Lodahl's blog: Minutes

18 January 2008


NEW: Danish version here: http://www.oooforum.dk/viewtopic.php?p=7975

I just went to a meeting with Microsoft. I was invited as representative of the Danish OpenOffice.org Community. I thought a lot about whether to accept the invitation or not, but I decided to go there. If I don't accept an invitation like this, I can't claim that Microsoft isn't open enough.

Why is Microsoft inviting to this kind of a meeting ?
Well of cause they want our (my) sympathy and then they want to claim that they are 'open'. These meetings will probably be used as arguments for openness in the future. But inviting to a meeting is not at all enough to claim to be open.

At the meeting was five representatives from Microsoft. Chris Capossela and a guy called David Scult or something from head quarters. From Denmark, the Country general Manager in Denmark, Jørgen Bardenfleth and 'Office evangelist, Bo Drejer with some other people. - Chris was doing most of the talking.

I and one other invited guest from the FOSS community was the only non-Microsoft present.

The meeting was not at all formal and the discussions was held in a friendly and honest tone. We never claimed to be best friends and I started (while presenting my self) to say that I was there as a Microsoft opponent.

I will not refer word by word from the meeting.

Chris was asked about when Microsoft decided to go with 'open standards'. Chris explained that this decision was made about when Office 2003 was developed. Through the discussion it turned up, that the word 'open' again became the problem. Because what Chris was actually talking about was the use of XML. In his mind XML itself makes the file format open.

Chris Capossela was eager to explain that they would very much like the processes in both ECMA and ISO to be more open, that the fact is. I responded that it was a Microsoft choice to go that way. Chris could nothing but agree.

We discussed the openness and Chris explained that the reason for choosing the name Office Open XML was to signal a new era by using the word 'open'. We discussed and agreed that we interpret the word open in different ways. Chris agreed that OOXML 'is not open in all means'. It's only open in the fact that the format is not binary, the spec is available and (because of the OSP (Open Specification Promise), free of charge. We didn't discuss why the OSP isn't enough but Chris did a lot of work criticizing Andy Updegrove for his articles against Microsoft. Well, in another audience that might work.

I criticized Microsoft of taking the fast track route when it was later discovered that the specification was not at all qualified for that route. A document is not ready for a fast track, when so many faults and errors can be found. ECMA didn't do their job. Chris some kind of agreed (!) with me and said that the route was chosen after recommendation from ECMA.

Chris explained that the customers asked for a file format that could 'ensure backward compatibility'. And to 'ensure competition' Microsoft is trying to make it a standard. I told him, that backward compatibility should be handled in the application, not the format. The rules in ISO should prevent dual standards but Chris still think that two standards (not two applications) is ensuring competition. Hmmm. I gave up. I don't think his mind was open for that today.

Chris asked me what I thought he (Microsoft) should do. I told him that what the customers need is buildt-in support for the 'other' file format. Microsoft Office should have a 'save as odf' button and OpenOffice.org should have a similar 'save as OOXML'.

I don't think that the meeting moved anything, really. On the other hand, I don't think that Microsoft thought they could move me or anybody else. We exchanged opinions and business cards, and thats that. Microsoft is not more or less open after this meeting. Even that they tried to explain that.

I am beginning to understand why Microsoft is still claiming to be open. Basically it's a matter of how we interpret the one word open. Microsoft think that XML alone makes the standard open. I use another definition. The process has to be open and transparent and the organization must be protected from being hijacked by a singe vendor. I don't think he agreed or even commented on that.

This is a very fast writing. Sorry about misspellings ;-)

Btw: Thanks to all who gave me good and valuable advise before the meeting. Thank.


Achim said...

Denmark has clear rules what is open and what not. It inspired the EU to adopt their minimum conditions of an open standard. I am curious how OOXML would pass the test, esp. with the OSP.

The following are the minimal characteristics that a specification and its attendant documents must have in order to be considered an open standard:

* The standard is adopted and will be maintained by a not-for-profit organization, and its ongoing development occurs on the basis of an open decision-making procedure available to all interested parties (consensus or majority decision etc.).
* The standard has been published and the standard specification document is available either freely or at a nominal charge. It must be permissible to all to copy, distribute and use it for no fee or at a nominal fee.
* The intellectual property - i.e. patents possibly present - of (parts of) the standard is made irrevocably available on a royalty-free basis.
* There are no constraints on the re-use of the standard.

Leif Lodahl said...

According to Chris Capossela they are very well aware that OOXML doesn't live up to the definition of open standards that is a part of the Danish decision.

Chris said...

It's rather like a transition between VHS videotapes and DVDs.

Microsoft Office is like a VHS tape deck. OpenOffice.org (and Lotus Symphony, and Lotus Notes, and 'KOffice', and Sun StarOffice') are like DVD players.

If you've got a pile of videos on VHS, and you want to move to a DVD player, well, there are services which will transcribe. But I don't think it's very likely that a VHS tape deck should have a DVD writer in it. Nor that a DVD player should have a VHS reader.

New stuff, ISO 26300. Interoperable.

DumbBrit said...

"The rules in ISO should prevent dual standards"

Could you clarify this? It reads as if you believe that (say) no programming language should have been standardised once Algol-68 went through ANSI and ISO, and I assume that's not what you really think.

Leif Lodahl said...

In some way you are right. And that's why OOXML was allowed to be submetted. I'll recommend this article by Edward Macnaghten:
When is a standard not a standard?

Anonymous said...

Hi Leif,
God to read your report and bold that you went there!
Cor Nouws

dumbbrit said...

Fascinating but largely irrelevant: Mr Macnaghten fails (and it's a very frequent fail among the ODF community) to explain why an existing open but vendor-controlled format with low fidelity for the material in question and non-existent interoperability is preferable to a new open but vendor-controlled format with high fidelity for the material and - for the time being at least - good interoperability.

After all, by Mr Macnaghten's logic, there will never be a need for a new programming language to be standardised since all Turing-complete are equivalent... ;-)

There's a bunch of good reasons for going with OOo and ODF rather than Office and OOXML, but suggesting that ODF is the be-all and end-all when it comes to document formats is, frankly, specious logic.