The Joy of OOXML

For most of us, file formats are right up there with printer drivers in terms of fun. Certainly, they're important, but not something you'd look to for excitement. And yet that is precisely what the battle between the OpenDocument Format and Microsoft's OOXML is providing. And I'm not just talking about the dry, intellectual excitement derived from comparing well-formed XML tags: this is a no holds barred, down-and-dirty mano a mano fight over the soul of document standards.

Some of this stuff is downright hilarious. For example, in Portugal neither Sun nor IBM was able to take part in a crucial national meeting to vote on whether OOXML should become an ISO standard; the reason?

The excuse for not letting them in, according to the notes, was that the room only could hold 20 people, and it was first come, first served. But when this was said, there were already more than 20 in the room. It eventually reached 25, so it seems clear there was room for Sun and IBM. There was an auditorium available they chose not to use.

Or try this one:

Previous reports from all over have indicated sudden, surprising surges of membership in National Body voting committees in multiple countries throughout the world (most recently in Sweden), and I have reported recently (here and here) that there has been a sudden surge of interest among ISO members in upgrading their privileges to "P" status, which will entitle to them (just in time) to a more influential vote on OOXML

When I first noted that I had heard concerns over upgrading at the global vote level,. only two nations had upgraded. When I wrote about it the second time, that number had risen to six. It's now only a few days later, and the number has risen to nine (bear in mind that the original number was only thirty). And there are still a few days left during which stealth countries, their votes already taken, can make the cut. Where will it all end? [Updated 8/29: The number is now forty - the most recent addition is Malta.]

None of this will surprise long-term observers of Microsoft: it's simply the way it plays. But irrespective of what you think of the morality of this kind of behaviour, there are number of interesting implications.

The first is that many more people are aware of the importance of file formats being open - something that few cared about a year ago. Microsoft has been unable to counter the line that openness here is good, and so has been forced to take the position that its own 6000-page file format is also open. This shows that Microsoft is having problems countering the openness meme, and has even been forced to play along. Although there is the danger that by doing so it will dilute the value of openness, it is clear from this that openness as a strategy is hard to beat.

The second point is that Microsoft's apparent willingness to use all and every means to get OOXML adopted as an ISO standard conveniently proves that there is no real grassroots desire for this. If there were, it wouldn't need to expend so much time and money on such methods.

These recent moves confirm that those boring old file formats really are interesting, at least in the case of documents (and probably elsewhere). There are various reasons for this, all of them bad news for Microsoft. One, obviously, is the continuing rise of ODF as a viable alternative. Another is the relative indifference of users to OOXML: Microsoft really needs its format to be recognised as an official ISO standard in order to provide Office users with an incentive to upgrade.

Finally - and perhaps most importantly - the sudden interest in file formats is an indication that cloud computing is beginning to make its presence felt. There can be no lock-in to particular desktop programs here, because there are no desktop programs (other than the browser, and fortunately Firefox has pretty much won the fight to keep Web standards open). Ultimately, file formats are not just important, they are the only thing that counts.

Glyn Moody writes about openness at opendotdotdot.



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kemchi's picture

Microsoft really needs its format to be recognized as an official ISO standard in order to provide Office users with an incentive to upgrade.
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edekbbg's picture

Hello! kaedged interesting kaedged site!


Anonymous's picture

Pity an independent electoral oversight process is not in place for these International Standards Organisation ballot resolution meetings. . We are only left to speculate what might have been the result otherwise.


teia's picture

OOXML -- makes it sound like it's XML. It's very confusing, and I'm sure it was intended that way.

Microsoft-Novell Interop. Lab OPEN.....or is it ?

Anonymous's picture

Complete article from FYI.

