I can't help but observe the "discussion" underway with respect to spreadsheet interoperability that Rob Weir has started. Essentially Rob is complaining that Microsoft didn't implement the formula namespace of OpenOffice.
For the chair of the committee to post vitriol like this about the implementation of his own format raises a number of very concerning problems.
I'd like everyone reading the post to know that Rob was invited to participate in the DII events leading up to the SP2 release, and offered the opportunity to test the beta software specifically for the purpose of providing feedback on the implementation. Normally the chair of group of the standard being implemented would jump at the chance. Rob didn't, electing instead to wait for the shipping version and then claim that it is somehow deficient to other ODF implementations that he has deemed suitable for his purposes.
Does it make sense to have a chair for the ODF TC whose apparent mission is to create a caste system for ODF implementers? Do we really think Rob, who debates whether the tough (and publicly vetted) implementation decisions of his constituents are "malice" or "incompetence?" – is this the hallmark of a leader in the standards community striving for innovation using open technologies? Is this the characteristic that OASIS wants to promote in the development of technology standards? In Rob, do we really have a person capable of operating in a vendor-neutral forum? If departments within 18 various governments really do use ODF as their standard, should we be comfortable with an ODF TC chair that is trying very hard to discredit and divide its supporters?
Is it time for Rob to step down as chair? I think so.
I'm not saying Microsoft (or anyone) should be the chair instead, but I am saying that Rob is unfit as a leader given his inability to separate his personal venom from his role as a leader in driving the standard forward. It seems like a better approach to empower people on the ODF TC who have a long-term view of the need to enable interoperability, and to move those with more short-term vendor-oriented agendas to the side.
John Head is on point with this post. eWeek seems to be fine with SP2.
As far as I can see, the only thing that Rob is really demonstrating here is that the "grossly inadequate" formula support of ODF (those are the words of David Wheeler, leader of OpenFormula, read on for details) is causing problems with vendors implementing the standard. He instead resorts to scoring implementations based on a percentage of common ground, rather than conformance to something written on paper. This gives Rob the freedom he needs to define his own criteria for what ODF implementation is, and who is doing it according to his rules.
Rob seems to be positioning himself as the final arbiter on what is "good" ODF vs. "bad" ODF. OASIS? specification? – Unimportant when Rob Weir can arbitrarily define criteria for what he thinks is good. He's in a position where only he will declare his own ODF preferences as the blessed implementation. It seems that neither the ODF TC nor the spec matter anymore. It seems that ODF is being run by an individual.
Current ODF standards do not support formulas no matter how much Rob wishes it to be so. Implementations of ODF spreadsheets are application-dependent. ODF 1.2 is not an approved standard. OpenFormula is not an approved standard. While it may be that both are on a path to standardization in the future, today they are not. This is a situation that has been known to the ODF TC for more than 4 years, yet no solution based on an approved standard (other than Open XML) has been found. These are all indisputable facts.
In his post, Rob proposes using "legacy OO namespaces" (also declaring OpenOffice as the "current convention"). Rob's suggestion to use "legacy OO namespaces" is a reference to a vendor's product and indicates favoritism to a particular implementation. The defender of "precise, repeatable, common" seems to be abandoning that hill, hoping instead to claim for his own the dialog that Microsoft has been conducting for a long time: Interoperability requires the participation of many, and will not be defined by a standard alone. Doug covers that pretty well I think.
The irony isn't lost at all. This is the same guy who went to such a length to chastise Open XML for its undefined list styles and compatibility settings. For some reason his expectations of Open XML seem to be somewhat higher than they are for the committee he chairs. For some reason, it is ok for Rob to patch glaring holes in ODF as "current convention" and then complain vigorously about alleged dependence on Microsoft Office for implementing Open XML. This is shameful, hypocritical and warrants corrective action.
It wouldn't be such a huge deal if the tone were constructive or aimed at improving the situation. It seems he is only interested in distancing himself from scenarios where ODF can be used successfully with Microsoft Office (as well as the DII discussions where that implementation was discussed in detail during its development. Funny that he didn't show up there to share this feedback.)
