The Deprecated “Smoke Screen” of MS Office Open XML (OOXML)

BSI British Standards states:

“… a standard is an agreed, repeatable way of doing something. It is a published document that contains a technical specification or other precise criteria designed to be used consistently as a rule, guideline, or definition. Standards help to make life simpler and to increase the reliability and the effectiveness of many goods and services we use. They are intended to be aspirational – a summary of good and best practice rather than general practice. Standards are created by bringing together the experience and expertise of all interested parties such as the producers, sellers, buyers, users and regulators of a particular material, product, process or service.”

In an effort to win quick converts to its bid to have Microsoft Office Open XML (MOOXML) accepted as an ISO standard, Microsoft is deprecating parts of its widely-criticized MOOXML. But whatever the new Microsoft OOXML file format with deprecated parts will eventually look like (if such a format ever appears in an actual application), these cosmetic changes don’t really make a difference for Microsoft or the world. Neither Microsoft Office 2007 or the version after that will ever likely produce a standards-compliant format. Besides, OpenDocument has been around now for a few years and is becoming widely supported in industry. However, there has been no meaningful movement from MS towards support. Actions speak louder than words.

What is described in the ECMA OOXML specification is not what is currently implemented in MS Office 2007. The actual specification: says ECMA OOXML is a format that Microsoft Office 2007 can *read*. Note, however, that it is not the format that Microsoft Office 2007 is actually *writing* for example: The Scripts, macros, passwords, Sharepoint tagshooks, DRM and other tie-ins used by MS Office 2007 are not part of the ECMA OOXML specification. If you try encrypting a document in Office 2007, it is no longer even a zip file + XML at that point. There is no editor reference application for Office Open XML, so an application can send Office Open files to Microsoft Office, and Microsoft Office can open those files, but any edits are saved in a different format!

Launch Microsoft Office and try to save a file in the format specified by the draft standard at ISO. You can’t. There is no compatibility mode in Microsoft Office that limits input to the feature set specified in the official Microsoft Office Open XML draft ISO standard. Any suggestions of interoperability for anyone wanting to support the Microsoft Office Open XML specification is ridiculous, especially since Microsoft itself won’t allow its customers to write to that format.

Microsoft will NOT change its Office program to become compliant with ECMA . The marketing firms on retainer will simply advertise loud and clear that “Microsoft OOXML is now an ISO standard”, and will blur the differences it sees between MS OOXML, ECMA OOXML and ISO OOXML. This will do the trick for most people, who are not technical experts. But they will eventually get caught again in the confusion. Microsoft is not concerned about what the global community needs, but is acting strictly to protect its monopoly.

Deprecating some controversial issues shows some of the signs of the significant failures of the format. Shuffling chapters around and putting some parts in the annex is not the answer to technical shortcomings. Such aggressive proposals at this time, seem more geared to be for “Talking Points” only rather than the sincere interest in creating a truly open standard.

There are still major problems with the format as now proposed in its deprecated form, from cultural and linguistics adaptability problems, accessibility issues, to the reliance on the MS Windows product, the guidance to what is called the “DEVMODE” structure, increased Patent problems, added harmonisation and interoperability problems, such that third party implementation remains almost impossible. And there are many, many other problems with MOOXML as an ISO standard. And let us not forget the proposed format has never been implemented or tested. Indeed, one wonders if MOOXML can be tested or implemented by any vendor other than Microsoft. MOOXML is still far from achieving acceptance as a true standard.

The fact is that even MS Office 2007 itself has not implemented the initially proposed ECMA format. So it is more than apparent that the new “smoke screen” proposals will never be implemented or even if they can be, not even by Microsoft, let alone third party vendors. It also dooms all the .docx files out there already. Is MS ready to carry out a product recall or ready to develop another converter for this problem? Not likely.

Moving stuff into deprecated status does not ease the burden of implementing DIS 29500. The TRUTH IS that every application will need to support the deprecated features in order to read files with the deprecated features.

The legacy binary formats remain closed. If a file is one which was converted from an older format of Microsoft Office by DIS29500 and allowed to wrap the old file in xml, it remains unreadable for everyone else. OOXML is still a closed spec tied into to many proprietary formats.

ECMA 376 is a bomb disguised as a standard. It redefines functions and components just to retain ties to the undocumented legacy formats. Therefore a number of things that should be fixed by now, thanks to better engineering, and existing ISO standards, are left not only unfixed, but even perpetuated by ECMA376. Why? There is a difference between preserving old files and moving them to a new format with all the same internal bugs. In essence, Microsoft is shoving their own mistakes right down the throat of ECMA/ISO. Microsoft has the audacity to appear to be saying that the standard meets a different need, when all it seems to mean is : “we don’t wanna fix our bugs, because that would force us to use standards, and that is unacceptable to us.” Unfortunately, the new proposals illuminate this unchanged and obstreperous position.

Further more the proposed deprecated changes increases the already dramatic overlap with the established ISO standard for Office Documents. If creates new patent problems in such that now MS reserve the right to sue you if you implement any of the deprecated stuff moved to the annex of the proposed standard. It makes harmonization and interoperability worse than ever because without the code for interpreting the deprecated items, any file with deprecated data will be impossible to read properly. It is obvious, but despite the obviousness, the problem persists.

To the extent that Office 2007 will have to be changed, to the extensive coding work which would need to be done, don’t you think it is just wiser to reject OOXML as a ISO standard because it is not one, and for Microsoft to collaborate on the development of ODF and create one universal file format for everyone.

The Culture of Self Interest is not Open

Bill Gates Plainiff’s Exhibit

ABOVE: Comes vs. Microsoft Plaintiff’s Exhibit. See original version here in PDF.

So let us be clear, an ISO standard should benefit everyone and should be developed by consensus for fair competition and through open participation for all to embrace, enhance and share. DIS29500 as now proposed still only serves the commercial interest of one vendor and will always only serve the interest of one vendor – Microsoft. This is the way the OOXML format was designed. It was designed to ferment their monopoly into the sun. Microsoft will make promises to the National Boards that it will fix the OOXML format “later”, but as this standardisation process has shown so far, Microsoft doesn’t keep promises.

Unless wasting time is part of the current marketing tactics used by Microsoft, the most advantageous action would be for that company to accept the standing invitation to collaborate on the development of the established standard, the OpenDocument Format, and to create one universal file format for everyone – the fundamental purpose of standardisation.

This article was originally written by Russell Ossendryver.

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