Why the ‘Interoperability’ Lab is a Case Against Un-Novellised Linux
Posted in Red Hat, Microsoft, Novell, SUN, Interoperability, Virtualization, Xen at 9:08 pm by Roy Schestowitz
Paula Rooney has just posted a long and detailed post which explains how Microsoft and Novell exclude Red Hat using their ’special’ deal and arrangements. It’s no longer about GNU/Linux, but it’s about Novell Linux. From the post:
With efforts such as the interoperability lab, Microsoft is reinforcing its promise that when its hypervisor actually ships — now slated for late 2008 — Novell’s SLES-based virtual machines will sing nicely on the Windows server platform.
That’s not all. On Sept 12, Microsoft and Sun also announced an expansion of their alliance in which the two companies will ensure that Sun’s Solaris VMs runs well on Windows and Windows runs well in a virtualized state on Solaris.
But what about Red Hat’s Xen-based virtual machines?
The competitive standoff with Red Hat notwithstanding, Microsoft must realize by now that unless it extends the same level of compatibility to Red Hat Enterprise Linux and all other Linux distributions on its hypervisor that this gesture at interoperability is meaningless.
Microsoft’s alliance with XenSource once provided some measure of confidence that Red Hat would run as well on Viridian as Novell’s Linux. But Citrix’s planned acquisition of the open source XenSource calls that into question.
Citrix is one of Microsoft’s closest longtime allies in the proprietary software world and to date has not participated in the open source market. As Microsoft announced the planned release of the Viridian CTP yesterday at VMWorld, for example, it also unveiled an extended virtualization alliance with Citrix to standardize on Microsoft’s Virtual Hard Disk Format as a common run-time environment for virtualized operating systems and applications. That’s not surprising, given Microsoft’s former agreement with XenSource on VHD.
But the tightening triumverate of Microsoft, Novell and Citrix — three longtime proprietary software companies cooperating on virtualization technology — makes more than a few open source advocates and customers uneasy.
And the agreement with Sun on Wednesday — ensuring Solaris Linux runs well on Windows virtualization hypervisor — leaves Red Hat alone in the cold.
By now, you can hopefully see how Microsoft’s hijack of XenSource fits neatly into the theme of this Web site. It’s all part of a broad plan to leave Microsoft competitors in the sidelines. Novell is just a tool for getting there. Shane spotted this early on.

Keep them honest

David H. Wilkins's picture


I think you hit the nail on the head when you said "Microsoft's apparent willingness to use all and every means to get OOXML adopted", especially in light of Miguel de Icaza's comments today. I've had a lot of respect for the Mono folks, but his latest comments (OOXML is a superb standard?), make me think that he's taken one too many drinks from the water fountain in Redmond.

When you mention "Cloud Computing", does this include ajaxWindows? I've not looked at ajaxWrite yet, but I hope that it's an OpenDocument format application.


A question of semantics

Glyn Moody's picture

Well, I suppose it depends how you define cloud computing: it's currently a very, er, nebulous term....

Yes, good point

Glyn Moody's picture

Thanks for the link. Certainly, this needs looking into deeply before anyone decides to embrace Moonlight.

Hey Glyn what happened to the link?

Anonymous's picture

Is this a system problem or a political problem?

Now, I do know

Glyn Moody's picture

Apparently, the posting got deleted accidentally during a spam clean-up. Nothing sinister - and thanks for those who reposted.


Glyn Moody's picture

I just write the words around here....

"The Missing Link"

Anonymous's picture

So, what's up with that?

"The Missing Link" continued.

Anonymous's picture

From Tuesday September 11, 2007

Citation, Trackbacks, Talkback and Comment Policies Against
Posted in Boycott Novell, Novell, Site News at 10:07 pm by Roy Schestowitz"

(Selected text: If you want to read this article that may relate to "The Missing Link" you will have to copy and paste the URL into your browser URL location box. This link issue may or may not be related to the "Missing Link" from Glyn's current OOXML blog.)

"Be aware that, for quite a long time, certain people were unable to link to because their employer does not permit this. The same goes for backward citations and talkbacks/comments. I have actually seen comments being deleted from ZDNet because they contained a link to Those who are posting such comments had no affiliation with us at all. Likewise, sites such ZDNet refuse to let our trackbacks be shown. Ever!"

Mabey somebody at the Linux Journal can explain "The Missing Link".

As an asside . . .

DanR's picture

. . . does anyone else think that this statement

fortunately Firefox has pretty much won the fight to keep Web standards open

may be just a bit premature?

What a whitewash

Glyn Moody's picture

Notice how this Microsoft press release spins all this as positive - whereas (as far as I can tell from the weasel words in the press release) OOXML failed to reach either the 75% of qualified votes (it got 74%) or two thirds of "P" votes (figure not even mentioned):

"ISO/IEC requires that at least 75 percent of all "yes" or "no" votes (qualified votes) and at least two-thirds of "P" members that vote "yes" or "no" support ratification of a format in the Fast Track process."

Or have I missed something?

Glyn, I am seeing a pattern here.

Anonymous's picture

The Press release that you comment as a "whitewash" is missing too.

Thank You, Eric Steven Raymond !

Anonymous's picture

"My resolve to treat Microsoft like any another license submitter is being sorely tested."

(from esr's blog)
Submitted by esr on Fri, 2007-08-31 03:25.

Selected Text. Complete Blog Entry can be found at:

"But I find that my resolve is being sorely tested. Because Microsoft's behavior in the last few months with respect to OOXML has been egregious. They haven't stopped at pushing a "standard" that is divisive, technically bogus, and an obvious tool of monopoly lock-in; they have resorted to lying, ballot-stuffing, committee-packing, and outright bribery to ram it through the ISO standardization process in ways that violate ISO's own guidelines wholesale."