Rob's conclusion on the cause of that problem:
"I was taught to never assume malice where incompetence would be the simpler explanation. But the degree of incompetence needed to explain SP2's poor ODF support boggles the mind and leads me to further uncharitable thoughts. So I must stop here"
Let's just remember that it was the ODF TC which deemed formulas "out of scope," and after 4 years, still have no solution for standardizing the definition of "Sum = 2+2." Rob says "Everyone knows what =A1+A2 means." Really Rob? What does it mean if A1 contains 1, and A2 contains "two"? Would it surprise you to learn that Excel and OpenOffice produce different answers in that case? Which one is correct? This question and a thousand more like it is why formula interoperability is hard work, and not at all the trivial matter Rob claims it is.
During the original discussion within the ODF TC, not everyone agreed with the omission of formulas from the spec… David Wheeler seemed to be pretty clear when commented on this on February 7th, 2005:
This previous comment scares me: "There are from our point of view also no interoperability issues, because the namespace prefix mechanism we have specified unambiguously specifies what syntax and semantics are used for a formula". Here's how I read that: "Every implementation must reverse engineer all other implementations' namespaces (they're not in the spec, so everyone's free to invent their own private incompatible namespaces). Then, every implementation must implement all the syntax and semantics of all other implementations' namespaces for formulas, if they wish to achive interoperability. And oh, by the way, your implementation might not implement the namespace for the document you're trying to load, so you may lose all the formulas."
I'm sure that's not what was meant, but that's how it reads to me. I hope that helps explain why I think that the current formula information in the OpenOffice specification is grossly inadequate."
So… maybe it's too easy, but "I was taught to never assume malice where incompetence would be the simpler explanation." David Wheeler saw this coming over 4 years ago, and yet, OpenFormula is not a standard today, and ODF has no definition for spreadsheet formulas. Rob tries to excuse his way around this in his post, but these comments are made by the committee that he chairs. I'll leave it to you, then, to decide between "malice" or "incompetence" of the poster who would elect to throw his own committee under the bus to get hits on his blog… or fail to take this very good advice.
By the way, it is worth noting the response to this stern (and very accurate) prediction.
"Hi David,Thanks for the concerned comments and all the considerable effort you have put into solving this problem. You're challenging us all to go where none have dared tread before. So go ahead and lead the way. You have the TC's attention. We are listening. As you grind out the grit of your proposal, please keep in mind that we have to fit proposed solutions into the politic of work that has already been done. A politic that represents years of work that is just now on it's way to ratification at OASIS, and beyond to ISO. Keep in mind also that the ISO certification comes at the request of the European Union. Time is of the essence. Ratification perhaps trumps perfection. At least for the moment."
This comment was from Gary Edwards, (he of "cracks in the foundation" / OpenDocument Foundation fame) who eventually left the TC and shuttered the OpenDocument Foundation. I seem to remember some dialog from Rob about Open XML being "rushed" through standardization. Funny how those things come back to haunt you.
I'm very discouraged by Rob's post. As far as I can tell, rob is playing a shell game where only his definition will be good enough for supporting ODF, and that definition will change to whatever Microsoft isn't doing.
This is far from constructive. This is not a way to foster interoperability and industry dialog. This is not a leader for people to follow.
"It surprises me that the Openoffice developers can figure out many details of Microsoft's closed formats [this requires a lot of hard work and desire for interoperability], yet Microsoft can't be bothered to attempt interoperability in such an important area..."
Microsoft HAS been capable of figuring out such things... They managed to deal with Lotus 123 compatibility.
No, this 'feature' is no accident. It's classic Microsoft... I wonder why anybody would be surprised about it.
Microsoft should move its headquarter to tenaha, TX. Looks like they share at lot of values about how to conduct 'business'.
I said: >> It surprises me that the Openoffice developers can figure out many details of Microsoft's closed format
Gray Knowlton said: >> And it surprises me even more that Rob's & Doug's tests are likely to have an "OK" mark in every table cell if binary formats were used instead of ODF.
