Posts filed under ‘Open Standards’

ODF in MS Office 2007: More Details

Microsoft reveals how Office 2007 will support ODF –

Microsoft announced that Office 2007 would support ODF, as well as Adobe’s PDF, in May. The next version of Office, code-named ‘Office 14’, is also intended to support ODF.

ODF, a rival document format to Office’s native format, has become popular with governments and schools. Microsoft, acknowledging requests for compatibility with ODF, had earlier released a converter to allow Word users to open documents saved in ODF, but Office 2007 SP2 will provide the first direct support for ODF in Office.

This sounds wonderful. I will point out that Microsoft hasn’t completely changed its spots. It still wants competing software to implement ODF its way, rather than according to the standard.

Microsoft said its goal in publishing the details is to help make different implementations of ODF in different software products more consistent, by giving developers a model to imitate.

“By publishing notes on how we are implementing file format standards in Microsoft Office, we are providing details that others can use as a reference point for their own applications,” said Doug Mahugh, senior project manager for Office interoperability at Microsoft, in a statement

Still, this must be a tough thing for them. Recall how the company ferociously throughout 2007 fought moves in several states to standardize state documents using open formats such as ODF. To now say, “we support the format” after marshalling its allies to whine that they would be excluded has got to be like swallowing sand. As much as it hurts, they are participating and joining in the game. This can only be good for end-users, those who support end-users, and for government agencies that do decide to standardize on open formats such as ODF.

Thanks to Carol Geyer for pointing this out.

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Sunday, 2009-January-04 at 12:33 1 comment

Tech Advice For The New Administration

Andy Updegrove wrote some advice in December that I believe should be on the top of the pile.

To this, I would add just this:

  • OPEN Standards—Where there is an open technology standard, it should be used in preference to any closed, proprietary protocol or format. There should not be any “this file requires XYZ software” or “this site requires XYZ browser or operating system”. If it is paid for the taxpayers, it should be available in open protocols / formats which can be accessed with various implementations on various operating systems.
  • OPEN Source—Because purchasing software is "taking" funds from everyone to deliver to a company, there should be an automatic and enforceable preference for products which provide the most benefit to everyone, without unduly restricting the ability of taxpayers to access/modify/distribute the source of the software they paid for.
  • OPEN exposure—there are always going to be some things that someone in an agency wants to conceal and lock up. More often than not, it turns out that it is something that should have been brought into the open all along. It is important that our government be open with us whenever it can. In many cases, data that shouldn’t be exposed also shouldn’t have been collected to begin with. We should make agencies justify what they collect by revealing it to everyone.

By emphasizing the OPEN, along with the things Andy wrote about, we have a chance to reboot our technology advancement and benefit the whole country’s citizenship.

Finally, emphasize competition in everything we buy or build. Rather than using all one brand of software, we should be using multiple brands that all follow the same open standards. Rather than using one brand of hardware, we once again should be using multiple brands that all follow the same open standards. Where vendors refuse to provide that, use taxpayer funds to build something that does and then make it available to all of us.

Friday, 2009-January-02 at 18:43 1 comment

Despite Some Teething Pains, ODF’s Vendor-Neutral Approach The Best Way Forward

Despite some portions of the standard that appear to be underspecified and the inconsistent implementation I recently wrote about, the vendor-neutral approach offered by the OpenDocument Format remains the best way to achieve the freedom from vendor control that we seek. Other approaches, such as the “this format is based on implementation X” approach, leave most competitors playing eternal catch-up, while customers and end-users have little choice but to get the format originator if that format is important to them.

Despite whatever complaints or grumbles you may hear, we all know that—except for people employed by a leading vendor—we bear the incompatibilities and the unspecific portions, while hoping that the next version of the standard (and the next version of ODF-compatible applications) will get a little better. And now that the leading vendor of office software is preparing to enable native support for ODF, I expect it to get even better.

For me, at least, it was never about replacing Microsoft Office, but about the freedom to choose whatever product will best meet my needs at the time. When you are supporting users, then it is even more important to have multiple compatible choices, because there is always something that product X does not handle correctly, but product Y does handle correctly. And when you are the person who is asked to open some legacy file format whose original application’s vendor has decided that earlier versions are unsafe, you will come to depend upon the ability to utilize a competing product to open it.