'Smoking Guns'

Roy Schestowitz's picture

There's not much to add (which hasn't been said somewhere before), but I've watched this like a hawk for over a year and here are my observations in short.

* Microsoft has used deals and partnerships (Apple and Corel included) to essentially buy support for a proprietary format.

* Microsoft formalised a proprietary format and resorted to what is arguably fraud, corruption and extortion (yes, they do favours to politicians and contrariwise -- retaliate) to get ISO's blessing.

If you ever needed evidence that Microsoft executives are -- to put bluntly -- "crooks", there you have it. If you have not seen it, then surely you have not explored the OOXML fiasco deeply enough.

I know what I've seen. Will happily give credible references...

How about a score card ?

Anonymous's picture


Thanks for all of your hard work.

There are "O" members and "P" members and there were 30 members prior to OOXML. Now there are sudden new members.

Is there a way to put this recent ISO voting process into a diagram, drawing or time line so that this fraud fiasco could be better understood?

Mind Dump

Roy Schestowitz's picture

I produced a mindmap a couple of weeks ago, but it goes beyond ODF/OOXML aspects.

To focus on the OOXML/ODF part in isolation, let's just quickly drop some bits I can think of quickly (maybe I'll tidy this up and turn it into a post... I just tend to put pace before polish):

Recruitment of members/voters/bloggers (some anonymous)

Linux copmpanies: Turbo/Linux, Novell, Xandors, Linspire

Corel deal

Apple cross-licensing deal, using iWorks as 'proof' that OOXML is possible (never mind if it's read-only and very poor)

Politicians (Ballmer and Gates phone US politicians to flip votes and stack/group opposers, Gates visits China and gives discounts, Hungarian minister calls for new vote (with Microsoft partners))

New countries emerge (easy "yes" votes to persuade or "buy")

Charities in India and investments in Vietnam

Lies and deception (e.g. telling people election date is a month later so that they don't turn up or decide, Ecma disinformation, CompTIA FUD)

Studies and lobbying arms

Making deliberate accusations and lies while those who can defend or rebut are on vacation

Press releases (bending the meaning of "pro-choice", "open")

Lies (or exaggeration) about AbiWord supporting OOXML

Shutting out rival companies (Portugal, Sweden, Germany, Sweden, and more)

Letters for support sent to Microsoft partners

Phonecalls and E-mails sent to Microsoft partners for more lobbying muscle

Microsoft creating Web sites and grossroots petitions (e.g. in the UK), then asking partners to show pseudo support

Lobbying/bullying (e.g. "Men in Black" incident in Florida).

Use of FUD in congress, e.g. video hearing on ODF as proof, talking about budget failures that are not even related to ODF

Use of connections in media, e.g. publicly stunts in the BBC (now influenced heavily by Microsoft, whose departing executives now work for the BBC)

Use of connections in governments, e.g. UK National Archives, whose head chose OOXML for storage and preservation. That head has two hats and one of them is a senior Microsoft position. He puts national archives (ie.e. crucial public data) in the hands of Microsoft and their lock-ins.

That's just off the top of my head. Maybe I'll add hyperlinks (as backing/proof) later and get it sorted out until it's publishable.

"Hungarian minister calls

Anonymous's picture

"Hungarian minister calls for new vote"
This is a very small part of the full story and not the most relevant one. BTW, Hungary will not give an official vote.

This may of August 31 2007

Anonymous's picture

Thanks to Andrew Updegrove from the "Standards Blog":

Selected text, the complete article is at:

"P Country Upgrades Continue - as do Document Committee Signups as Well"

"it is clear that the character of SC 34 has changed hugely in the past few months. It will be very interesting to see how the 23 brand new members of SC 34 act and vote during the year ahead."

"the new version of the PDF standard that Adobe is moving through the process,. And they will also act on Microsoft's rival to PDF, which Microsoft calls the XML Paper Specification, when that specification is inevitably submitted by - guess who - Ecma. "

This is Just the Beginning of Something Bigger

Roy Schestowitz's picture

More on XPS and the "Grand Plan" here, here, and here (among other places). XPS and OOXML are just a small portion of a whole stack of stubborn, expensive, and sometimes impossibly-to-fully-implement lockins.

Create a Diversion

Anonymous's picture

Call me crazy,
but ever since I heard about this Microsoft/Novell "Interoperability Lab", my gut has been telling me something is not right.

I can see why Novell would want access to Microsoft secrets to make its software work better. But, until lately I could not follow the logic as to why Microsoft would want to share its secrets.

Basically, knowing the dna of Microsoft and the CONMEN that run it,
What is the "REAL" driving force for Microsoft to share its secrets?

A quick search on Google for "interoperability lab" brings up the February 2007 results. Here are references to two.