I think you dodged the question, or we are not understanding each other.
Let me address what you said. Assuming your suspicions would turn out to be true, principally this would say that Microsoft's binary formats, for the relatively simple test file that was created, has been deciphered quite well by others so as to be read accurately and be written in a similar enough way.
For the most part, this just means that the OpenOffice contributors have deciphered the closed Excel format and have shared the implementation details with everyone else.
The OpenOffice contributors have also "deciphered" the ODF format (the spreadsheet subpart) and shared it with others, but perhaps this has not been done as successfully (at least if you are correct and for the particular test file Rob Weir created), or, more likely, some of these other products simply have not yet found the time or commitment to get this done for ODF.
This explanation (which I believe is fairly accurate) that I just provided for your observation supports my initial remark: that the OpenOffice people work hard for interop while Microsoft does not. In particular, when Microsoft defined the format, others worked very hard to achieve interop despite all the hurdles. However, when the rest of the world had their turn and defined a format, and, unlike Microsoft, made it public and provided an open source reference implementation, Microsoft still failed to achieve interop even for a fairly simple test file.
I'm not sure why you avoided a direct reply to me. Nevertheless, I believe you were insinuating some things with your reply, but things that I think are inaccurate. For example, I think you wanted to suggest, without outright saying so, that binary formats like a Microsoft Excel format can achieve a greater degree of interoperability than can be achieved from an open format like ODF which even has a de facto known open source reference implementation. Your "proof" would be that the binary formats would be implemented interoperably by everyone. Meanwhile, most, but not everyone (with the obvious exception of Microsoft), would be able to do same for ODF.
I have a problem with this insinuation about the relative interoperability properties of ODF vs Excel closed formats, but, before getting into more detail as to why I think the suggestion doesn't hold much water, let me point out that your comparison speaks badly for Microsoft: When we talk about Excel binary formats, everyone can figure it out, right; however, when we talk about ODF, everyone can pretty much figure it out except for Microsoft.
Most people would probably agree with Rob and others that this result speaks badly for Microsoft. Who knows if the reason has to do with competence, intentions, or something else.
Alright, so why is ODF a better format than Excel closed format, when it comes to interoperability?
To start, let me point out something you appeared to have overlooked. ODF is very new. There is a lot more interop that has been achieved in these short years than was possible in the early years of the binary formats (eg, the Excel formats).
Perhaps you might argue that the Internet and software is more advanced today and blah blah. This is true, but one thing to realize is that compatibility with the Excel closed formats has improved recently as well. In short, we have apples and oranges to some extent, so let's look at some other attributes.
First, ODF is defined openly. Excel's closed formats are not. Without getting into details, I'll just say that being given a blueprint makes your task easier than if you have to figure everything out through reverse engineering. [This is more so if the closed formats can change over time without you realizing it because the formats are defined by a single monopoly application that changes every single time it is updated or patched (which can happen at any point in time on Windows, without it being clear that such is happening).]
A second reason why I believe ODF is superior is that ODF comes with a known de facto reference open source implementation while the Excel closed formats do not. Again, having such reference material accessible just adds to the amount of information that is publicly available. More information means your job is easier. Source code is actually about the most you can ask for if you want to guarantee interoperability. As a bonus, there are many open forums, mailing lists, documentation, bug reports, and other resources to further aid the developers seeking to improve interop.
A third item to look at is that ODF leverages existing standards. This means all interested parties have a headstart in building interoperable implementations. The knowledge, experience, and implementations for large subsets of ODF are already out there.
A fourth point is that because a lot more existing documents are encrypted in Excel closed formats than are encoded in ODF open formats, there is a much greater need to find interop with these closed formats. Thus Excel's formats were working from a position of advantage over ODF in terms of having everyone's attention and dedication.
Finally, I might as well contrast ODF with OOXML a little.
As with the Excel closed formats above, OOXML does not have an open source reference implementation nor nearly as many of the other public extras (even the official ISO OOXML is not finalized from what I heard). Also OOXML does not leverage nearly as many existing open standards as does ODF. [This is one reason why OOXML has more flaws. Its component parts have simply been much less peer reviewed when compared with ODF. Interoperability may not even be possible in many more cases (eg, inconsistencies and ambiguities) vs ODF.]
