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?

Really Desperate Times for Fortify

I had to say something about this, and this, and this. Because it is getting on my bloody nerves!

We have a [ahem] story about how the Tories are unwise to promote Open Source because of, apparently, some inherent security flaws:

But Kirk said Fortify’s own research has shown that OSS exposes users to “significant and unnecessary business risk”. This is because security is often “overlooked,” according to Kirk, which makes users more vulnerable to security breaches.

Glyn Moody explains that this research from Fortify, was actually on just “11 of the most common Java open source packages”. Big deal. The research was from July of last year too and was discussed at that time.

I won’t dwell on the merits, or not, of the research itself. There are many excellent reports in the public domain that quite clearly demonstrate the strengths of the Open Source Software production model. Between proprietary and OSS methods I know which I believe is inherently more secure, and more robust too. Just recall on the last couple of months of Microsoft security holes.

But this whole saga really gets-my-goat because it isn’t news; it is an old story, and not even a good one, wrapped up in the shiny new cellophane of the Conservatives’ recent public commentary. And why? Because I can only believe that companies like Fortify are running shit-scared as they are seeing their profits dwindle to nothing and are being constantly beaten in competitive sales situations by the better, and cheaper, product.

Sowing some FUD and getting some cheap publicity doesn’t fool anyone anymore.

Matt Assay has an unusually succinct post on his blog today that sums it up nicely:

Jeffrey Hammond, principal analyst at Forrester, just Twittered something that is about to hit the traditional software world like a ton of bricks:

Just got off the phone with a client who’s been mandated to use [open-source software] because licensing costs are killing them.

Call it the beginning of the end, if you like, but it’s coming.

Spot on Matt.

Teacher: “No Software is Free” [Updated]

Thanks to Glyn for pointing this one out to me.

A thoroughly shocking saga from “across the pond”.

This blog is momentarily interrupted to bring you a snippet of recently received email.

…observed one of my students with a group of other children gathered around his laptop. Upon looking at his computer, I saw he was giving a demonstration of some sort. The student was showing the ability of the laptop and handing out Linux disks.

After confiscating the disks I called a confrence with the student and that is how I came to discover you and your organization. Mr. Starks, I am sure you strongly believe in what you are doing but I cannot either support your efforts or allow them to happen in my classroom. At this point, I am not sure what you are doing is legal. No software is free and spreading that misconception is harmful. These children look up to adults for guidance and discipline. I will research this as time allows and I want to assure you, if you are doing anything illegal, I will pursue charges as the law allows.

Mr. Starks, I along with many others tried Linux during college and I assure you, the claims you make are grossly over-stated and hinge on falsehoods. I admire your attempts in getting computers in the hands of disadvantaged people but putting linux on these machines is holding our kids back.

This is a world where Windows runs on virtually every computer and putting on a carnival show for an operating system is not helping these children at all. I am sure if you contacted Microsoft, they would be more than happy to supply you with copies of an older verison of Windows and that way, your computers would actually be of service to those receiving them…”

Karen xxxxxxxxx
xxxxxxxxx Middle School
AISD

Where on earth does one start? I assume that AISD is the

Austin Independent School District,
1111 W. 6th Street,
Austin,
TX 78703

This teacher’s position is frankly scary; to be in a position of authority and yet be so ignorant. I would suggest that she is sent on a two day FOSS course at AISD’s expense and then asked to give presentations/tutorials to the rest of her teaching community. She could also burn some CDs and give them out too.

I really hope that my children (who both use Edubuntu) will not encounter such blind ignorance during their school life.

I hereby pledge that I will do my utmost to help any offending teachers should this arise.

Update: Helios has written a postscript to this story after it became caught up in a frenzy of /. and digg mania. It seems as though Helios thinks he needs to apologise for something. Personally I didn’t feel that he had done anything wrong in his original post (he did keep the teachers identity private afterall) but clearly he didn’t like the tone of many of the comments. That’s honourable and almost certainly the right thing to do. But surely this is a two way street? Don’t you agree that Karen should have done at least a modicum of research before launching her exocet? Afterall she is a teacher…

Russia teaches the world about FOSS

Glyn Moody (See blogroll) has an absolutely cracking post on his Open Enterprise blog regarding a recent announcement from Russia. The really interesting bit for me is not the article itself so much, although it is indeed great news and very inspirational, but the comments that follow.

Firstly, the main story. It is that Russia has had such a successful time using Open Source software in some School pilots that the government have decided to roll it out across ALL schools in Russia.

It began with a few pilot projects, and apparently these have been so successful that the Russian government has now decided to make it the standard for *all* schools:

До конца 2009 г. на всех школьных компьютерах будет установлен пакет свободного программного обеспечения (ПСПО). Об этом, как передает «Прайм ТАСС», сегодня сообщил министр связи и массовых коммуникаций РФ Игорь Щеголев на пленарном заседании «Информационное общество и современные технологии доставки информации» в рамках международной выставки «ИнфоКом-2008».

[Via Google Translate: By the end of 2009, all school computers will be installed package of free software (PSPO). This is how transfers «Prime-TASS», today announced Minister of Communications and Mass Communications of the Russian Federation Igor Shchyogolev at the plenary session «Information Society and the modern technologies of information» in the international exhibition «InfoCom-2008».]

This isn’t just an option for those brave souls who might want to try something different: this is now the official approach. If schools want to use proprietary software, they have to pay for it themselves:

Read the full article to get further details.