# 1
Thanks to Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols and eWEEK for the selected text below.

You can find the complete article at:

Feb. 01, 2007

"When Novell and Microsoft announced their unlikely partnership, a part of the arrangement that got little attention at the time was that they'd create a joint research facility, where both company's technical experts would collaborate on new joint software solutions. Now, they're staffing up.

Specifically, Microsoft wants a "Software Design Engineer in Test, Linux Interoperability" and a "Program Manager, Linux Interoperability," while Novell is seeking a "Software Design Engineer in Test, Windows Interoperability." "

# 2 From: PORT25

Microsoft-Novell Interoperability Lab – Sneak Peek
Sam Ramji, Interop, Blogs
Wednesday, February 14, 2007 11:06 AM by Sam Ramji

"we’ve got a solid long-term plan that covers our cooperation in the following areas:"

Directory and Identity:


Are you beginning to see the picture, or SMOKE?

In my judgement, the real purpose of the Mocrosoft/Novell Interoperability Lab is to infect the Novell SuSE Linux Enterprise Desktop (SLED) with the OOXML Microsoft Cancer gene.

Then give out a ton of coupons to help Novell spread this OOXML cancer around enterprises.

Microsoft can spread its OOXML Cancer on end user consumer with its own corrupt hardware and software monopoly.

But then along came Novell with that Desktop of the year Award for the
best Linux desktop without the lock in, and secure, and stable, and
scalable, and with constant updates to features and abilities, and with real time security patches, all for FIFTY BUCKS a year!


It looked for a while that Linux was going to win.

But never underestimate SCUM.

Now Microsoft has started to fracture the Linux community and has given Novell just enough cash to hang itself with.

Think about it. Microsoft has tons of cash. Novell is treading water.
The SCO case judge says that Unix belongs to Novell. Hum...

Stand back and look at the big picture.

CNBC guests say that the Tech
sector is in a period of consolidation where at the end there will be
"A few Tall Trees Standing".

Given the current picture, is Novell a "Tall TREE" ?

Novell has Netware, Unix, and Linux , Microsoft has Windows.

Could Microsoft be planning to destroy the linux threat by taking over Novell?

A Microsoft/Novell combo would put OOXML in the enterprise and the consumer market in a BIG way.

Joe Wilcox at eWEEK for got it right on OOXML.

" The file format is linchpin to the company's broader Office, Dynamics and business intelligence strategies. OOXML isn't just a format; it's the glue that will bind together products and product strategies and lock businesses into Microsoft's desktop-to-server stack."

Without OOXML where how can Microsoft cage its customers?

It would explain the public display of raw corruption that Microsoft is engaged in currently.

What do you think?

Or am I crazy?


Good Assessment

Roy Schestowitz's picture

From what I have seen (I co-edit, all that you say is true with the exception of the SCO thing, for which we still need more evidence.

It is sad that it's hard to get these messages across to people. I've tried diagrams to make it easier to digest. In greatest state of denial are happy SUSE Linux users and that denial is infectious.

if nobody stops Microsoft

Anonymous's picture

if nobody stops Microsoft people will continue to pay and pay and be in the trap. The trash of old computers dumped because they are too old and can not use the Microsoft's new windows are piling. So what are our children going to learn from it? That our generation did not care for the environment did not care how it uses it?

I am thankful and glad that Linux exist and gives free to the people. I am thankful to all the people who contribute for it. I do hope that the governments and corporations will see the benefits of using such a great system as Linux and open standards.

I don't know

Glyn Moody's picture

The Microsoft-Novell deal seems much more ad hoc than Machiavellian to me. I agree absolutely about the comment that OOXML is the glue holding Microsoft's stack strategy together. But for me the interesting development is that Microsoft now feels the need to have it blessed as an open standard rather than just imposing it as is on its customers. This alone shows something has shifted.

Blessed as an open standard

Nicholas Petreley's picture

I get the impression Microsoft wants it blessed as an open standard simply because several goverments and agencies have adopted an open-standards-only policy. Microsoft will lose business if it doesn't get OOXML approved.


Jon Reagan's picture

Microsoft's strategy fall right in line with their "Effective Evangelism" paper released at the comes vs. microsoft case (Exhibit 3096?). In the document, Microsoft considers contributing to their own standards as a victory, while contributing to those outside of the company is a small defeat. They also do not also view themselves as a monopoly, and will not until there would be no one left standing but them.

Thank goodness for Linux! :)

"Effective Evangelism"

Roy Schestowitz's picture

"Effective Evangelism" [PDF]


grouch checked for me in Groklaw and he could confirm, based on the wget log (and diff), that it's authentic. They presented this in Iowa.

I've read it too--very interesting

Terrell Prude' Jr.'s picture

Yep, I've read it. Very interesting indeed. Sounds just like them, too--I can hear 'em saying it.