Thursday, May 22, 2008

Microsoft latest bullshit : native support of ODF in Office 2007

Stéphane Rodriguez, May 2008

Previous articles :
- Custom XML? What Custom XML?
- Backwards compatible? One more lie by omission
- Bad surprise in Microsoft Office binary documents : interoperability remains impossible
- Typical B.S. in technical articles about OOXML
- The truth about Microsoft Office compatibility
- OOXML is defective by design

I wanted to post a quick reaction to the latest Microsoft bullshit announcement, in which they reportedly plan to "add native support for ODF 1.1". The way they put is very succinct, intentionally probably, and it opens the door for wild guesses.

First of all, Microsoft is a huge Office licensing monopoly. It's so big it even surpasses Windows in sales. Any decline in Office licensing would be dramatic for Microsoft's future. With that alone, you know that any announcement from Microsoft that they are willing to interoperate with other people's software, namely applications, should be taken with a grain of salt.

Here is how, with the release of Office 2007, Microsoft intends to keep their monopoly in Office licensing :

Phase 1 - as long as there is not enough Office 2007 documents out there, make sure that customers understand that only Office 2007 can reliably migrate binary files to the new file formats. Hence the backwards compatibility claim which are part of the OOXML ISO marketing diversion (ironically inflated by critics).

During this phase, which began in 2006 and should take at least 5 years (at least one major organic corporation upgrade cycle), Microsoft bottom line is at risk. The strategy was therefore to make sure to retain the exclusivity when it comes to migrating file formats, and spending money to get this message heard well by the customers. This is exactly what the infuriating OOXML ECMA and then OOXML ISO was about, not anything remotely related to an international standard meant to "improve interoperability across platforms".

Technically speaking, only Microsoft can reliably migrate binary files since only they know the implementation required to do so. Have you noticed that Office 97 shipped 11 years ago, and we have yet to hear about a non-Microsoft application that would strictly interoperate with those files? Besides this, the so-called interoperability documents that were made available back in February 2008 are a farce : this is a bare update of the old MSDN documentation, and everything that was undocumented back in Office 97 days remains exactly as much undocumented. No improvement was made with this, as I explained in a previous article, but sure enough Microsoft exploited it to lure the sheeps who did not actually read it. The real message : keep buying Office 2007 licenses, otherwise you will be hurt. Or, somewhat more verbose, if you deploy non-Microsoft Office software, soon enough you'll get document fidelity issues which will damage your business. We provide the only application that ensures full-fidelity, so it's suicidal to use competing products. In other words, competitor exclusion.

Needless to say, this fire and motion strategy has been going on for two decades. Microsoft adds a number of features in their spaghetti codebase, announces it when it ships the product, then competitors have to catch up (years of work usually) instead of concentrating on their products capabilities. The irony is, with Office 2007 for instance, Microsoft has been themselves guilty of lack of full-fidelity with the chart engine that they replaced with a new one killing a number of existing features of the old one (rendering and chart options).

Phase 2 - there is enough Office 2007 documents out there. Game over.

With that said, a few more words.

In regards to competition between file formats, it has to be understood that the point of Microsoft is to ensure that going forward their internal representation of a file in memory remains what encompasses every other file format. In other words, ODF will become a second-class citizen and it is expected that it will be exploited to downgrade or significally hamper the fidelity of open/save ODF files. Classic Embrace, Extend, Extinguish. Likewise, since Office 2007 is not a native XML application (the internal representation is a bunch of binary structure, not XML DOM), it will never be able to become a basis for ODF-based applications that would really take advantage of XML. In other words, XML itself is being deceptively exploited in order to simply preserve the monopoly.

In regards to scenarios that would be enabled by "adding native support for ODF 1.1", what about external references from an ODS file to a XLS/XLSX file? What about copy/pasting back and forth preserving data, context and formatting? The list goes on and on.

"native support for ODF 1.1" would also imply that the open source projects that were heavily part of the marketing machinery were just that, marketing. Of course, the message was heard by corporate customers since day one (to them "open source projects" means "unsupported"), so there is nothing really surprising here.

Last but not least, with ODF 1.2 just around the corner and its dramatic improvements, there has never been a more strategic time for an enemy of ODF to announce support for ODF...1.1. In case you think the last sentence contradicts itself, consider the fact that the massive Microsoft distribution power amassed from two decades of pushing hard Microsoft Office onto everyone's desktop (reportedly 500+ million licenses) guarantees that whatever version of ODF shipping with Microsoft Office, it will be very hard for those actually contributing to ODF in the OpenOffice project to migrate the user base to whatever next version of ODF, say ODF 1.2. This is how you can make any change to ODF and are unable to get it in the hands of the user base. Yet another win for Microsoft.