OOXML: Nobody knows (or cares) what it is for or why.

I’ve not penned much on OOXML for quite a while mainly because there really doesn’t seem to be much interest in it outside of a small circle of Microsoft lackeys and puppy dogs. Even MS themselves are making more noise about implementing native ODF support with the just-released SP2 for Office 2007.

Anyway – two blog posts crept on my radar today that are worthy of mention and the cause for my writing at all.

This one from the ever vigilant and articulate Glyn Moody about how no-one seems to be that interested in OOXML any more and some possible reasoning behind the apparent apathy.

The other quite literally had me in hysterics (ROTFL). It’s not the post so much as the comments attached to it. Apparently those few who remain interested in OOXML enjoy nothing more than discussing between themselves what OOXML is for and how various versions of the notorious specification should be augmented/updated or even simply maintained.

The debate is on such things as should the “Transitional” format be forward or backward looking and if the later then it shouldn’t be Transitional but Strict. Hmmm – yes I hear you say gripping stuff. Here’s a snippet from one of the comments just to whet your appetite:

So, ECMA-376 (1ed) is “looking back”, but ISO-29500 Transitional is not simply “looking back”: it is a “mutant”, that is both looking backward and looking forward. ISO 29500 Strict is indeed “looking forward”.

For those readers who “have a life” and missed all the excitement of 2007/8 a brief synopsis of the history goes something like this:

Microsoft implemented OOXML (their XML based file format which is essentially a binary dump of the memory footprint of your document wrapped in an amazingly obscure and illegible XML schema) in Office 2007. You may have even received the odd file with a .docx or .xlsx extension. Then some kind of panic happened in MS and they decided that because Governments and other public bodies were asking for ODF (ISO/IEC 26300 Open Document Format supported by many applications including OpenOffice.org) they’d better get OOXML standardised too. So in a rush job, Microsoft’s specification publicist ECMA took the format used on Office 2007, got the developer documentation and wrote a bit more stuff around it and published it as ECMA 376. It then got submitted to the ISO for “fast tracking”. Oh yes, did I mention the “specification” was over 6000 pages long? Needless to say there was lots of argy bargy back and forth, the document got changed quite a bit, lots of money changed hands, loads of small countries from the developing world suddenly got very interested in XML Document Specifications and decided to become paid up members of the standards bodies and the specification scraped through about a year ago to become probably the worst example of a supposed International standard the world has ever seen (IMHO).

Do be advised also that today, as far as I am aware. there is no currently available end-user product (free or commercial) for reading and writing ISO IEC 29500 (OOXML) files. Microsoft Office 2007 doesn’t; it supports something similar to the first edition of ECMA 376 but probably not quite the same and I’m not sure anyone really cares anyway.

But do go and read the discussion on this blog post. Even if you don’t really understand it, the discussion of such irrelevant minutiae and semantics really does show to me that even those who support and think it is a useful and worthwhile specification don’t really know what it is for…

Here’s a bit more just to highlight the trouble they are all having:

Thanks for the clarification. “Transitional”, at present, is definitely looking like the superset of “Strict” the way you explained. The word “transitional”, however says to be that it is temporary. If we insist “transitional” will always be the superset, then there is no way “Transitional” will ever be a temporary thing.

Moreover, with the superset definition, it means anything that makes it into “strict” will automatically make it into “transitional”, which will make Brown’s statement that the working group is considering mirroring new features into “transitional” moot.

I will say “transitional” is the superset of “strict”, with a time limit imposed. Therefore, for a limited time only, it can be “looking forward”. What is happening is someone forgotten to specify the time limit, which leads to the discussion whether new features in “strict” should be mirrored into “transition”.

To me, it does not make sense to put new features introduced in Office 14 into “Transitional”. “Strict”? Yes, but not “transitional” since it unnecessarily extended the time frame for “transitional”.

One question still remains, how does one add new features to Transitional or Strict given the charter can be read to exclude new features introduced in future version of MS Office, including Office 14?

