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Gray Knowlton's blog on Microsoft Office

Clearing up a few matters with respect to ODF and SP2

Clearing up a few matters with respect to ODF and SP2

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By all accounts last week was a busy one. So much has now gone back and forth on the spreadsheet formula issue that it is easy to get lost in the volume of coverage. As a follow-up to my last post, I’d like to help set some things straight on the topic.

You should read these posts if you care to understand the technical facts of the matter:

-          http://blogs.msdn.com/dmahugh/archive/2009/05/09/1-2-1.aspx

-          http://blogs.msdn.com/dmahugh/archive/2009/05/05/odf-spreadsheet-interoperability.aspx

I’d like folks to see some of the commentary on the web by people who have been close to the discussion. While I may be on the end of a continuum with respect to my opinions of the conduct of the ODF TC chair (please notice I am speaking of the conduct and not the person), I am certainly not alone. There is A LOT of smoke here, some of it from ODF TC members past and days gone by.

ODF Editor, Patrick Durusau: “Every keystroke for a negative message about some other standard, corporation or process is a keystroke taken away from promotion of OpenDocument. If enough such keystrokes fall, so will OpenDocument. It's your choice.”

Rick Jelliffe: “A committee chairman has to be a mediator. That is their most basic function, along with organizer and promoter. A contentious and proudly partisan person is simply not suitable as a mediator, nor can someone who is paid to be a provocateur simply pretend they can be an effective mediator.

Also, standards committees usually feel it incumbent on themselves to have commercially neutral chairs. This is why academics and government people usually are appointed to these positions. The more that someone is involved commercially in the fray, the less appropriate and congenial it is for them to exercise authority in committees.”

Guy Creese:I recommend that you read both blog posts, in that they highlight the complexities of coding to an ever-evolving open standard. However, look at the blog posts as an educational exercise--try to understand the arcane details, but don't get taken in by them. While the vendors would like you to believe that, "We're right--and they're wrong," the takeaway is the larger picture of, "ODF interoperability isn't here yet."”

Alex Brown:So I believe Rob’s statement that “SP2's implementation of ODF spreadsheets does not, in fact, conform to the requirements of the ODF standard” is mistaken on this point. This might be his personal interpretation of the standard, but it is based on an ingenious reading (argued around the meaning of comma placement, and privileging certain statements over other), and should certainly give no grounds for complacency about the sufficiency of the ODF specification.”

Michael Hickins: “Microsoft’s acceptance of ODF would thus seem to be a victory for IBM, which makes Weir’s petulance puzzling. Government customers in particular have sought alternatives to Microsoft so as not to be in the position of subsidizing a private company (i.e., Microsoft) with public monies, and IBM has long coveted this market as an opening for its own suite of applications. IBM has also been trying to wean customers off Microsoft Office in the hopes of winning them over to its Workplace collaboration tool as an alternative to Microsoft’s SharePoint. But according to Sam Hiser, former executive director of the now-defunct Open Document Foundation, Microsoft has successfully called IBM’s bluff and forced Big Blue to show its losing hand.”

Marbux: “I am a former member of the OASIS ODF Technical Committee. I left two years ago because of that big vendor-dominated TC's obdurate refusal to get started on make the ODF Interoperability Myth that the big vendors spread come true.”

Gary Edwards: “So what we have in Rob Weir is this image of a goon who skates out onto the ice whenever IBM's opposition scores a goal. And anyone who interferes in any way with their business plans is the opposition. His job is to take them out by whatever means necessary. The thing is, the guy is wearing pink tights and spouting methinks and wherefore art thous. Before you know it, the bastard sneaks up on you and is clubbing you to death with lies.”

James Clark: “I really hope I'm missing something, because, frankly, I'm speechless.  You cannot be serious. You have virtually zero interoperability for spreadsheet documents. OpenDocument has the potential to be extraodinarily valuable and important standard. I urge you not to throw away a huge part of that potential by leaving such a gaping hole in your specification.”

Tim Bray: “I learned, to my dismay, that the ODF specification is silent on spreadsheet formulas, they’re just strings. This is obviously a problem; much discussion on what to do ensued. I lean to the idea, much bally-hooed by Novell, of simply figuring out what Excel does, writing that down, and building it into ODF v.Next. Mind you, anyone who’s really been to the mat with Excel, in terms of Math & Macros, knows that it isn’t a pretty picture, there are real coherency problems. But it’s good enough and the world has learned how to make it work.”