Now, as we work toward that improved compatibility and specificity, we also need to work toward a wide variety of tools and uses to help make ODF-compatible products better for end-users. Something similar to what Brian Jones and his team have been writing about recently would be a good way to continue the work Bob Sutor did with “Dr. ODF” a couple of years ago.

Another project that I think would be very helpful would be to mirror as many (federal and state) government-hosted word processor, spreadsheet, and presentation documents as possible, except for converting them into fully-functional (work-alike and look-alike) ODF files. Obviously, it would have to involve a very trustworthy group (running active-code from unknown entities on one’s computer is highly discouraged).

One more project that would really be helpful is to produce human resources and recruitment software that accepts .odt (ODF text document format) files as well as the Microsoft legacy binary formats. During a job search, one sees “send your resume in Word DOC format” on nearly every opening. If the software could handle ODF documents equally well, a huge impediment to ODF adoption would crumble pretty quickly. Perhaps this is best implemented as a zero-price plugin for existing applications, but it would have to work without the warning dialogs that characterize the use of ODF plugins in Microsoft Office.

I felt that it is important to record this now, lest readers get the impression that I am becoming discouraged, disenchanted, and potentially venemous. It was enough that members of the former foundation were disillusioned over the process they encountered in the ODF TC at OASIS. I will grant that, if CDF ever does come to fruition as an office document format, Sam Hiser will seem prescient. (Personally, I hope it does, but in the meantime, ODF remains our best path forward.)

Monday, 2008-November-17 at 00:20

General Agenda for the Next President

I hope that our incoming President Obama practices a more ‘open’ technology policy: open standards, open source, open data formats, open competition between vendors, and much less weight on the ‘intellectual property’ rights of large corporations. Open access for Americans to our government files, with a commitment to shred / delete any information that is not absolutely necessary. Open government processes, without hidden backroom deals and without allowing special access to corporate lobbyists.

Open net connectivity rules, what we call ‘net neutrality’, to curb the monopoly power of wire / cable owners, enabling new and improved data services to flow through those ‘pipes’ as well as price competition among those who provide those services. A commitment to move federal documents and files from their present proprietary file formats to open formats—open standards, created with open processes that are open for any stakeholder to participate, and which are open for any vendor to utilize at any time—like the OpenDocument Format, a widely-available format for office applications.

Shut down the secret and illegal overseas interrogation-slash-torture prisons, the domestic surveillance programs, and corporate welfare programs meant to protect overpaid CEOs from the consequences of their choices. Oh, and one more thing: long prison terms to those whose actions threatened our Constitution over the past few years.

In fact, I encourage my readers to use ODF-formatted files in any correspondence with government agencies. Include a link to Sun’s ODF Plugin for Microsoft Office. As you might imagine, fans / users of a certain competing format are doing the same thing already.

It goes without saying that this is my opinion, and not the opinion of any other person or organization. For this post, no comments will be accepted, but you are welcome to express your agreement or disagreement on your own blog or your local community access cable television station.

Update: We have the incoming administration’s technology agenda. It looks bad for those who re-use or re-purpose pre-existing ideas to create new uses. Since all ‘new’ ideas are recycled old ideas with a twist, you may safely expect the ‘IP mafia’ goons (RIAA, MPAA, BSA) to shut down what little economic vitality we have.

* Protect American Intellectual Property Abroad: The Motion Picture Association of America estimates that in 2005, more than nine of every 10 DVDs sold in China were illegal copies. The U.S. Trade Representative said 80 percent of all counterfeit products seized at U.S. borders still come from China. Barack Obama and Joe Biden will work to ensure intellectual property is protected in foreign markets, and promote greater cooperation on international standards that allow our technologies to compete everywhere.

* Protect American Intellectual Property at Home: Intellectual property is to the digital age what physical goods were to the industrial age. Barack Obama believes we need to update and reform our copyright and patent systems to promote civic discourse, innovation and investment while ensuring that intellectual property owners are fairly treated.

