Message to Denmark: Dual Format Standards Are Bad

Twisted Spire in Copenhagen

I gave an interview at JavaOne which seems to be causing a stir because of the way it's being spun in translation in Denmark. The spin seems to be suggesting that I think it's OK to have a dual standard in a country for document formats, both ODF (the open format used by multiple applications including Microsoft Office1) and OOXML (Microsoft's Office 12 file format).

To be clear, I do not believe that. It's clearly Microsoft's strategy to socialise that idea but it's not an ideal outcome. Having a single, baseline standard for document files is clearly preferable, and because of its complexity and the way it unfairly advantages Microsoft's existing products, OOXML is clearly a very poor choice for a national standard. Thus I would always advocate having a single standard and making that standard ODF. It's good for Norway and others, so why not for Denmark too?

Will that happen in Denmark? Well, the amount of pressure Microsoft is bringing to bear on the Danish government by funding lobbying, media activity, astroturfing and more, I am worried that the legislators will cave and have a dual standard. That may sound pragmatic but in practice that's a disaster for Denmark. Because of the existing market power of the monopolist2, Denmark's history, culture and due process will end up in a format that can only be faithfully rendered with Microsoft products3.

My comments were meant to indicate that fear, and any version of them stating I support a dual standard in Denmark or any other place is incorrect. The best future for computer-maintained documents is ODF4 and I recommend Denmark follow the trend and standardise on it.

  1. Via Sun's free ODF plug-in, although it ought to be a built-in feature of Office if Microsoft are serious about interoperability.
  2. The Rambøll report already indicates the scale of the lock-in the country faces - it's assumptions of continued use of MS products are what pushed the cost up for alternatives. It seems to me that suggesting writing this monopoly into the law makes the situation worse, not better.
  3. We can already see how impossibly hard OOXML is to implement, from the poor quality of the (partial) translators that people have built and the repeated delays of Microsoft's own Mac implementation. I said more in the audio interview on this subject.
  4. Probably with an allowance for added-feature namespaces layered over it to allow products like MS Office to have proprietary features. Having ODF as a baseline does not preclude inclusion of either backward-compatibility capabilities or added-feature support, it just sets an interoperability baseline that does not assume the perpetuation of Microsoft's monopoly.

Hi Simon, your comments do a great disrespect to many people in Denmark who've tried to look diligently and with an open mind at how to legislate in support of Open Standards. In Denmark the legislators have actually proposed a dual standard, and it's Sun and IBM that are lobbying for ODF exclusivity, less competition and less choice. You're also misrepresenting Norway's policy, which weakens your authority somewhat. I'd like to believe that this is accidental and not a deliberate ploy to mislead but I think your heart is over-ruling your head on this issue. The question isn't whether you're pro-ODF, of course you are. The question is whether you're anti-OpenXML? Is Sun's policy anti-OpenXML Simon? Cheers, Stephen.

Posted by Stephen on May 19, 2007 at 03:04 AM PDT #

I seemed to have lost a paragraph.... You mention Sun's ODF add-in for Microsoft Office, but neglect to mention the work Sun's doing to support OpenXML in StarOffice.

Posted by Stephen on May 19, 2007 at 03:10 AM PDT #

Hi Stephen - welcome to the blog (readers: Stephen is Microsoft's European pro-OOXML apologist, vastly more intelligent than me and probably with far more time to argue this issue!)

Thanks for reminding me about OO.o's OOXML work, I'd overlooked mentioning it. Sun is indeed working to add the best support possible for OOXML to, since the power of your employer's monopoly makes it inevitable that it will be required and the CleverAge work they've been sponsoring is unlikely to be able to deliver an effective and maintainable translation, as I'm sure they knew when funding it.

This programming work shows no approval for OOXML and is a costly necessity caused by their continued lack of support for ODF on specious grounds. Sun's policy continues to be that open source implementations of truly open standards create the greatest freedoms both for customers and for the market. You can work out for yourself what that means about OOXML...

I'm afraid what shows the most disrespect to the people of Denmark is the sophistry currently undertaken by the monopolist who employs you. The strategy of playing language games and trying to focus the discussion on detailed technical issues most people can't argue, while never mentioning the existence of the monopoly and investing heavily in lobbying to protect it. The way StarOffice and have been cited as proof-points in Microsoft's pro-OOXML lobbying is none to honest either.

I've neither the time nor, let's face it, the intellectual rigour to argue with you at any length, Stephen, but yes, my heart tells me that Microsoft's concern is not for the people of Denmark but for the protection of its monopoly. And actually my head isn't arguing with that.

Posted by Simon Phipps on May 19, 2007 at 06:05 AM PDT #

Hi Simon, If you take a closer look at the responds to the two hearings, you will see that only one vendor (and his accomplished ) is actually agreeing. Everybody else, and that's a lot of both IT professionals and private people has answered NO to the dual standards princip. I my self will be facing a committee at the parliament (on behalf of in Denmark) on Wednesday and talk the case. Don't think that all Danes agree with the current proposal. We don't. Best regards, Leif Lodahl

Posted by Leif Lodahl on May 19, 2007 at 09:07 AM PDT #

Thanks, Leif - Yes, I had gathered that from comments passed to me by friends. My apologies if my clumsy foreign approach offends you or in fact anyone promoting software freedom in Denmark.

Posted by Simon Phipps on May 19, 2007 at 05:39 PM PDT #

Hi Simon I'm the Dane that interviewed you. A podcast from the interview is here: I think that you made a very precise analysis on the situation in Denmark - And I did get the message that you found it to be a very bad thing indeed with two standards - however - as I unnderstand you - given the dominance that Microsoft holds over Dthe Danish market, you found it perfectly explainable why the Danish government had given in to Microsoft. Best regards /kurt westh nielsen, Computerworld Denmark

Posted by Kurt Westh Nielsen on May 20, 2007 at 04:55 PM PDT #

FYI: Your conclusions from the interview earlier has just been corrected in the same magazine:
The message is now clear from you: One standard only !

Posted by Leif Lodahl on May 20, 2007 at 09:33 PM PDT #

Kurt: Thank-you for commenting. I am responding here to concern from Danish contacts that my comments were being used by the pro-OOXML lobby to support the dual-standard idea. I apologise if this implied criticism of you. And you're right, I believe that having a dual standard is a covert selection of OOXML given the monopoly power of its inventor.

Leif: While I am pleased to see the article there, it's not very accurate. It claims I am "backtracking" but, as Kurt notes above, that's not the case. Seems to me there are people with their own issues involved here.

Posted by Simon Phipps on May 21, 2007 at 01:53 AM PDT #

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