For your OOXML Conspiracy Theories

The staff at Groklaw has never really tolerated any dissent
when it came to OOXML. They spent years
advocating against OOXML only to have OOXML emerge not only
stronger, but also with an ISO stamp of approval.

Today they tried to insinuate that my involvement and
opinion on OOXML was somehow the result of the 2006
Microsoft/Novell agreement.

Their conspiracy theory falls apart as our active
involvement on OOXML goes back to the year 2005, 11 months
before there is any agreement between Microsoft and Novell.

My interest in the file format interop problem goes back to
1998-1999 when I wrote the Gnumeric spreadsheet and both
Michael and his brother started contributing a plugin
for reading and writing Excel files.

My involvement with OOXML started in 2005, when Jack
Messman was still Novell’s CEO and the company was in the
middle of various legal disputes with Microsoft. Not the best
environment for collaboration between companies.

ECMA was starting a new working group to look into
standardizing OOXML, and since we were already members of ECMA
(as part of our work on C# and CLI) I recommended that we
should participate in the effort to come up with solid
documentation that we sorely needed for improving OpenOffice’s
interoperability story. ECMA had been great in particular
for the CLI, in large part thanks to Sam Ruby at IBM who
pushed for the file format to be specified (the original
drafts did not document the actual assembly file format, only
the instruction set).

In 2005, one of our major goals was to make Linux suitable
for enterprise desktop deployments, and interoperability with
Microsoft protocols and file formats was key to this strategy.
We were the major contributors to OpenOffice outside of Sun
(and perhaps still are) and what mattered to us was to get a
good spec we could use to fix customer issues that prevented
us from deploying the Linux desktop to enterprise customers.

For years, we had been reverse engineering Word and Excel.
This was our chance of getting important information on the
file formats. Our work in this area today benefits every
OpenOffice and Gnumeric users.

So we attended and participated in the ECMA OOXML meetings
starting with the initial meeting on December 15th. I blogged
this publicly
on November 2005, and so
did Novell
which on the same
month Novell
about our participation on the Open Invention
Network (we were founding members) and was actively promoting
OpenOffice.. The minutes of this meeting and every other
meeting ever since are available to all ECMA members.

It was our team that pushed to get the entire Formula Spec
in OOXML back in 2006 (those 700 pages of formula specs, the
ones that actually make spreadsheets work) as well as filing
piles of issues as we prototyped the work with Gnumeric and
OpenOffice. And all of this happened before any
Novell-Microsoft agreement.

My involvement after setting up the initial participation
was superficial, as the actual hackers working on OpenOffice
and Gnumeric took over (Jody Goldberg and Michael Meeks).
These were important years for Mono, and that is where my
energy has been going since about 2002.

The 2006 agreement with Microsoft did not impact much of my
work, despite Mono being something where interop could really
be helped.

The ECMA work on OOXML brought hackers together and allowed
our teams to interact as people looking for some shared goals
instead of interacting as foes. In my experience
face-to-face meetings, like the ECMA working groups, help smooth
out human relationships that might have been poisoned by
preconceived biases.

But the interop agreement certainly allowed other
collaborations and meetings in other areas with Microsoft, for
example, it lead to various components used by Mono to become
open source, and to our Moonlight/Silverlight collaboration.

So two full months into having signed an agreement with
Microsoft, I wrote
my first
pro-OOXML post
, largely based on a news report that I felt
was misguided. We had been working on this at this point for
a year, and clearly people with no actual office experience
had already formed an opinion.

In retrospect, had I known that double standards, hypocrisy
and character assassination would become the tool of choice of
the anti-OOXML crowd I would not have said a thing.

The energy that went into stopping OOXML could have been
better used in actually completing the formula spec for ODF,
which almost four years later is still not part of the ISO
spec. In the eyes of the ISO world, it remains an
“implementation specific” work. But “advocacy” is a little
bit like watching the TV, it is relatively easy. While
actually working on improving open source, or open standards
is equivalent to going to work. It requires skills, time and
longs hours of difficult work (particularly if you are working
on the OpenOffice code base).

As for
the March
agreement of 2010
, it is absolutely brilliant. Microsoft
is funding our OpenOffice team to develop open source code
that will improve the OOXML import and export capabilities and
we help drive the OOXML standard forward based on the
experience that we will gain from doing this work.

If you do not like us doing this work, there is an easy
solution for you: do not open or save files in OOXML format
with OpenOffice.

See what I did there Trevor? I found out what bothered you
emotionally, decomposed the problem, and BAM! I provided you
with a solution. It
is called
, Trevor.

Michael Meeks from our OpenOffice
team provides
more color
as he was the one actively working on this.

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