In part, this is because the IP mafia groups are keeping prices higher than they should be. It costs almost nothing for them to duplicate the material once they have it, so they need to drop their prices substantially. At some point, it is no longer as lucrative for knock-offs, especially considering the cost of shipment from overseas. This is first semester economics here. The RIAA and similar groups are cartels, like OPEC. Their continued insistence on clinging to their old business models and mark ups will fail, simply because duplication costs and distribution costs, once the barriers that kept most competitors out, have fallen precipitously.

That is part of the problem, is that copyrights, patents, and trademarks are not very similar in use or purpose to what physical assets were in the industrial age. The analogy does not fit, and legal restrictions based on those analogies are doomed to fail. Jim Robertson sums it up nicely:

It’s not that artists don’t deserve payment; they do. The problem is that technology has run past the way the law was designed. Copyright law was designed for a time when it was expensive (and relatively difficult) to create copies – and very difficult to create lots of copies. Now? It’s not only easy, it’s something we can do without thinking about it.

When people think that entering the music, television, movies, or software fields automatically means you will have high incomes, you know something is distorting the market. Rather than trying to misuse the legal system to back up an out-of-date, failing business model, let us get out of the way and let new business models arise which will get rid of some of the unnecessary middlemen (e.g., RIAA and MPAA member companies), while bringing lower prices to the consumer and still bringing revenues to the talented creators who make what we read, watch, and listen to. Those revenues may be lower (or they may be higher with the middlemen’s percentage returned to its rightful owners), but it will also help drive out the money-grubbers who join a field only because of the high returns, rather than because they actually desire to do the work.

Friday, 2008-November-07 at 22:44

Not Dancing Yet

I agree with CyberTech Rambler and Ditesh of the OpenMalaysia Blog: there was and is a standards conflict, if not a war. Ditesh gives some examples.

Those who cannot see this [PDF] have their eyes closed. This wasn’t some anti-Microsoft frenzy. It was Microsoft realizing that they hadn’t planned for the market coalescing around a non-Microsoft controlled, vendor-neutral standardized file format, ODF. They then unleashed their attack dogs to try to chew up anyone and anything that supported ODF while they crammed OOXML through Ecma and ISO.

As PJ pointed out, Massachusetts forces it to rethink this strategy, and Microsoft came out fighting. OOXML passage through ECMA and ISO is a war. May be not the big crash of superpowers, but at least a guerilla war fought between a superpower and local, disorganized fractions such as this fly-by blog. Interestingly, most anti OOXML/proODF people do not see Microsoft supports for ODF in Microsoft Office’s next service pack, and its decision to rejoin the ODF committee at OASIS as them winning the war. Do I believe this is a turning point in the war? Not yet. It will depends on what is delivered in the service pack, and Microsoft behavour in the committee. However, it can potentially be a turning point. — CTRambler

I also agree with CTRambler that the result (whether Microsoft support for ODF brings it to a happy end) depends very much on the implementation of ODF that Microsoft uses in Office 2007 SP2.

It is only those in Redmond who feared that ODF would so damage their office suite market share that they’d all be joining MLM plans. The rest of us already know that Microsoft will do quite well in a fair competition, gradually losing share (the way that AT&T did the first few years after telecom deregulation). This would actually help the company, as it would force them to jetison money-losers like Zune and MSN/Live and to change the way the company is managed.

In fact, those of us who deal with end-users want Microsoft to be one of several popular options for office software, because this is best for end-users, even if it is uncomfortable for some vendors. Those who use software benefit from single format-multiple vendor standards (SFMV). We want Microsoft to be a part of our SFMV universe.

Let me repeat it in case anyone might have their eyes closed: We want a strong, profitable Microsoft to be part of a competitive market for office software, because this is best for end-users, assuming SFMV. The second we throw in multiple vendor-specific formats (MVSF), of which OOXML is an example, it becomes possible for a single vendor or a small number of vendors to abuse end-users over and over with impunity. (Remember, OOXML is a proprietary format in drag.) To claim that opposing OOXML’s attempt to monopolize the market and revealing its crucial design flaws is being “anti-Microsoft” requires either self-deception or dishonesty.

