A most ingenious paradox: make 1900 a leap year?

by Andy Oram

I don't believe there's been enough discussion of the weaknesses gradually being uncovered in Microsoft's 6,000-page dump of Office behavior, which they are trying to call a standard. Andrew Updegrove's summary has gotten some circulation on the Internet:

The Contradictory Nature of OOXML

and now Groklaw is organizing opposition to the ECMA standardization process, which is being fast-tracked (a better term would be railroaded):

Searching for Openness in Microsoft's OOXML and Finding Contradictions

To help Office to become a standard, one adaptation governments could make would be to retroactively declare 1900 a leap year. This would require updates to history books and other documents (for instance, V-E day would change to May 7, and the World Trade Center attacks would have taken place on September 10) but I'd like to see a cost comparison with the alternative that businesses dread: migrating to open document formats.


Josh Peters
2007-01-19 11:57:32
Where are the Suns and IBMs of the world to put some marketing muscle behind this? These are serious openings for them to advertise OpenOffice!

CIO's Secretary: "What happened to my menus? They're all messed up! Jerry, this new Office is hard to use, can you help me out?"
IT Guy (Jerry): "Well, Microsoft decided to change everything with this new Office. We can send you to training, but it will cost you."
CIO's Secretary: "I'll tell Jim"
CIO (Jim): "Spend money for both a new version AND training! WTF! Jerry, can't we make Office work without spending more money?"
Jerry: "We can try OpenOffice, that works pretty much the same as we're used to..."

Mike Webb
2007-01-19 15:08:23
Josh, Sun and IBM won't be promoting OpenOffice.org. But they do have their own products (Sun: StarOffice, IBM: IBM Workplace) that support ODF. I have no experience with IBM Workplace, so I don't know how easy it is to run. But since OpenOffice.org is the basis of Sun StarOffice, I could see them doing an ad like yours.
Alan Bell
2007-01-19 19:10:17
IBM Workplace isn't really where the action is any more from IBM. This week you can however expect some news from the Lotusphere conference in Orlando about IBM Lotus Notes 8 (which was code named Hannover) and it's built in 'productivity editors' which are based on OpenOffice.org and support the OpenDocument file format.
2007-01-22 14:11:22
You don't understand the history of the 1900 leap year issue. Its clearly stated in the OpenOffice.org's documentation of the XLS file format that the bug was due to LOTUS softwares bug in 123. Microsoft adopted the bug knowingly to make their spreadsheets compatible for DOS based machines. However, Excel came out for Mac first with the zero date at 1904. So to maintain computability there is another option that tells the reader of the excel document whether the zero date refers to jan 1 1900 or jan 1 1904. But the point is that was lotus' mistake, that everyone has since decided to support... including open office!
2007-01-22 14:25:11
I dunno if governments would be too shy to retroactively declare 1900 a leap year, since they already revise copyright law ex post facto to accommodate corporate copyright barony. In fact, one could argue that creating an extra day in history would somehow benefit the dead artists and authors who could have been creating content for modern cultural oligarchies to buy up and exploit over the years....
2007-01-22 18:33:04
Andy Oram's distrust of foreigns is obvious, and his American stationing makes it easier to show it,
Rob Poole
2007-01-23 09:42:01
Well, it appears that the CyTRAP links at the end of your article (added January 21st) are already dead links. I wonder if those articles got pulled for some reason?
Andy Oram
2007-01-23 09:52:46
The CyTRAP links are back. I don't know what went wrong, but I found the articles. Thanks for the notification.
Andy Oram
2007-01-23 10:12:10
Thanks for the history of the leap year problem, which turns out to be just a funny lead-in to the more interesting question of whether Microsoft is providing a reason to migrate away from Office, just by changing the interface so much (even though all observers agree the changes are improvements).

Today's Wall Street Journal published details of the improvements, as well as estimates of how much training and practice will be required for users to adapt. The burden is not a big one, but must still make alternative office suites more feasible. However, the competing suites must take Microsoft's changes as a goad to be adventurous in their own upgrades and to promote whatever advantages they can offer.

Two key paragraphs from the WSJ article:

In a survey of large businesses, Forrester Research found that on average most expect to give employees between two to three hours of formal training in Office 2007 followed by a period of decreased productivity while they acclimate to the product. That lower productivity could last between two and four weeks, according to Forrester analyst Kyle McNabb.


In some sense, the burden doesn't fall on IT to train all their people," Mr. Capossela says. "It's really built into the product." Mr. Capossela said Microsoft's research indicates average Office users can get comfortable with the product between two hours and two days while using it. Heavy users of the programs who know the Office software intimately -- say, financial analysts -- can take as long as two weeks, he says. Such "power users" are a big challenge, executives say, because they have grown accustomed to how past versions work.

However, the costs of transition won't make a difference so long as network effects hold. OpenOffice.org, for instance, is still not compatible enough with Office. At O'Reilly, we've noticed problems with subtle things such as passing documents between the office suites with revision tracking turned on.