>> "one [supposedly] cannot implement Open XML using the specification alone."
>> So many people on my post (and Rob himself) are claiming that this is fine for ODF, but a reason to vote no on Open XML.
Let me give you my take.
I agree that both ODF and OOXML have flaws. Being generous to the OOXML side and assuming these two each have the same measurement for "flaws", it's still true that ODF essentially has an open source reference implementation while OOXML has nothing near that.
For ODF, this means everyone can look at the "reference implementation" for the marginal pieces of the ODF spec. That is not an ideal situation, but it's tough (or impossible) to define a large standard in a reasonable amount of time that is virtually perfect and has no gray areas. This is why I think interoperability to a high degree for a featureful and growing open standard only make sense in the context of open source (eg, reference implementations). Regardless of what others think on this last issue, it's difficult to argue that having an open implementation isn't a great aid to achieving interop.
Gary, you have mentioned numerous times that Microsoft had some sort of forum where people could give their input. However, it should be Microsoft the one participating on ODF or OpenOffice forums, and, for all I know, they already do, perhaps extensively.. and still failed.
The issue here, as I see it, isn't to beg Microsoft to be nice. We are all competing, after all. The issue is if Microsoft doesn't attempt to be nice, then why should customers use Microsoft products that fail at interop when other strong products succeed? If Microsoft's products don't have an open source compatible "second source" (as somewhat of a customer hedge against lock-in), but some other company's products do, then why should that customer opt for a costly lock-in into Microsoft's flavor of ODF that cannot be used from independent third party implementations (in particular, from open source implementations)?
If customers did not care about hedging, they would not care about ODF and standards in the first place. If they wanted to surrender control and the future of their documents to a sole vendor (having a monopoly over their documents), then why bother with ODF and standards in the first place?
Hence, for the sake of this discussion, I have to assume customers care about interop and hence will take note of Microsoft's failures. If this bothers Microsoft, it makes sense to me that Microsoft will be active in the future visiting ODF forums in order to get the answers it needs to achieve interop. Others have found a way and customers will likely reward them. It's not in the interest of competitors to help out Microsoft. They may still help, for example, the OpenOffice developers provide the entire blueprints/source code to their product, but, certainly, the one to benefit by getting it right is Microsoft. It's folly to expect anyone but Microsoft to go the extra mile to help a Microsoft product.
Micro-Soft, for which your are obviously speaking, more and more behaves like Scientology or other cults.
The desire of individuals to make money to have a good live is one thing. What Micro-Soft is doing is beyond anything related to THAT, now that you as Micro-Soft's tool again are trying to destroy an individual's reputation and life just to remove another vocal opponent.
I hope you have at least enough respect not to touch human live for your desire to continue to rule your software empire.
Reading Ballmer's quotes in this context, I am not really sure about this anymore.
"Our people, our shareholders, me, Bill Gates, we expect to change the world in every way, to succeed wildly at everything we touch, to have the broadest impact of any company in the world. "
Steve Ballmer, CEO Micro-Soft
This is getting scary. Glad to be a European.
"As for the "truth" -- make sure you read this as well. : http://blogs.msdn.com/dmahugh/:"
@Gray: fair point, Mahugh's observations are mostly reasonable. But he doesn't mention the fact that Weir was strongly critical of non-Microsoft products that had introduced a non-interoperable default for formulas.
And this (from Mahugh) is a bit rich: "The nearly 400 pages of formula syntax documentation in ISO/IEC 29500 (Part 1, section 18.17) enables reliable formula interoperability in the Open XML community, and soon the ODF community will have a similar level of formula interoperability."
The "reliable interoperability" of the currently non-existent "community" which implements ISO/IEC 29500 is entirely hypothetical, while the not-bad de facto interoperability of the greater part of the currently existing ODF community (minus Excel 2007 SP2) is a demonstrable fact.
