Should we waterboard Rob Weir? And other crucial questions…

These are very interesting times for ODF and Open Standards. Microsoft’s latest outrage by Gray Knowlton does at least show that if there’s a company who practices the « Do as I say, not as I do », it’s Microsoft. Gray Knowlton is now calling for Rob Weir, chair of the ODF Technical Committee at the OASIS Consortium to resign. I understand Gray. Gray is the Product Manager of Microsoft Office at Microsoft. Which means he is ultimately to blame for the lousy job Microsoft engineers have done in implementing ODF inside Microsoft Office. Gray is in the front line, and you can bet he’s having to answer some tough calls from customers right now. Gray does not have to ride the smooth « try Seven after Vista » wave; he has to go through the clutter that Microsoft’s big heads have created by thinking: What if we had ODF wrecked inside Office and get the world to believe that it’s not our fault? That’s Gray’s problem. And this is how we come to the waterboarding of Rob. But I digress.

To be fair and accurate, the few calls I have been participating to at the ODF TC during the last few months were remarkable in that Microsoft members and its proxies were actively discussing and refusing everything that was on the agenda, delaying ODF 1.2 and demanding an a minima conformance level in an aggressive tone. Actually what was surprising was how the whole process was turned upside down as soon as Microsoft decided to give some voice (remember they had remained silent for some time). Who was responsible? Not Rob Weir, not Michael Brauer. It started with one of the Microsoft proxies, Dennis Hamilton. I am not shying away from namedropping here; if Gray Knowlton wants to “change the ODF leadership”, we should at least know who exactly runs for candidate. Anyway: all this is public, I’m not disclosing anything secret. Just browse the Committee’s mailing list. So Dennis Hamilton (ACM) and Stephen Peront (Microsoft) started out this filibustering campaign inside the TC, and progressively paralyzed everything they could. Now why do I refer to Dennis as a Microsoft proxy? Because Dennis will always, always, repeat exactly what Stephen will say. In fact, sometimes he’ll get lucky and say it before Stephen. But let’s go back to our story.

I read Gray’s blog with interest. In fact, I couldn’t help thinking about Gray’s arguments and how poorly they would fare in the light of Microsoft’s and ECMA’s poor behavior on OOXML’s standardization. So let’s turn back in time and confront two lines of thinking: Microsoft at the ECMA and Microsoft at the OASIS’s ODF TC.

From Gray’s blog : I can’t help but observe the “discussion” underway with respect to spreadsheet interoperability that Rob Weir has started. Essentially Rob is complaining that Microsoft didn’t implement the formula namespace of OpenOffice.

Okay friendo, let’s set some things straight: it’s with a DOT and an ORG and our trademark is older than your Open Office XML. Oh wait: it’s “Office Open XML” with an Office and an Open, just like “OpenOffice” except you forgot the DOT ORG. For a product manager, your knowledge of competitors is pretty weak as it seems.

[…] I’d like everyone reading the post to know that Rob was invited to participate in the DII events leading up to the SP2 release, and offered the opportunity to test the beta software specifically for the purpose of providing feedback on the implementation. Normally the chair of group of the standard being implemented would jump at the chance. Rob didn’t, electing instead to wait for the shipping version and then claim that it is somehow deficient to other ODF implementations that he has deemed suitable for his purposes.

Bad, bad, evil Rob. Not only he didn’t go to your grand astroturfing party, but he apparently forgot to mention SP2 at the coffee machine ten times in a rowthe day you released it. That must be depressing. Anyway; talking about missing the chance to provide your input before things happen: How come Microsoft left the OASIS ODF TC in 2003?

Does it make sense to have a chair for the ODF TC whose apparent mission is to create a caste system for ODF implementers?

Yes!… Er, No! I don’t know? What does your employer think? “ It’s a simple matter of Microsoft ‘s commercial interests!

In Rob, do we really have a person capable of operating in a vendor-neutral forum?

I must say I like the word “forum” you coined here. It sounds like it’s some kind of antique market place with people arguing and exchanging slaves. Actually the entity Rob Weir is chairing is a technical committee, so it may not be what you seem to be looking for.

If departments within 18 various governments really do use ODF as their standard, should we be comfortable with an ODF TC chair that is trying very hard to discredit and divide its supporters?

Supporters? Did you really write “supporters”? Now Microsoft is among ODF supporters! Does this mean I can get to visit government accounts to sell them migrations to ODF with you?

Is it time for Rob to step down as chair? I think so.

If we are to judge Rob’s record by another chair you may be acquainted with, it may not be the right time: Remember Jan Van Den Beld, from the ECMA and his constant alluding to how well he was getting paid? Rob does not get paid for his role as Chair, but I think he should stay until someone makes him a better offer. That’s what I would do.

I’m not saying Microsoft (or anyone) should be the chair instead, but I am saying that Rob is unfit as a leader given his inability to separate his personal venom from his role as a leader in driving the standard forward.

Of course Microsoft should not be the chair. Ask Alex Brown to step in.

