Rikipedia: stuff deleted from Wikipedia - Ken Krechmer on OOXML Standardization

Both ODF and OOXML only support flexibility, but adaptability is better?

By Rick Jelliffe
September 1, 2009 | Comments: 7

Ken Krechmer's 2008 Open Standards: a Call for Action is the latest version of his influential Open Standards paper: he has reworked it regularly to keep it relevant. This version mentions his Adaptability Standards which I have blogged about before. "Open standards are not an idle desire."

I would be interested to see it updated with reflection on the IS29500 pie-fight, for example I think the issues of balance of interest and licenses that are OSI-acceptable but not GPL/free would be interesting.

Catching up on the Wikipedia edits on the subject (to get an idea of the mentality still operating: see this mad one, which would remove any plain citations to the ISO standards themselves) I found that that an interesting section he had contributed had been deleted for being an editorial.

Anyway, I hope Ken doesn't mind me taking the liberty of reprinting it here (as the license allows.) I decided to do so before I had read it, because Ken has continued to be a seminal thinker with good academic restraint.

However, it turns out that I pretty much see eye-to-eye with Ken, from what he has written. I could have written "Successful standardization is not about winning or losing" (I say it like this: the international standards process is biased towards win/win) and I wish I had written his follow-up sentence "Successful standardization is always a trade off between private gain and public good." His last paragraph is the killer.

(And now it is on the web, some other Wikipedia editor could link here, if they thought the article warranted it.)

A Standardization Perspective of the OOXML Standardization

With the almost universal success of personal computing, many document formats have emerged. The producing and consuming systems have to support common document formats for documents to inter-operate. As these different formats emerge, are extended and revised, compatibility issues develop when documents are transferred between systems. This drove the need for the public standardization of Office Open eXchange Markup Language (OOXML).

In Microsoft Office 2007, Microsoft recognized the need for more flexible document formats and used XML as the means to identify different document formats or subsets of document formats. The widespread success and utilization of Microsoft document formats (for text processing, spreadsheets and presentation documents) also led to the desire to standardize these proprietary document formats. This is termed responsive standardization - when the standard is created after the product is available in the market - and often occurs after a successful product has achieved widespread utilization. In such cases, the public wishes to better control the compatibility of the proprietary product as compatibility has become too important to be left solely in the control of a commercial developer. Commercial developers have strong financial incentives to revise proprietary products, often reducing compatibility, to increase their revenues.

In response to the desire for standardized and for more flexible document formats, Microsoft developed OOXML which includes an XML structure and syntax (perhaps evolved from similar structures in Open Document Format, ODF, ISO/IEC 26300:2006) to determine the different document formats and also includes the entire schema (so Microsoft states) that defines their proprietary document formats. In effect OOXML includes a newer functionality (the XML structure) and a responsive standard (definitions of existing Microsoft document formats). It is always difficult to find consensus in a standardization committee when there is significant commercial impact. When a potential standard also includes previous proprietary functionality, which therefore favors one company, everyone seems to take sides.

The joining of the XML identification and selection processes, which are related to what the competing document format ODF already offers, with the public definition of Microsoft's previously proprietary document formats created an understandable firestorm of protest by competitors (e.g., IBM) and supporters of ODF. Rational arguments were made against the inclusion of proprietary document formats in a public standard. Such arguments also discussed the potential compatibility problems using XML to select complex document formats. Less rational arguments were made against the standardization of another document format standard. Less rational because there were already many different document formats in wide use. When personal computer systems are programmable, compatibility does not suffer when multiple document formats are available so long as an automatic means to select among them is provided. Consider the widespread use of multiple different browsers on the same personal computer. In the end OOXML, was accepted as a public standard - ISO/IEC 29500:2008.

The use of XML to determine document formats is a step forward for Microsoft from the use of binary file document formats (pre Office 2007) where document types are determined by file name extension (.xxx). The use of XML likely feels to the supporters of ODF as a classic Microsoft embrace-and-extend strategy. Such a strategy leaves some feeling that the most innovative standard did not win. Successful standardization is not about winning or losing. Successful standardization is always a trade off between private gain and public good. Microsoft has achieved a marketing advantage by standardizing OOXML which supports backward compatibility to earlier Microsoft document formats. On the other hand, the public good is certainly served by bringing Microsoft's widely used proprietary file formats into a public standard. The public good may also be well served by an ongoing competition between ODF and OOXML functionality. These are good arguments in favor of the ISO/IEC decision.