בימים האחרונים שוחררה חבילת השירות השניה של Office 2007. אחת התכונות הבולטות של חבילת השירות הזאת היא
As I'm sure you know, the purpose of standards is to provide an independent description of a complex vocabulary and grammar <em>with the goal of practical interoperability</em>. All languages suffer from problems of ambiguity, and people can speak the same language and still not understand one another... If, on the other hand, they truly <em>want</em> to understand one another, people can overcome all sorts of language barriers.
The problem here is that Microsoft doesn't really want to understand anyone else. So you, Gray, argue about insignificant minutiae of the specification so that you don't have admit that, in fact, you'd really rather skill keep your monopoly profits, thank you very much. I need only point to the fact that OpenOffice.org provides at least as good support for legacy MS Office documents as MS Office does - there was <em>NO common standard</em> to aid OpenOffice.org developers. They achieved practical interoperability through will alone.
It seems to me that <em>a sincere will</em> to interoperate would smooth over all of the troubles with the standard you've been going on about. In fact, the standard should only act as a convenient way for you to cost effectively achieve interoperability. Implementing a standard without interoperability is pointless for the market.
Standards compliance <em>without interoprability</em> only has a value to Microsoft, and that's only because many national bodies legislating open standards compliance seem shortsighted enough to tick the "ok for procurement" box based on MS's <em>statement</em> of "standards compliance" rather than confirmed real-world interoperability.
Now it's time for MS to show goodwill and meet the market half way (like the many OpenOffice, KOffice, Google Docs, etc. users out there) for a change - even if <em>it doesn't help MS maximise its profit this quarter</em>... because it's better to lose some profit in the short term to avoid being despised by the market and being dropped like a bad habit as soon as a viable alternative presents itself.
Goodwill is money in the bank for the longer term, and Gray, from my perspective your corporate employer has got pretty much none of it.
@Gary - Thanks for taking the time to read all these comments it's quite nice that I, a basic no-name, am able to have a conversation with the Group Product Manager for the Microsoft Office System. I guess the internet is a great equalizer :) Anyways, on to more comments.
"So then we're really not talking about interoperability and standards, are we?" Actually we are, why should I trust MS to implement standards to be truly interoperable when then have such a history of implementing standard in a way that benefit ONLY Microsoft? Sure they aren't breaking the standard (yet) but sure are breaking the intent of a standard.
Also I noticed several times you invited people to attend DII and pointed to their website, which it appears to be owned by Microsoft. You also enjoy pointing out that how Rob Weir did not attend.
Rob Weir: "Yes, I was invited to attend Microsoft's DII event in Redmond. This event was schedule to occur immediately before an interoperability event organized by the OASIS ODF Adoption TC in Beijing. I was busy helping organizing that much larger and more inclusive event, which saw the participation of IBM, Sun, Google, Novel, RedFlag and other implementers of ODF. Microsoft was invited to that and did not attend. Given the choice between a single-vendor event and a community-lead event, I'll jump at the opportunity to participate in a real, multi-implementation community event."
Is what Rob Weir stated true? Did Microsoft not attend, if not, why not? From my perspective this does not look like Microsoft is sincere in their desire for interoperability, which of course makes me not trust them.
"I'd like everyone reading the post to know that Rob was invited to participate in the DII events leading up to the SP2 release, and offered the opportunity to test the beta software specifically for the purpose of providing feedback on the implementation."
It's your responsibility to /comply with the standard/, and support interoperability, to the best of your ability. It's not his responsibility to personally baby-sit as you do so.
"If departments within 18 various governments really do use ODF as their standard, should we be comfortable with an ODF TC chair that is trying very hard to discredit and divide its supporters?"
To count yourself among the supporters of ODF 1.1 is laughable. You didn't even vote /on/ (let alone /for/) the ODF 1.1 standard!
"Is it time for Rob to step down as chair? I think so."
Even if Rob Weir were completely wrong about Office's interoperability failures (which you know he is not), you have no right to ask him to step down when you remain so aloof from the actual standards process.
