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?

OOXML Fataly Flawed?

Thanks to Roy’s tenacity and constant vigilance, I have learned how it now appears the MS Office binary format that is wrapped in XML and is now known as IS 29500 (OOXML), an ISO Standard Office Document Specification (ROTFL), is giving hackers everywhere a field day.

It is now official and also confirmed that OOXML files are not just insecure but there are also persistent attacks against new flaws (without any security patches being available, i.e. zero-day).

There are some good links and sources to this article so recommended reading for anyone who is considering using Office 2007 or receives an OOXML document (the ones ending in x, e.g docx, pptx and xlsx). IMHO your automatic response should be to return it directly to the sender, do not attempt to open it, and ask for them to send it to you in an open format such as ODF or PDF or even plain text. I would also suggest that you provide a link to OpenOffice.org in the reply.

In the last few scant months, there have been several major and very serious security flaws and attack opportunities with Microsoft’s software. Surely, it must be becoming clear to everyone by now:

If the foundations are weak, the walls crumbling, the windows broken and the roof collapsing; it’s time to move.

OOXML: Flogging a Dead Horse

I am continually amazed by the amount of time, energy and expense that the ISO are going to to support the standard that nobody really wants or believes (in except for one corporation and it’s paid lackeys of course). Yes, it’s IS29500 (OOXML to you and me).

In the last few weeks we have had coverage with some lovely photos of the events taking place in Korea from that bastion of fair play and honesty Alex Brown. How the poor live eh? All sponsored by our friends and yours: Microshaft. Well actually, if you buy their software, you have probably been paying for the luxury hotels, drinks and food.

We have also heard how the Norwegian NB (National Body), that actually voted against OOXML becoming a standard but were ignored, has resigned en-masse:

We end our work with Standard Norway because:

  • The administration of Standard Norway trust 37 identical letters from Microsoft partners more than their own technical committee.
  • The process within Standard Norway has been unpredictable and the administration has changed the rules along the way.
  • Standard Norway and ISO have committed a series of violations of their own rules and other irregularities in the OOXML process.

“Standard Norway has overruled hundreds of thousands of users in the public and private sectors”, says Martin Bekkelund.

The mass-copied Microsoft-letter did not contain a single professional argument. Standard Norway first said that these kinds of statements would not be given any weight. However, at the end of the process they changed their mind and emphasized the Microsoft letters. Thereby, Standard Norway misled the committee members.

And we have also seen IBM – a conservative corporation by any measure – making a public statement about the standards process needing reform. Bob Sutor expands on the announcement:

I’ve asked before in this blog if we don’t need some sort of full disclosure from standards participants. In the wiki IBM facilitated last summer, there was a good discussion of the notions of open government and how these might apply to standards making. Over time various votes on standards will be won or lost. I think an open, transparent organization should help users and other stakeholders understand who voted how and why. This is especially true for organizations that represent countries. We must have and understand accountability.

Not very clouded words for “ISO: Sort out your house or become an irrelevance”.

And we also had, back in September, the signed declaration by 6 countries – Brazil, Cuba, Ecuador, Paraguay, South Africa and Venezuela – deploring the refusal of ISO and IEC to further review the appeals submitted by the National Bodies of four nations.

And in support of ODF we have – almost daily it seems – countries, public bodies & departments and corporations requiring/mandating [PDF] the use of the open and royalty-free ODF to store their documents. Here some of the countries that have (or are) adopted ODF: Belgium, Brazil, Croatia, Denmark, France, Japan, Malaysia, The Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Russia, South Africa, Switzerland and Uruguay. Many others are close on their heels.

Which countries have formally adopted OOXML? Which countries have said they are thinking about adopting OOXML? I have yet to see any. Perhaps Côte d’Ivoire might eh?

But OOXML is not quite dead yet. There is a danger. And one we must all be vigilant toward: There is a possibility of Microshaft and it’s Lackeys trying to gain control of the maintenance of the ODF standard. Currently this is handled by the very open and transparent OASIS organisation. This process might end up being transferred to ISO under the guise of a group known as SC34. This committee is loaded full of Microsoft puppets – several of whom are British and have shown a total disregard for due process to this date.