Looking to the future, both ODF and OOXML only support flexibility, the ability of one end to select among an offered range of document format options. They do not support adaptability, the ability of each end to negotiate with the other to select or acquire a mutually acceptable set of document format options. Therefore these document format standards do not resolve longer term compatibility issues. It is certainly possible that proprietary extensions to either standard may be created to address this issue, but eventually there will be a need for further standardization if archival document compatibility is a goal.

This is material written by Ken Kerchmer for the Wikipedia page Standardization of Office Open XML 12 March, 2009, used here and available under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License


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7 Comments

Interesting editorial. But all we have here is a repost of a deleted edit to a Wikipedia page from last March by someone whose identity is unproven.

Remember, nothing prevents anyone from registering any name on Wikipedia. So long as the ID is free, you can claim to be anyone. So Wikipedia names do not assert identity. Thus, there is no authority to this pseudonymous post, giving it zero weight as a reliable or credible source for a Wikipedia article.

For example, I could register "RAJelliffe", "StandardsActivist4Sale", "RickyJelliffeFromSydney" on Wikipedia, Twitter, SlashDot, or whatever and publish all sorts of nonsense in your name. Luckily I don't need to, since you seen to handle that quite well. But you get the point.

Of course, if Ken wants to acknowledge these thoughts as his own, polish them up and put them up on his website under his name, I'd be happy to rebut it in detail at that point.

But nice try, Rick.

Rob: Yes, indeed it could be a fake Ken Krechmer I suppose. If it is, they have done a good job imitating his style and including his typical themes and jargon: "responsive standardization" for example. And certainly the person who deleted it thought it was legit. I will try to contact Ken and get to the bottom of it.

Readers may have spotted that Rob's response involved 1) making FUD about the source (that maybe it is not Ken), 2) to make FUD about me (that maybe I edit on Wikipedia under other identities), 3) to insult me (that I am a standards activist for sale), 4) deflection away from the topic.

Confirmation: Ken has confirmed by email that it was indeed his contribution. Though perhaps it is just someone intercepting his email account. Perhaps a Martian. Or an oboe-ist.

The problem, Rick, is that by suggesting that "some other Wikipedia editor could link here" to reference this content, you essentially are trying to bootstrap it into a reliable source. It doesn't work that way. You're trying to make a Wikipedia article use itself as its own source, via circuitous means. As I've explained before, the correct way to do this is to get Alex Brown to repeat the info on his blog. Then you can have the astroturfers cite it. Didn't you get the memo?

As for being for sale, this is already well-known, e.g., as stated in your own Wikipedia article (of which you are also an editor -- another example of being your own source):

"In January 2007, Microsoft 'technical evangelist' Doug Mahugh asked Jelliffe to correct Wikipedia articles about some of the standardization efforts in which he was involved, including Ecma Office Open XML and OpenDocument, suggesting that Microsoft could pay him for the time he spent editing Wikipedia.

.
.
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Some considered Jelliffe too close to Microsoft to be impartial."

Your bio also discloses:

"The company that is the co-owner of Topologi has a long-standing training business and will be providing some presenters for some Microsoft sponsored-events in 2007 in Australasia. It is highly likely that Rick will be one of the presenters on standards matters at some of these."

Readers: In case you are wondering about this strange departure, you should be aware that Rob is IBM's professional spin merchant on ODF issues, and one of the co-chairs of the ODF TC. He is not a person to take criticism or different opinions well, and is notorious for trying to deflect attention away from technical points he does not like by making personal attacks, such as this.

Rob: Where is your head at? If I wanted to astroturf, why would I have written the comment? I am not Stephen Colbert. The article has interest because Ken has a unique POV, but if it were cited, I would expect the reference to say "attributed to Ken Kerchmer" if the editor was worried about the provenance. And I would expect that my comment would ensure that article would receive more scrutiny by editors on its contents, not be slipped in under the radar.

By the way, my employer and I have also done work for Sun, Novell and IBM as well as Microsoft, and would be happy to do so again, if it fits with our expertise in industrial publishing standards and FOSS-stack development. They can certainly buy our expertise, but not my opinion.

Rick, as I said before, I'm than happy to respond to this editorial, both on factual and logical grounds. If Ken wants to own these statements, he knows how to publish them. And then we can start a conversation. But I'm not going to waste my time carrying on that debate here on a 3rd rate blog.

Also, adding "attributed to Ken Kerchmer" does nothing to make this anything more than a dubious self-referential citation to original research, which is a Wikipedia triple no-no.

In any case, you claim to be in correspondence with Ken, so why don't you ask him to write up his ideas more fully and post them on his web site, where they can be cited and responded to? I would certainly encourage that. If these actually are his current thoughts on the matter, then they are worth rebutting.

Rob: 3rd class? Well that is the nicest thing you have ever said to me! Next thing you'll be asking me on a date.

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