Let’s not give Microsoft all the credit…

Save some room for Apple, whose behavior would be as objectionable as Microsoft if Apple had the clout Microsoft does. Apple distributes proprietary software, thus denying its users software freedom. Apple’s proprietary word processor doesn’t support OpenDocument (ODF), a file format for electronic office documents which is fully published and available for any developer to implement in any program they wish. ODF is quite unlike the formats used with Microsoft Office programs which are ill-documented and changing from time to time to throw off compatible alternatives (better known as competition). ODF will help you keep your documents readable long after you stop using whatever office programs you use now. In 5 years, you’ll be glad you can still read the old files. Imagine how necessary this is for governments which retain documents for hundreds of years. We don’t know what the complexities come with that requirement, but it’s a safe bet that relying on software nobody will run is unwise.

There’s a petition to get Apple to make their programs read and write ODF documents in their proprietary office suite. Apple has already added code to work with Microsoft’s alternative office format—Microsoft Office Open XML—a format which is considerably younger than ODF, seen less use than ODF in the real world, and has considerable technical problems (including needlessly reinventing the wheel instead of relying on standards for math and scalable graphics, Microsoft wants programmers to follow their unique path to embedding math and scalable graphics; why be compatible with other programs when one can do what Microsoft wants?). Microsoft is currently pressuring governments foreign and domestic to adopt Microsoft OOXML as a viable means of storing documents electronically.

Problems with Microsoft’s OOXML

Problems with Microsoft’s OOXML range from technical to legalistic. Despite over 6,000 pages of specification, Microsoft OOXML doesn’t define all of the features any 100% compliant implementation has to offer such as “footnoteLayoutLikeWW8” (WW8 means Microsoft Word for Windows version 8), “autoSpaceLikeWord95”, and “useWord97LineBreakRules”. One can only hope Microsoft doesn’t hold patents covering these features. “The Case Against OOXML” from NoOOXML.org says that one part of the specification

lists a large number of list styles representing various different writing systems, language and business conventions.7 These are given names such as “chicago”, “ideographDigital”, “ideographLegalTraditional”, koreanDigital2” and “koreanLegal”. These are merely labels, and again, are not precisely defined . The would-be implementors of the OOXML specification are told that something called “Korean Legal Numbering” exists, but they are not told what it means or how to practice it in their application.

Georg Greve wrote an interesting 6-question list any national standardization body should consider before adopting MS-OOXML. One part of the questionnaire raises concerns for any developer or government:

MS-OOXML is accompanied by an unusually complex and narrow “covenant not to sue” instead of the typical patent grant. Because of its complexity, it does not seem clear how much protection from prosecution for compatibility it will truly provide.

and as the number of developers shrink, so does your ability to get programs fixed.