So, I am looking at Microsoft’s announcement with cautious hope. I am hoping that they are really going to integrate ODF into their product, and not make it a half-baked “me-too” addition. I am hoping that they will participate in the OASIS TC without any intention of sinking or polluting the format, but of making it better. Better for their needs (including accurately representing content imported from previous editions of their software), better for the needs of StarOffice/, better for the needs of KOffice, better for the needs of AbiWord/Gnumeric, better for both commercial entities that wish to utilize the format AND for free software projects using GPL and other FSF/OSI approved licenses. And I hope that the results are so good (including the financial results) for Microsoft that they never need to continue with OOXML, and instead quietly make ODF the main default format for their office products.

If / when that happens, I’ll be dancing …

Sunday, 2008-June-01 at 21:14 1 comment

Topic Of Discussion: ODF and OOXML

Topic Of Discussion: ODF and OOXML

The community site has a lot of links to coverage of issues surrounding document formats.

For example, one article links to an article on Ars Technica about the Sun ODF Plugin for MS Office.

… Microsoft paid no notice; the update was going to allow seamless opening, editing, and saving Word, Excel, or PowerPoint documents using ODF, whether people liked it or not. Microsoft told those interested in the move that they had to wait until the first half of 2009, and now Sun is telling them that next year has come early.

By the way, I recommend Sun's plug-in for those who cannot switch to another office suite that natively uses ODF. See lists here and here to find other ODF-capable software.

Another entry links to a story about the Dutch government producing an open source conversion tool to transform its documents from proprietary formats to ODF.

The Fall of Microsoft Office points to a Motley Fool article of the same name.

On the same day that the state of New York published a report supporting open formats for electronic documents, mighty Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT) said that it would support the open-source ODF format in Office 2007. Redmond’s own Open Office XML specification may be heading for the great Recycle Bin in the sky, never to come back.

The company’s biggest revenue generator may be a shadow of its former self in a few years. I just hope that Microsoft has some alternative business prospects on tap — and no, tackling Google’s search hulk head-on doesn’t count.

I note that I did say that a single format, with multiple compatible applications was threatening to Microsoft's financials, which explained all they did to attempt to promote multiple formats, with a single compatible application for each. This despite the oft-spoken desire of end-users to have single format, multiple compatible applications, so they no longer have to worry about what software brand and version is being used by their friends and business associates.

"OOXML ratification faces delay after objection" points to a C|Net article of the same name. Microsoft&339;s ODF support points to Open XML challenges links to a same-named article at Computerworld.

Microsoft Corp.’s plan to add ODF support to its Office applications suite next year reflects continued challenges for the software vendor’s own Office Open XML file format, as the industry moves ahead with adopting ODF and sorts out Open XML’s troubles.

Though Open XML was ratified as an open standard by the ISO international standards body on April 1, it continues to face impediments to widespread adoption. On Friday, it was revealed that South Africa is appealing ISO’s approval of the standard. And earlier this week, New York’s state government officially promoted ODF — formally, the Open Document Format for Office Applications — as a standard file format based on customer demand, as it launched a new initiative for technology openness and open standards.

I am not sure that the general public is as attentive to the debate as they have been, but the technology community appears to be re-energizing its attention.

Wednesday, 2008-May-28 at 18:04

NY Doc Formats Study Released

In 2007, several states, including California, New York, Texas, and Minnesota, considered bills that would mandate the use of open standard file formats and network protocols wherever possible. Thanks to interference from Microsoft and its channel partners, these bills were derailed in every state.

In New York, they agreed to study the issue and issue a report and recommendations. The report is out. In reading it, it reflects the delicate political balance between the needs and interests of citizens (open standards and vendor-neutrality, not using multiple formats for similar functions) and vendors (formats supported by the products they sell, use of exclusive features that are not replicated in competing software) and by extension politicians (appear to support the interests of their citizens, while backing political contributors’ interests).

In the office document formats space, their recommendation is not to decide on either the interests of openness (i.e., OpenDocument Format, as implemented by StarOffice/OpenOffice, KOffice, etc.) or the interests of politicians and vendors (i.e., keeping the money flowing to Microsoft). In effect, it is a decision to hand the decision to MSFT piecemeal, since managers and purchasing agents will likely throw the citizens off the boat in order to save their vendor relationships.

However, there is other news that could again tip the balance toward ODF and other open standard formats.

Thanks to Bob Sutor, a resident of New York, for the tip.

UPDATE: Groklaw weighs in.

Wednesday, 2008-May-21 at 15:16 1 comment

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