OOXML Drama ... No-Duh!

April 5 2010

Last week, Alex Brown wrote a pretty scathing blog entry about how Microsoft has not followed thru on implementing and supporting the OOXML ISO Standard. We have seen Ars Technica pick up the story. Even Ed blogged about it. Today, Nathan Freeman asked me this in IM:

"so, I'm wondering if Alex's (Brown) blog post puts you in MSFT apologist-mode or "no-duh" mode"

My answer was a resounding "no-duh"

Here are some thoughts why.

  1. Microsoft said in late 2008 that there was no way ISO/IEC 29500 Strict was going to make Office 2010. I find this interesting because (I believe) Alex Brown was in the room when they said that. As far as I can tell, Office is on a 4 year development cycle. The first year is when the previous version is in testing, two years of development, and a year of testing. The specification was accepting mid way thru a development cycle. You don't add something like that midway in a product cycle like this.
  2. As much as the team I work with at Microsoft, led by Doug Mahugh, has done a great job on being open and working with the community, the Office team is still black box. Sure, they blog - once features are set in stone. The Office team is so out of touch with the general community it's not even funny. Unless you are a customer with lots of licenses, you are just part of the Office herd.
  3. I pray that Microsoft does not add ISO/IEC 29500 Strict in a service pack, as Alex requests. Have you played with the ODF support in Office 2007 SP2? Take a complex Powerpoint Presentation, save it to ODF, and go open that in Lotus Symphony of OpenOffice.org and then let's talk. Please, Microsoft, do it right.

At the end of the day, Microsoft is in the business of selling software. None of the customers I work with have made buying decisions based on what format is supported in software. Maybe that is a US mentality, but it does not exist. None of them really care about who voted on a format. These customers aren't part of the standards committees. They don't have time - they are doing business. Go look  at the members of those committees: individuals who are personally interested, people at smaller consulting firms who need exposure, and folks at large companies like Microsoft, IBM, Sun, Oracle, and others. You see a few governmental workers as well. You don't see CIO's, CTO's, Directors of IT, or folks are large companies who are consuming the document format.

Why? Because at the end of the day, people who are using OOXML in their development process only care about what is in the product. Companies like Apple, Google, and oh ... IBM in Lotus Symphony have implemented Microsoft Office 2007 formats. OOXML for them is just an open format with decent documentation. It has a second version SDK and some great development features coming in Visual Studio.NET 2010. And what about it's competitor ODF? Good documentation but very little in terms of development support. Why? Because there is not one company behind it ... and it seems that many of the Sun folks have their hands tied as the Oracle acquisition completes at various times around the globe. IBM seems to be doing work there, but not at a pace or in any fashion I feel comfortable using in customer engagements. Let me say that again - the ODF Toolkit Project that IBM is participating in, including folks I know pretty well, is not anywhere close to where I would put my personal or PSC's reputation on the line to use it in a production-ready client application. OOXML - yep, been there, done that for OVER A YEAR. Wrote the book.

So I am not sure why this is getting so much attention at this point. Alex Brown must have had some reason he needed to vent on his blog - and more power to him for doing so. But I am not surprised by anything he wrote. Nor the comments on his blog - which fall into line with what we saw during the OOXML war of words. If the ODF folks want to rub it in - stop writing comments and start producing tools I can give my consultants. Until then, just more drama. And while the drama goes on, folks like PSC and our customers will continue to use the "documented document formats" to solve real business problems.