April 1st, 2008
Ubuntu founder Mark Shuttleworth said the approval of Microsoft’s Office Open XML is a “sad” day for ISO and the computing public.
“I think it de-values the confidence people have in the standards setting process,” Shuttleworth said in an interview just hours after the news was leaked. The International Standards Organization (ISO) did not carry out its responsibility, he claimed.
“It’s sad that the ISO was not willing to admit that its process was failing horribly,” he said, noting that Microsoft intensely lobbied many countries that traditionally have not participated in ISO and stacked technical committees with Microsoft employees, solution providers and resellers sympathetic to OOXML. “When you have a process built on trust and when that trust is abused, [ISO] should halt the process.”
“[ISO] is an engineering old boys club and these things are boring so you have to have a lot of passion … then suddenly you have an investment of a lot of money and lobbying and you get artificial results,” he said about the vote. “The process is not set up to deal with intensive corporate lobbying and so you end up with something being a standard that’s not clear.”
More than 3000 questions about the specification remain unanswered and OOXML is so enormously complex and ambiguous that it can be implemented in a variety of ways, Shuttleworth contends. That negates the very purpose of a standard, he added.
Office Open XML does not belong alongside ISO standards such as HTML, PDF and ODF, Shuttleworth maintains.
“The things that make for a very good standard are clarity and consensus, and the genuine belief that multiple organizations can implement the standard,” he added, noting that much of OOXML is a compilation of old Office “quirks and inconsistencies “ dumped into an XML format that different Microsoft developers implemented differently for different versions of Word and Excel.“They have a tasty dump of all of that declared as a standard,” Shuttleworth claimed.
Like Red Hat and Novell, Ubuntu’s Debian-based Linux desktop distribution uses the open source, OpenDocument Format compliant OpenOffice office suite that competes against Microsoft Office.
Will Ubuntu implement IS DIS 29500 now that it is a standard?
“We’re not going to invest in trying to implement a standard that is poorly defined,” Shuttleworth said, maintaining that the specification can be altered and added to as Redmond wishes – regardless of its rivals’ product cycles.
“If we get close to implementing it, Microsoft would move the goal post,” he projects. “Microsoft doesn’t think it’s bound by the standard.”
I wouldn’t want the job if people told me to implement it as a standard,” he added
The ISO approval gives Microsoft the ability to promote its OOXML products to governments and customers but no guarantee about future changes. “It puts us into a situation where we have multiple standards for document formats and no clear guidance as to how standards will evolve,” he said.
Microsoft’s argument that the standard is complex because the software is complex is hogwash, Shuttleworth also maintains, because more complex software – such as e-mail and the web– have simple and clear standards all developers can implement: IMAP and HTML.
“Rendering web pagea is rich, very detailed with fonts and different layouts and support for different devices. It’s an amazingly rich content format but we have a standard to drive it that is clean and clear by comparison with Office Open XML,” he added.
In the end though, the same kind of lobbying and politicking that doomed Massachusetts’ effort to establish OpenDocument Format as a standard also tanked the global effort to unite behind ODF, Shuttleworth claimed.
“All the work was done behind closed doors instead of in a public forum,” Shuttleworth lamented. “All of that is very unfortunate and doesn’t actually move the technology or industry ahead. We’ve always had Microsoft with private file formats.”
Shuttleworth does not believe, however, that the ISO win will slow Linux’s advance on the desktop and maintains that OpenOffice suites and ODF applications will gain steam. “It’s always been an uphill battle to use anything that’s not Microsoft Office,” he said. “The battle will be won on the merit. “