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6 Comments

  • Luc Bollen says:

    Hi Alan,

    “The other quite literally had me in hysterics (ROTFL). It’s not the post so much as the comments attached to it.” I’m happy to see that you had a good laugh reading the comments. ;-)

    “Apparently those few who remain interested in OOXML enjoy nothing more than discussing between themselves what OOXML is for” You are a bit unfair when you say that we are “interested” in OOXML and we “enjoy” discussing what OOXML is for. I think it is clear that only Microsoft and its suitors are still interested in OOXML, and that nobody except Microsoft knows what OOXML is for (a pitiful attempt to extend a little bit their declining Office monopoly).

    I think the only interesting news about OOXML is that by producing several variants of OOXML in addition to the binary files and now ODF files, Microsoft shoot themselves in the foot and are busy to fragment their Office monopoly from the inside.

    Note that they are doing the same with Internet Explorer as IE6, IE7 and IE8 are incompatible between themselves and have to share the remaining IE market share. Here are the latest USA figures for April from Net Applications ( http://marketshare.hitslink.com/default.aspx ): IE7: 44.51% – Firefox: 22.48% – IE6: 17.52% – Safari: 8.21% – IE8: 3.99%

  • Alan Lord says:

    @Luc,

    I’m sorry about being so public with my mirth. The depth of analysis and introspection really did tickle me though. But I assure you I wasn’t trying to make anyone feel stupid or belittle them – just to point out the humour in there. I hope no real offence was taken it wasn’t intended. I did think quite a bit before posting this.

    “You are a bit unfair when you say that we are “interested” in OOXML and we “enjoy” discussing what OOXML is for. I think it is clear that only Microsoft and its suitors are still interested in OOXML, and that nobody except Microsoft knows what OOXML is for (a pitiful attempt to extend a little bit their declining Office monopoly).”

    Unfair? Maybe (See above); but the contributors were definitely “interested” or they wouldn’t have commented. As to the degree of enjoyment? Well it’s a friendly discussion at least, unlike many that happened throughout the ratification process itself. Your conclusion however is spot on.

    Thanks for the link. To reciprocate, here’s one showing Desktop Linux passed the 1% milestone for the first time! Wooohoooo

    http://marketshare.hitslink.com/operating-system-market-share.aspx?qprid=8&sample=35

  • Luc Bollen says:

    Alan, no offence taken at all (hence my smiley). Personally, I’m surely not interested in (using) OOXML, but I’m interested in the fate of this fake international standard. And I find it indeed very funny to see that one year after the vote, the best specialists of OOXML cannot explain the need and the use of the two ISO-29500 variants (Transitional and Strict).

  • Luc Bollen says:

    Oh, and it is quite telling that in the meantime, Microsoft has been able to support ODF (albeit in a far from perfect way) which is brand new for them, and has nothing to say about how and when they will be able to support ISO-29500. Finally, we OOXML-sceptics were wrong when we claimed that only Microsoft can implement ISO-29500: it seems that even Microsoft cannot implement it ! ;-)

  • ctrambler says:

    Hi Alan,

    I cannot speak for others, but I am those people who just love to discuss the differences between semantics [and don’t have a life. — no offense taken at all]. I do hope, however, the discussion here and in my posting is interesting for those who likes semantics, like me.

    Your post did make one thing crystal clear for me: How quickly did we started arguing about semantics. For god sake, it is ISO OOXML edition numero uno, possibly the thinnest possible revision of a standard available since standards have the problem of getting fat. Moreover, if one can put a bet on which revision of a standard where the semantics is not a problem, I will put my money on revision 1.

    If you ask me, we are all suffering from the rush of getting ISO blessing for OOXML. Especially true in the discussion on Strict/Transitional. They were rush through after the initial comments in ISO stage. It was one of the few things that I thought OOXML did benefit from ISO process, i.e., dumping legacy rubbish in old MS documents into a temporary framework which will die out in a few years, but it looks like it was just like every other thing in OOXML: rush through without first thinking about its consequences.

  • […] phony format and shoved it down ISO’s throat using plenty of corruption. Alan Lord has just explained this pretty wellin his Web site: Microsoft implemented OOXML (their XML based file format which is essentially a […]

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