And finally I’ll speak my piece on the matter. With a nod to Oliver Bell, Doug Mahugh, and many other comments on my post, I have no issue with the ODF TC, or even with the contribution that Rob may have made to the standard. My comment and complaint is very simple, and my point of view is one that the editor of ODF apparently shares:

Patrick Durusau: “Some members of the press have confused OpenDocument supporters with people who write for NOOXML blogs and websites, or that bash OpenXML, Microsoft, ISO, JTC 1, SC 34, etc. Those are not activities that support OpenDocument.”

So that you don’t miss it, the links in the quote are pointing to Rob Weir blog posts criticizing each of these entities. Rob’s response to the dust-up over SP2? (Which was apparently directed at nobody in particular)

Rob Weir: “I've been trying to respond to the many comments by anonymous FUDsters and Fanboys on various web sites where my post is being discussed. However, it is getting rather laborious swatting all the gnats. They obviously breed in stagnant waters, and there is an awful lot of that on the web.”

I rest my case.

 

I’m also (not surprised) disappointed at the tendency to opt for the sensational.

http://blogs.technet.com/photos/gray_knowlton/images/3239136/original.aspx

I found this headline pretty interesting. Just a note to Roy… had I ( “I” ≠ “Microsoft”) asked for “IBM” to leave the ODF TC, I would have addressed all 14 IBM employees currently listed as ODF TC members. I didn’t do that. In my post, I did not identify IBM until I replied to Rob in a comment, and at no point did I speak of the role of the IBM Corporation in my post. I addressed only one person who works for IBM, and this is because he is in the role committee co-Chair, and he has a history of criticizing Microsoft, ISO, JTC-1, Open XML, SC 34, Gary Edwards, Rick Jelliffe or virtually anyone else who dares to disagree. And FWIW, that photo used in the graphic isn’t me.

 One last note on assigning my perspectives to Microsoft. Visit this post to see another Microsoft employee who sees things a little differently than I do. http://osrin.net/2009/05/back-and-forth-back-and-forth-odf-11-ods-and-interoperability/. My opinions are my opinions, just like so many other folks involved in this discussion.  

As for my new “Friendo,” well, I don’t think I have a lot to say about the post. This one gives off more heat than light, it really doesn’t offer much. But there are some assertions being made that are worth correcting/addressing:

First (unfortunate that we have to keep covering this ground), war metaphors really are not appropriate for this conversation. We’re not discussing human rights violations; we’re discussing matters of software and industry. Let’s keep this in the proper perspective.

How does this stack up against TC-45? – well, if you can find a member of TC-45 conducting a blog whose apparent purpose is to criticize Open XML implementers, we’ll talk. I’m pretty sure none of those exist.

Regarding “Supporters,” someone has already covered that ground.

On this…

“I would be really, really pleased to see a top-notch quality support of ODF inside Microsoft Office. Why? Because this would be fair and unbiased competition based on one true Open Standard. It would a give a real level-playing field, where products could compete on sole merit and not on twisted situations of users’ lock-in. So trust me Gray: the world has everything to win from our competition.”

we are in [at least partial] agreement. I am very happy that we have added the Save as ODF and PDF functionality to SP2. I am glad that we are able to offer the choice of formats to users. Unfortunately Rob’s tactic here is to isolate SP2 based on one feature of one application for reasons that are being rejected in other forums. And as far as “one” standard goes, this is the part I don't agree with. Paving the entire world with a single document format doesn’t seem wise to me, and I’d rather be in the position of supporting the standards that people choose to use, rather than forcing people to use the one my product supports.

“I understand Gray. Gray is the Product Manager of Microsoft Office at Microsoft. Which means he is ultimately to blame for the lousy job Microsoft engineers have done in implementing ODF inside Microsoft Office. Gray is in the front line, and you can bet he’s having to answer some tough calls from customers right now. Gray does not have to ride the smooth « try Seven after Vista » wave; he has to go through the clutter that Microsoft’s big heads have created by thinking: What if we had ODF wrecked inside Office and get the world to believe that it’s not our fault? That’s Gray’s problem. And this is how we come to the waterboarding of Rob. But I digress.”

While the title “Product Manager” at many software companies includes responsibilities of spec writing, bug reviews, design meetings, etc., at Microsoft (at least in the Office group) it does not. I have held that type of role at other companies, but here, my focus is on enabling Developers to get more out of our software. I did not write the specs, I did not attend any design meetings, etc. The assertions made in the post are inaccurate.

I am involved because I have been working on various aspects of Open XML and document format standards in Office for almost 5 years now, and when added to prior experience in dealing with products’ implementations of document format standards, I’ve been at this for about 8 years or so. I know the neighborhood pretty well.

