OOXML & GNOME Foundation furore

12:29 pm General

A recent open letter to the GNOME Foundation called on us “to unite the community behind the standard, universal format for office suites [Note: ODF] and distance [ourselves] from Ecma TC45 and DIS 29500 [Note: OOXML standard group]”. (Google it – the guy doesn’t need more linkjuice from me).

Having been on the board when this issue came up, and agreeing wholeheartedly with the idea of joining the group, I’d like to explain why.

Actually, I’ll just let Jody Goldberg (our representative on the group) explain:

There are two truths that need to be accepted:

  1. ODF is an excellent start for OO.o’s file format, but it is not perfect and will never be ‘the one true office format’ for all office applications without destroying it’s utility by diluting it with so much random cruft that no implementation would be complete, and interoperability would suffer.
  2. OOX is a file format that is in use, and we will have to interact with it. The opportunity to improve the spec and have MS answer questions and clarify necessary details should not be wasted.

The Foundation board decided to join ECMA (as a non-voting member) to participate in ECMA376/TC45. We did this not to show support for the standard, but to improve it. Whether we like it or not, this is going to be the dominant standard for office documents for the coming years (Microsoft’s dominant monopoly of the market has taken care of that) and to satisfy our users and remain relevant, we’re going to have to be able to read & write office documents in that format.

It’s much easier to do that when we have a say in the standard, and can request extra information when we need it.

And decisions are made by those who turn up.

16 Responses

  1. Sankarshan Says:

    “The Foundation board decided to join ECMA (as a non-voting member) to participate in ECMA376/TC45 to make a better standard” would perhaps require some bits of explanation as to how a non voting member plans to make ECMA into a better standard and especially which bits are relevant for GNOME per se

  2. Dave Neary Says:

    Sankarshan: Thanks for your comment – in fact, after a couple of other suggestions, I have modified that paragraph. Being a member of ECMA gives you the right to request clarifications and request extra information, to submit comments on the standard, and to otherwise ensure that you are getting as much information as you need from the process.

  3. aking Says:

    I quote, “Whether we like it or not, this is going to be the dominant standard for office documents for the coming years (Microsoft’s dominant monopoly of the market has taken care of that) and to satisfy our users and remain relevant, we’re going to have to be able to read & write office documents in that format.”

    I wonder why you develop GNOME specially for the *nix platforms then, since going by the above comment, MS Windows is the dominant OS and you would have rather build your DE on it.

  4. Dave Neary Says:

    aking: Thanks for your comments. There’s a huge, gaping difference between platforms and file formats. Allow me to explain.

    The whole point of file formats is to allow the exchange of files. Files are made up of data – people’s thoughts, financial data, lists of friends and their phone numbers, presentations of new cornerstone products, whatever. Exchanging these means that you can send them to a friend who can read them, or save them to a floppy disk or USB key and open them on another computer.

    Interoperability is different applications being able to read the same file format. ASCII or UTF-8 text are examples of interoperable file formats – everyone agrees what various bytes mean, and thus everyone on every computer can access the data.

    Our users create office documents. They like to be able to send them to their bosses, wives, colleagues, business partners, etc. in a way which allows the data inside to be read. They also like to be able to receive files from their business partners, bosses, wives, and read what the person on the other end intended to send.

    95% of all office software users use MS Office. They save in .doc, .xls and .ppt. This is why import and export filters for OOo are so important. The data does not belong to Microsoft, the data belongs to the user. And we are catering to our users.

    In coming years, the bosses, wives and business partners will be sending .docx files. What do we tell our users then? Life sucks? Not my problem?

    Making GNOME rock means making its users rock. Not being able to open a file that your boss sends you sucks. Being able to send your boss a shiny presentation in a format that your boss can read rocks.

  5. doesn't matter Says:

    So you support improving a Microsoft wanna-be standard furthering their control and dominance in the market (let alone all election fraud-like attempts to influence it’s voting as a standard) while ODF is now oh-not-so-good-enough-and-a-hopeless-case ?

  6. Dave Neary Says:

    I usually don’t approve anonymous comments, but I think I’m going to make an exception for this post…

  7. pvanhoof Says:

    Don’t let it go out of control Dave. You don’t want your blog to become a continuation for the idiots who do smear campaigns on Miguel over and over again

    (As if we’re still interested in their stupid opinions about Miguel, or interested in their religious anti Microsoft crusading).

    Bad enough already that Slashdot is giving these people a forum.

