OOXML and Microsoft

by davidnielsen

Oh yes, I’m going to have my say, I resisted for a while but I have to say it. I fundamentally think Microsoft is getting a bad rub here, we bugged them for years to publish file specs and when they do we give them a hard time again. That doesn’t mean we should blindly accept the standard but we should give them credit for at least attempting. I’m also rather annoyed that people go on and on about the verbosity of the OOXML specification, I’m trained in writing such specifications and OOXML is written by the book, it’s defined to avoid doubt so that any implementation will have to guess intend. This does mean it’s going to be long, but compare that to ODFs spreadsheet spec, which is 4 to 10 pages long depending on how you count, no mortal can implement a working spreadsheet application without looking at an existing implementation — which is not the point of having a specification in the first place. It is clear to me that both standards need work to truly be good, I am suspect about the whole “OOXML bad, ODF good” fanaticism as it does not serve the best interest of the users.

I’m happy to see a great interest in criticizing the OOXML standard and I wish we would see the same amount of energy devoted to bettering the ODF standard, ideally we would only have one standard but at the current pace Microsoft having accepted that they will need to alter their standard have taken on fixing it. I believe this is a good thing for Microsoft and for us, we get a good open standard out of the deal to which the criticisms is slowly becoming less technical and more “it’s origin is Microsoft”, the latter being a totally bogus reason to oppose what will then be truly open technology.

Regardless since Microsoft will push OOXML and other vendors will push for ODF, for the forseeable future we will have two major open standards for office suites and we will have to support them both. I don’t see the point in fighting it, if we refuse OOXML support that will cut off a number of users from their documents which in return means cutting them from our platform, not a desirable outcome for anyone. If they hadn’t made it an open standard we would have had to reverse engineer it like we did their previous standards because support would have been a major user request like it have been for Microsoft Word format support in the past. I applaud Microsoft of taking their first steps into a new way of doing business, they started opening standards and instead of attacking the Open Source method of licensing they got some of their licenses approved as genuine OSI, in the process changing them to conform. People expect this miracle where one day Microsoft will wake up and see the err of their ways, that is just not realistic, what they are doing right now is however the first baby steps towards a new Microsoft who understands their place in the world has changed. I think we should reward and encourage them when they work with us as well as continue to offer criticism when they work against us, it will work over time. I defintely am fearful of turning every debate over a piece of Microsoft technology into a debate more about Microsoft’ record than the technology itself, yes they hurt us in the past but when they do what we begged them to do for ages we shouldn’t ccontinually kick them in the nuts as thanks, we should offer criticism on how to make their work better and insist that when it truly represents good work that is open and free, give our users a pledge to support it.

In that vein I will pledge that once we have an implementation of OOXML under a suitable license such as the LGPL, I will be happy to switch my word processor from saving in it’s current format (AbiWord) to OOXML.