05 April 2007

Microsoft Begs the World to Beg; I Beg to Differ

It would have been more appropriate had this come out on April 1st:

If you agree that Open XML should be approved as an ISO standard please sign this petition, which we will send to the Chairman of the British Standards Institute to demonstrate broad support for this initiative in the UK.

Yours faithfully,

Nick McGrath
Director of Platform Strategy
Microsoft Ltd

This is basically trying to strong-arm the BSI into supporting Microsoft's pseudo-standard by soliciting the public's help through the following statements:

• Ecma Open XML was developed through the collaborative efforts of leading companies such as Apple, Barclays Capital, BP, The British Library, Essilor, Intel, Microsoft, NextPage, Novell, Statoil, Toshiba and the US Library of Congress.
• Ecma Open XML is backward compatible with billions of archived documents held by the private and public sectors.
• Any company can freely implement and develop innovative products using Ecma Open XML
• Ecma Open XML enables interoperability, accommodates multiple languages and cultures, and supports technologies that enable people with disabilities to use computing devices.

So, let's just take a look at some of these, shall we?

First, note that Microsoft Open XML has suddenly morphed into that terribly neutral and official-looking Ecma Open XML: who could possibly have anything against that?

• Ecma Open XML was developed through the collaborative efforts of leading companies such as Apple, Barclays Capital, BP, The British Library, Essilor, Intel, Microsoft, NextPage, Novell, Statoil, Toshiba and the US Library of Congress.

It would be interesting to see what proportion of the code these contributed. I'd bet it was something like 99.99% Microsoft's work. This was why it was foolish for institutions like the British Library to lend their name: it was bound to be hijacked in this way.

• Ecma Open XML is backward compatible with billions of archived documents held by the private and public sectors.

Sorry, Nick, that's a bug, not a feature: backward compatibility has led to elephantiasis in the documentation - all 6000 pages of it - which makes it effectively unusable for anyone except Microsoft. What a coincidence.

• Any company can freely implement and develop innovative products using Ecma Open XML

See the previous comment. And oh yes, we know that Microsoft really loves to share its proprietary standards: just ask the European Commission, or Novell, for example.

• Ecma Open XML enables interoperability, accommodates multiple languages and cultures, and supports technologies that enable people with disabilities to use computing devices.

Er, interoperability with what - itself? There will never be a full independent implementation of Microsoft's file format (see above, again). Or perhaps Nick was thinking of interoperability with other XML-based office standards: unfortunately, the way those 6000 pages define Microsoft's format, true interoperability seems a merely theoretical prospect. And note the cunning last line - "supports technologies that enable people with disabilities to use computing devices" - which implies that this is something special. That was true in the past, but things move on, Nick, and ODF offers it too, now.

Given the fact that the company emphasises how keen it is to respond to users' wishes, what I want to know is why there isn't somewhere where we can petition Microsoft to drop its format entirely, and simply switch to the real open office standard, OpenDocument Format, which more and more governments and companies are supporting.

Now that's something I'd sit up and beg for. (Via The Reg.)

3 comments:

Gnuosphere said...

Maybe they can get some help by asking a few dead people to sign?

glyn moody said...

Ha! I'd forgotten that episode - thanks. God bless the collective wisdom.

Anonymous said...

In Hollywood movies dead people once revived tend to subsist on brains - other peoples'.

Perhaps that is the reason why they adopted such a brain-dead tactic here. ;)