  8. pvanhoof Says:

    @doesn’t matter: Dave did not write that he supports this Microsoft format. Dave wrote (and it’s pretty much put in a very clear way, so there’s few room for confusion here):

    “OOX is a file format that is in use, and we will have to interact with it. The opportunity to improve the spec and have MS answer questions and clarify necessary details should not be wasted.”

  9. Ed Schouten Says:

    Even if the standard would be altered/improved before it’s final, how will this have any effect at all? Office 2007 has already been released and the damage has already been done. There is no way you can ever change anything in the OOXML spec without breaking documents that have been created so far, making it even harder for you guys, because you will then have to implement support for two versions of the format.

    But you guys are free to do what you like. If you think you’re doing a good thing by doing this, you should really do so.

  10. Peteris Krisjanis Says:

    It’s simply doesn’t feel right. Improving ODF with additional specification for next versions would be much better choice. Harder, expensive, maybe not paying back in short time, but much more insightful and perfect for long time strategy.

    I also think you overestemate importance of OOX. I think OOX will be dead in water in some years (ironically, not because of Linux, but of Mac). Office Vista will never reach same percentage which Office 2000/XP/2003 enjoys/enjoyed, for sure.

    However, I trust that your motivations are pure, not Novell influenced (and don’t get me wrong, I can understand Novell guys reasoning too). I hope it’s not because just Gnumeric is built upon supporting Excel format and it is hard to support ODF because of that.

    p.s. Gnumeric guys have always somehow been very against ODF, so this situation worries because of believe that it is some kind of personal manifest going on here.

  11. Alexander Says:

    Dave, the main advantage and aim of ODF is to give the author rights on his own document. He can open it in other program (it does not contain proprietary parts), on other operation system (it does not contain system-specific code). This is about ODF, not OOXML. ODF was created and adopted by large amount of companies and is already supported with many programs from different vendors.

    Also the only way to break the current practice when one company possesses the market and pays no attention to the standards it does not like is to make this company to play by the rules. Not to ask it – time showed it had no sense, but to make it by adopting the standard which gives all others the same rights and abilities from scratch. ODF is such a format, not the OOXML.

    If governments and public organizations adopt ODF, everybody will be sure 1. They can open their documents in the program they like, not the only one program, and any time in the future. 2. They can open the document they obtained from others without need to buy Microsoft Office.

  12. Open Source mobile edition Says:

    […] Neary, a member of the GNOME Foundation and community manager for OpenWengo, says it’s all safe as milk.  Quoting Jody Goldberg, who calls supporting ODF “significantly more difficult” than […]

  13. Will GNOME’s betrayal lead to Microsoft Victory? | Linux and Open Source Blog Says:

    […] Neary, a member of the GNOME Foundation and community manager for OpenWengo, says it’s all safe as milk.  Quoting Jody Goldberg, who calls supporting ODF “significantly more difficult” than […]

  14. robuka kenderle Says:

    >It’s much easier to do that when we have a say in the standard, and can >request extra information when we need it.

    Its chilling to realize how gullible some people are.

    You have the ‘say’ they want you to have. When they use you and hollow you out, they will spit you out.

    The power of ego is thinking that you are somehow not going to suffer the fate of others before you.

    When you do things that affect only you, I could care less if you jump off a cliff.
    When you do things that affect a whole community, then we have a right to call you out for the sheer arrogance.

    Call me names all you want but the whole Novell/Miguel/Gnome storylines are pretty revolting.

    And I hope you Gnome people are going to be happy going from the Nix plaltforms to the Windows one. I mean, it is the dominant one after all, so I dont see you wasting your time with things like Linux.
    Good.

  15. Pinner Blinn Says:

    Regarding these “truths”:

    1. ODF … will never be ‘the one true office format’ for all office applications without destroying it’s [sic] utility by diluting it with so much random cruft that no implementation would be complete…

    An open format is for reliable exchange of document information and does not have to support all features of the apps that use them. There is no justification to demanding 100% fidelity with cosmetic appearance or application-specific extensions.

    2. OOX is a file format that is in use, and we will have to interact with it. The opportunity to improve the spec and have MS answer questions and clarify necessary details should not be wasted.

    Interacting does not require supporting a ridiculously complex format totally within the control of a single company. Translate all archival docs to the open format (ODF). If there are problems with the translation which lead to loss of real information, fix the translator and/or the open format. OOX will never truly be open. You are only helping to extend a dominance by one company in office applications. What a shame.

  16. Robert Says:

    It seems like you attidude is the reason why that Letter was posted, it certainly gives it a burst of truth. This blog should be hosted here: http://blogs.msdn.com/