Linux Dies Under Microsoft's Open Document standard

by Tom Adelstein

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As the Internet's evolution moves in the direction of XML we are all faced with a scary proposition: XML wrappers. That's been the subject of great debate in places like Massachusetts and in the back waters of the OASIS OpenDocument Format discussion forums.

None of us should focus on open XML wrappers for document formats. Instead, we should be concerned with what goes inside of those wrappers, because if Microsoft is allowed to go forward with its standard, they win and the world loses.

What's this about?

Microsoft cleverly proposed an Open Document standard that
would exclude everyone by setting a requirement that Word and
PowerPoint formats preserve legacy support for Microsoft's prior aborted attempts at XML. If you would like to see Microsoft's filing,you can download it from this web site.

In Section 10.3.1 of their proposal to ECMA entitled "Alternative Format Import part" allows a WordML file to directly embed content from a legacy file format such as RTF, MHTML, or earlier WordML formats. A conforming application would be required to read and understand these
legacy formats.

If Microsoft's schemas are licensed royalty free only to conforming applications, and conformance require support for fragments in older abandoned formats like RTF, WorldML and VML, then that would make it impossible for anyone to use these formats other than Microsoft. That would allow Microsoft to recapture its sole possession of the productivity market and the standard for Internet content.

Following is a passage taken from the writing of Gary Edwards, the representative who helped start the OASIS OpenDocument Format technical committee and who formed the OpenDocument Foundation, Inc. Gary explains the difference between Open XML and MS XML. Read carefully.

"As we move the focus of discussion from the traditions of software and platform bound binary desktop productivity file formats, to that of Open Internet ready XML, the differences between ODF and MSXML become decidedly stark and clear.

"ODF is a 'wrapper' of Open XML technologies, and specifically states so in the charter. MSXML on the other hand, is a wrapper of proprietary technologies. Even if the ECMA rubber stamp effort were to become open and unencumbered with multiple vendors and users participating in the standards process, there's still the problem of all the proprietary dependencies wrapped in MSXML.

"For instance, where ODF implements W3C XForms, MSXML uses a WinForms - InfoPath derivative. Where ODF implements W3C SVG, MSXML is geared to the up and coming proprietary "sparkle". Where ODF uses standard HTML, MSXML embraces the bastardized MSHTML. The list goes on and on, with one point becoming increasingly clear: Microsoft continues to embrace and extend open standards with proprietary enhancements designed to break both compatibility and interoperability with everything outside their OS Stack.

"Microsoft insists that the world can live with two different desktop productivity XML file format standards. The problem is that this isn't about desktop productivity. It's about the Open Internet. And who among us wants to relive the nightmare of shamelessly self-serving Microsoft inspired incompatibilities?",2.0. There is no "Live Web". There is no "next generation of collaborative computing".

"XML isn't going to provide us with a better PC based desktop productivity environment. It's going to provide us with a means of meshing the desktop productivity environment with the Open Internet. XML ready desktop information engines become first class Open Internet ready participants. That's the 'why' behind this urgent and rather dramatic rush to dump our traditions of binary formats and race to XML."

The world has changed overnight and few people understand it. But the people at Microsoft understand it and they know how to take advantage of a technical ignorance in the population.

If they take their time and play it cool, they wind up with all the marbles. As Gates stated about Linux, on October 1, 2004, at an appearance at the Computer History Museum in northern California, when someone asked about a possible threat from Linux, Gates replied: "Microsoft has had competitors in the past. It's a good thing we have museums to document this stuff."