My ongoing disappointment with this discussion is the inability for people to apply the same principles for which Open XML was so heartily criticized (application dependence, under-specified or missing features, etc.,) to ODF implementers. I am hopeful that the chair of the ODF TC can focus his energy on solving those challenges, rather than trying to isolate Microsoft through subjective criteria. If he can’t, then he should just step aside.

As I have stated on my blog earlier, I WANT a good ODF implementation in Office to improve the satisfaction level of those interested in interoperability. I am very much rooting for a positive outcome to this discussion. We have a commitment to doing a high quality job just as we do with other aspects of our products.  We will certainly focus on the demands of our customers for quality and interoperability and will continue to engage with other vendors in the years to come to (a) improve the spec and (b) improve the Interop between implementations of the spec. 

To date, I have not fielded a call or request from a developer seeking to build a solution in Office with ODF. By contrast I see many requests of developers who wish to build Office solutions that include PDF. (Open XML is quite healthy as well, but I’ll leave that part out for a bit so as to not compare the two formats.) I assign no positive or negative value in the level ODF adoption that I see when dealing with developers; if they use it, our product can write the format; if ODF is a means to improving their solution, then I will gladly provide my best effort toward ensuring that Office-based solution is top quality. Either way I am hopeful that our product can be successful in supporting whatever use people seek to achieve with it.

Comments
  • The simple truth is that the job on Openformula is not done yet. No wonder, when editors are on a crusade for true openess.

    Charles had the best blog title, I guess your company team had a lot of fun and Roy posts 10 stories a day regardless what happens. The story becomes "dog bites man". You needn't worry if you've no reputation to lose.

    The great side effect is that the implementation raised awareness to finish and review Openformula. It is the same as with openxml. Broader review makes a better standard. So hopefully OASIS will publish a decent ODF draft 1.2 with Openformula soon.

    P.S. Waterboarding does not kill.

  • I never thought I would say it, but Andre, on this:

    "The great side effect is that the implementation raised awareness to finish and review Openformula. It is the same as with openxml. Broader review makes a better standard. So hopefully OASIS will publish a decent ODF draft 1.2 with Openformula soon."

    I absolutely agree. And in all sincerity, I do hope that this conversation results in better ODF implementations that result from an improved standard, and I do include Microsoft Office in this list of implementations.

  • Lets remember this is not the first time MS has done this.   Samba runs implementation compares so that the SMB standard would work with each other flawlessly.

    MS attended for many years when they released Windows 2000 stop attending.

    No matter how well the standard is written there will always be gaps.   This is where comparing to other existing implementations out there and making sure everything is working right.  If its not working right put up bugs and solutions.

    MS has done neither.    Most ODF implementations run with support for future standards.   MS is the only one that does not.  Koffice 2.0 and OpenOffice 3.x are compatible with each other there is no shared code between them.

    OpenOffice would classed as the default reference implementation since it had the standard first.   If MS does not like that they should make a case for a new reference implementation.

  • If MSODF conforms, then why this:

    So, going back to my test spreadsheets from all of the various ODF applications, how do these applications encode formulas with cell addresses:

       * Symphony 1.3: =[.E12]+[.C13]-[.D13]

       * Microsoft/CleverAge 3.0: =[.E12]+[.C13]-[.D13]

       * KSpread 1.6.3: =[.E12]+[.C13]-[.D13]

       * Google Spreadsheets: =[.E12]+[.C13]-[.D13]

       * OpenOffice 3.01: =[.E12]+[.C13]-[.D13]

       * Sun Plugin 3.0: [.E12]+[.C13]-[.D13]

       * Excel 2007 SP2: =E12+C13-D13

    Why can't MS get things right?  Why does MS have to be different?  Was this done on purpose?

  • From an endusers perspective the question remains that if Rob's test is correct, then why didn't your beta-program catch that? It seems quite easy. Some of the other implementations are open source so there are no hidden stuff that you (MS) couldn't read.

    Since OpenOffice currently is the major implementation of ODF, I suppose you did extensive testing with SP2 and OOo. Is that not the case?

  • Gray,

    You still haven't answered the question I asked the other day:

    How come Microsoft's is the only implementation that had problems with the spreadsheet? The other implementations did not, and they came from organizations which do not have your level of funding.

    Wayne

  • Wayne, Daniel, Darren

    be sure to look here as well: http://ajg.math.concordia.ab.ca/?p=4

    I'm going to be out for a few days. http://blogs.msdn.com/dmahgh can help sort you out on these as well

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