I'm terribly sorry I got your name wrong, Gray. I feel rather foolish now that I see the pun in the title of your blog.
I visited the website you linked, it is clear that this issue was discussed in advance; I look forward to your blog explaining/justifying the approach to formulas.
You don't have to show or respond to this post if you would like, I understand you must be inundated with posts.
Again, terribly sorry I got your name wrong,
"(and this helps me get back to the point of my post.) If ODF is intended to be a vendor-neutral format, then its chief champion and chair should act in a vendor-neutral fashion, rather than assigning labels to people like "Gnats," "Trolls" and "Incompetent." Regardless of how you might feel about the SP2 implementation of ODF, you can only view this as well below any professional behavior standard."
I may be missing something here but there _were_ 7 different implementations used in the test. Your fixation on only a few is fascinating though. It's not Robs fault that the outcome was the way it was.
Also, I'm not finding anywhere where Rob actually calls anyone names or assigns the labels you've mentioned. He uses "incompetence" as a descriptor to explain his thought processes but does stop short of actually calling anyone anything.
A few people here have mentioned the difference between the messenger and the message. Reading your post, it does come across as an ad hominem attack against Rob. This does nothing towards reinforcing your reputation as someone knowledgeable in any technical field.
"I have never met Peter Quinn, sorry. And I think that when it comes to ISO, Microsoft has not ever spoken negatively about ISO in the same fashion that folks like noooxml.org, boycottnovell.org, etc. We are definitely not the ones trashing ISO."
yup, agreed. You are definitely not the ones trashing ISO. You were the one who made others trashed ISO.
The form of these conflicts is really ages old, from way before there were even computers,
It used to be called "eminent domain" back in the day - and which side one was on nearly completely guided the tenor of one's response in the struggle du jour.
Without pushing the analogy too far, it is probably safe to say that ODF developed as a result of real needs which were not being met, and which existed largely because the *structure* of Microsoft's dominance effectively precluded such needs fror being satisfied by them.
It is also safe to conclude that Gray's responses are unsurprisingly oblivious to this context, since from his point of view there is no discernible reason for any struggle. Since Microsoft is dominant, its ineluctability is a foregone conclusion to such adherents - hence any serious conflict ends up representing a direct attack on the joint efforts of the world he inhabits, regardless of any other possible interpretations.
Sadly, many "open" advocates get pulled into this false representation as well, and much "bashing" and "we can never trust you" moments abound as a result.
Please people try to be clear about this - it is not a war, it is fundamentally different paradigms in confrontation. Microsoft cannot help operating from the "hindbrain", it's just the kind of beast it is.
All you nice li'l mammals can take your warm blood & communal sharing into a future where you eventually leave all this behind - we all learned something about trails of tears, so we don't need to repeat that any more ...
Dear Mr Knowlton, unfortunately, I have to point out a false statement in one of your comments: i.e., that Microsoft is actively soliciting community involvement in the process of ODF interoperability. I am the leader of the OOo community in Italy, and I happen to know your colleague Sam Ramij.
When I discovered the DII labs I wrote Sam and I suggested to invite the OOo community to these labs. I still remember that Sam forwarded my message to a number of your colleagues (unfortunately, I only remember the name of Mr Paoli among them) pointing out that - according to his experience - my ideas deserved some attention.
I never got any answer, I never got any contact from anyone at Microsoft (Sam told me that he couldn't help on this subject).
So, your statement about Microsoft pushing for the involvement of the community is blatantly false. Microsoft doesn't want the community around because it wants the discussion to be a Microsoft/IBM battle. And what has happened after the launch of Office 2007 SP2 is a proof of this situation. Unfortunately, IBM has never been as smart as Microsoft in terms of Marketing, and has brought a technical discussion into a marketing arena.
Although I am the leader of the OOo community in Italy, I am not a developer nor a technical guy. I am a marketer by education and experience, and during the process it was perfectly clear to me that Microsoft sees the ODF/OOXML debate not as a technical issues but as just another marketing campaign.
But lies are lies also in the marketing field, and your statement about the involvement of the community is a lie (at least to my eyes).