Then scroll down the page and read some of the comments…

It starts with the first post saying we should teach M$ because that’s what business uses today. It’s the only “pro” proprietary comment and rightly gets pretty short shrift from every subsequent commenter.

But then a remarkable thing starts happening, which emphasises yet again, why Free Software is SO important in Education: In that it absolutely encourages innovation, inquisitiveness, collaboration, and – above all – learning from and with others.

Gala Kuznetsova said on Thursday, 23 October 2008

Today more than 1700 russian schools (~ 34 000 computers) migrated to free software. Additional information about this project: <http://altlinux.info/news/altnews>

Alex Besogonov said on Thursday, 23 October 2008

A little translation grammar nazism: “According to Schegoleva” should be “According to Schegolev” (“Shegoleva” is genetive case from “Schegolev”).

Helio M. said on Thursday, 23 October 2008

In Brazil, we soon have 50 million kid in school will use KDE/Linux which is modified in portogeuse for our country. As mroe and more kids become use to Linux, we have then more young developers/hackers who will be growing up in school useing free software and we will continue to have a free/free OS that will truly reflect our country but built at the base on a foundation of Gnu/Linux/KDE projects. We can share knowledge with the planet but have a distro (or more) that is us and whom we control. I think russians will like that. it is called selfdetermination.

anonymous said on Friday, 24 October 2008

It should be noted that what google translates as free has in Russian the explicit meaning of free as in liberty, aka open source.

Hilton said on Friday, 24 October 2008

Hi

We are pushing open source software usage in schools in South Africa – www.tuxlabs.org.za using edubuntu. The guy from brazil can you please make contact hilton@inkululeko.co.za (inkululeko=freedom)

Ken Hansen said on Friday, 24 October 2008

Here in my US school district the technology teachers are *demanding* MS Office 2007access now, and they expect that MS Office 2007 will replace MS Office 2003 in next year’s district-wide system image. This despite the factt they have neither the training or classroom materials to properly teach students in MS Office 2007. The cornerstone of their argument lies in the frustration that we don’t have the same tools our kids have at home!

This is all great stuff:

  • 50,000,000 kids using Linux in Brazil!
  • South Africa asking Brazil to contact them to share their experiences.
  • A US School demanding they teach MSO2007 despite the fact they don’t really know *how* to teach it.
  • A lesson in Russian Grammar…
  • and the true meaning of the word “Free” in the Russian text.
It’s quite poignant how Ken’s post is the antithesis of the story I re-told recently regarding the child who’s family couldn’t afford to buy MS Office 2007…

The second, and far more worrying conversation, just shows what a total travesty it is that we continue to teach our children not how to use a computer as a tool, but instead teach our kids how to open and create a Microsoft Word or Excel document. Another visitor to our stand (and parent) was discussing the experience of a colleague whose child came home from school with some homework only to find he couldn’t open the files on his home PC as they were created in Office 2007! The family couldn’t afford to buy it – and why the hell should they frankly? This was obviously very distressing for the family and child concerned.

Our our schools now a sales channel for Microsoft I wonder?

The result of this kind of upgrade-treadmill that MS would love us all to live on permanently, is to create a two-tier system of education for our children: those whose parents can afford to buy expensive commercial software and those who cant.

And you want ID Cards??? (More on Number 10)

This is quite amazing stuff really. You just couldn’t make up a better story.

The Number 10 website fiasco just keeps going.

New Media Maze, that “Full Service New Media Agency”, look to have really screwed up. Not only have they nicked a free WordPress template and removed the attribution and removed the license, but it seems the site itself is actually full of bugs and errors too.

Dizzy Thinks has found some lovely errors and a strange chap called “Adam Test”… ROTFL.

And when you’ve finished rolling around on the floor laughing take a look at this research on The Rouseabout to see what a little more digging throws up: (I’ll give you a clue: 404s).

Honestly, if this is what we get for £100,000 of taxpayer’s money from New Media Maze then, quite frankly, I’m glad I hadn’t heard of them before.

How much are the Gov. going to spend on our ID card database? The one that nobody wants. Do you trust them to get it right? Nahhh.

And Glyn Moody discovered a little known government project to build a “massive central silo for all UK communications data…”.

It’s at times like these that I fall on my virtual knees and bless the cyber-gods that ensure every single major UK government project is a complete and utter failure, so this doesn’t stand a snowball’s chance in hell of ever working properly. Phew.

PLEASE!!!! Someone take these huge IT projects out of the Government’s hands! They are so crap at it our whole lives will end up on Facebook if we aren’t careful… Oh, most already are.

All we need now is for Microshaft to come rolling along spouting off about how much better the site would have been if they’d spent the money on Blog Server 2008 running on Windoors 2010 with Sequal Server 2012… or whatever crap it is they are pushing this week.

IBM, Canonical/Ubuntu, Novell, Red Hat Deliver Microsoft-Free Desktops Worldwide

I was going to write a bit about this MAJOR announcement myself today; but there’s not much point.

Glyn Moody has covered most of the bases in his usual eloquent style.

I’m in complete agreement with Glyn here. This is a really big deal. Perhaps not today or tomorrow, but it is making a HUGE statement to the business community at large that there are credible alternatives to M$, and, with IBM’s help they can choose from Novell, Red Hat or Canonical for their desktop IT.

Of course, we [ the enlightened ones ;-) ] have known this for sometime. But the dark-grey-suit brigade didn’t really have a clue. They simply believed what they were told.

Now they are being told something new.

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