Perhaps the title shouldn’t be “flogging a dead horse” but more of a “dead cat bounce“.

The commonwealth fights back against OOXML?

Thanks to Roy for pointing this one out. A region in the US has a somewhat bizarre ideal (with little or no hope of success I would imagine):

The Government of British West Florida is striving for Dominion Status as a Commonwealth Realm, on a par with Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Antigua and Barbuda, Saint Kitts and Nevis, and The Bahamas.

As well as wanting West Florida to become a member of the Commonwealth they have apparently decided to sign up to the CONSEGI Declaration declaring ISO pretty much irrelevant where IT standards are concerned.

The Dominion of British West Florida Joins Brazil, South Africa, Venezuela, Ecuador, Cuba, and Paraguay in condemning the actions of the ISO/IEC in rejecting the appeals lodged against the approval of DIS29500.

All Dominion of British West Florida Government offices are required to seek first systems that support ISO/IEC 26300.

Bo, Baron Von Servers of Fayette,
Chairman of the House of Lords Select Committee on Stamps and Stationery

Nice one Bo. Perhaps they should suggest Gordon does the same thing. It might help his popularity rating. Or it certainly won’t do it any harm…

ISO gives up on IT Standards: approves OOXML

So, as everyone thought would happen, the naive and sycophantic ISO and IEC bodies have decided to ignore the appeals, the scandalous bribery and corruption of their hitherto decent standing and approve ISO/IEC DIS 29500 (OOXML to you and me).

The two ISO and IEC technical boards have given the go-ahead to publish ISO/IEC DIS 29500, Information technology – Office Open XML formats, as an ISO/IEC International Standard after appeals by four national standards bodies against the approval of the document failed to garner sufficient support.

And toward the end of the rather short press release they come up with this real gem:

The adoption process of Office Open XML (OOXML) as an ISO/IEC Standard has generated significant debate related to both technical and procedural issues which have been addressed according to ISO and IEC procedures.

Understating the blindingly obvious or what? And just what has been addressed exactly? Nothing it seems to me. They have just bent over and let M$ shove their specification where the sun don’t shine.

But, as we near the end of this farce and fiasco, I think there are a couple of ironies which mark the approval of OOXML, and the process surrounding, ultimately as being little more that a damp squib.

  • The decision by Microshaft themselves to not bother with OOXML in their next Office release and to, even more amazingly, deliver native support for ODF.
  • The fiasco has shown that ISO/IEC is basically now an irrelevance when it comes to defining useful standards within the sphere of IT. They are too slow, too ponderous and too “up-their-own-arses” to be able to recognise when they have been shafted.

We have plenty of excellent standardisation bodies which have fundamentally driven the creation of the Internet and they have all used community-based, open processes. IETF, W3C and so on.

All I remember the ISO ever giving me in IT was the notorious OSI 7 Layer Model way back in the 80s. And what happened to it? It died almost before it was born because an open, easy to implement and flexible protocol stack called TCP/IP came along…

Bye Bye ISO.

OOXML: Back Orifice 2007?

I know, I know…

“I really don’t think OOXML is worth wasting much time over any more …”

And I only wrote that a few hours ago too! But I simply couldn’t resist this gem of a story from Roy Schestowitz over at Boycott Novell:

… I got a couple of docx documents and had trouble getting them to open, even with the plug-in for Office XP. Next thing I know, I get a notice from my registry auditor that I have 1300 new registry errors. And suddenly, my PC is churning the disk-drive and the network connection at 3:00 AM (I’m getting old and have to get up), and the network shows that I’m uploading something at full speed, even though my computer is supposedly sleeping. …

Reading this was so coincidental – last night I was in my local pub talking with a mate who’s an IT Security professional. And we were chatting (reminiscing?) about Back Orifice….

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