcement. Competitive markets, with several compatible implementations of equivalent functionality, are *NOT* what Microsoft seeks, but it is *EXACTLY* what customers need. https://lnxwalt.wordpress.com/2007/01/20/whats-wrong-with-choice/

In any case, no one is against Microsoft using OOXML as a format, but if they really cared about "choice", they would have implemented both formats. Until they do, claiming that they want people to have a choice is a straight-up lie.

In any case, while I have never met Rob Weir in person to know what he is like, he has impressed me as being a basically honest person. On the other hand, with the pretense that IBM is the one that has its finances in danger over the ISO-ification of OOXML has impressed me that Brian Jones would say *ANYTHING* to make it happen. https://lnxwalt.wordpress.com/2007/01/21/whose-finances-are-on-the-line/ tells us who has the greater financial risk here. HINT: It isn’t IBM.

Over the years, I have watched (and used) the products that Miguel has initiated. I respect him and his viewpoint, but I think that he is too close to Microsoft to be objective. One should keep Novell’s new relationship in mind when he writes these things. This is not to put him down, one *should* weigh the relationships and incentives of anyone that expresses an opinion on this issue.

My relationships? I do tech support in an almost all-Microsoft environment. I do not work for or have any relationships with IBM, Novell, Sun, Microsoft (other than their software being used in our environment), or anyone else who stands to make money or lose it. My desire is to be able to utilize fully-open standard file formats, so that *almost any* office application from *any vendor* can be used to produce the same (from a user and support persective) results. That’s it. That’s what ODF offers, but OOXML does not.

Entry filed under: ODF, Open Standards.

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