It seems like a better approach to empower people on the ODF TC who have a long-term view of the need to enable interoperability, and to move those with more short-term vendor-oriented agendas to the side.

Does a long term view of enabling interoperability include “ faithfully representing the billions of existing Microsoft Office documents”? Because that is something nobody aside Microsoft has been able to do so far. But Gray: you really are a funny man. And a great marketer at that.

Eweek seems to be fine with SP2.

Really? Then that’s good for you ol’ boy. At least one review you can hand over to your supervisor that will be positive. But don’t tell him that Slashdot has more hits than eWeek. He would get pissed.

As far as I can see, the only thing that Rob is really demonstrating here is that the “grossly inadequate” formula support of ODF (those are the words of David Wheeler, leader of OpenFormula, read on for details) is causing problems with vendors implementing the standard. He instead resorts to scoring implementations based on a percentage of common ground, rather than conformance to something written on paper. This gives Rob the freedom he needs to define his own criteria for what ODF implementation is, and who is doing it according to his rules.

“ Something written on paper”. You are right Gray: the ODF TC has so far been not as proactive as one could have wished in regard of conformance issues. These matters have been handed over to the OIC TC (the ODF Interoperability & Conformance TC) and this has been the result of a constant struggle with your chaps over at the OASIS. But again; it’s good to have something on paper. Don’t make it up to 6000 pages though.

Rob seems to be positioning himself as the final arbiter on what is “good” ODF vs. “bad” ODF. OASIS? Specification?

Yes, a reckless fool, this Rob Weir. He should have come and worked for you: You guys seem to have some practice of “vendor capture”. See here . By the way I’m glad you seem to appreciate The definition of an Open Standard and the notion of vendor capture from the Digital Standards Org.

  • Unimportant when Rob Weir can arbitrarily define criteria for what he thinks is good. He’s in a position where only he will declare his own ODF preferences as the blessed implementation. It seems that neither the ODF TC nor the spec matter anymore. It seems that ODF is being run by an individual.

An individual? Gray, this could be worse: that man could be a dangerous lunatic and the world wouldn’t know about it. Guess what he could do next? Delivering his own specification directly to the OASIS. Oh, wait, isn’t that what Microsoft did with OOXML at the ECMA ?

Current ODF standards do not support formulas no matter how much Rob wishes it to be so. Implementations of ODF spreadsheets are application-dependent. ODF 1.2 is not an approved standard. OpenFormula is not an approved standard. While it may be that both are on a path to standardization in the future, today they are not. This is a situation that has been known to the ODF TC for more than 4 years, yet no solution based on an approved standard (other than Open XML) has been found. These are all indisputable facts.

Are you saying that we should use OpenXML in order to use OpenFormula? But I thought you were an ODF supporter? Stupid geeks. You take away their maths and they turn their backs at you…

[…] The irony isn’t lost at all. This is the same guy who went to such a length to chastise Open XML for its undefined list styles and compatibility settings. For some reason his expectations of Open XML seem to be somewhat higher than they are for the committee he chairs. For some reason, it is ok for Rob to patch glaring holes in ODF as “current convention” and then complain vigorously about alleged dependence on Microsoft Office for implementing Open XML. This is shameful, hypocritical and warrants corrective action.

Waterboard! Waterboard! Waterboard Waterboard!

It wouldn’t be such a huge deal if the tone were constructive or aimed at improving the situation. It seems he is only interested in distancing himself from scenarios where ODF can be used successfully with Microsoft Office (as well as the DII discussions where that implementation was discussed in detail during its development. Funny that he didn’t show up there to share this feedback.)

Well, I can’t speak for Rob Weir here, but let me give you my two Eurocents while your employer’s lobbyists are working hard in Brussels explaining Europe how they should work with an American Corporation: I would be really, really pleased to see a top-notch quality support of ODF inside Microsoft Office. Why? Because this would be fair and unbiased competition based on one true Open Standard. It would a give a real level-playing field, where products could compete on sole merit and not on twisted situations of users’ lock-in. So trust me Gray: the world has everything to win from our competition.

[…] Let’s just remember that it was the ODF TC which deemed formulas “out of scope,” and after 4 years, still have no solution for standardizing the definition of “Sum = 2+2.” Rob says “Everyone knows what =A1+A2 means.” Really Rob? What does it mean if A1 contains 1, and A2 contains “two”? Would it surprise you to learn that Excel and OpenOffice produce different answers in that case? Which one is correct? This question and a thousand more like it is why formula interoperability is hard work, and not at all the trivial matter Rob claims it is.

I don’t think that anyone is saying that formula interoperability, and interoperability in general is easy work. We should all remain humble in the assessment of technical issues and challenges. But what Rob’s findings show, and what strikes me as very odd, is that Microsoft Office’s implementation of ODF seems to constantly pick the worst option possible. And I can’t think you guys have the worst engineers, can I?

I’ll leave it to you, then, to decide between “malice” or “incompetence” of the poster who would elect to throw his own committee under the bus to get hits on his blog… or fail to take this very good advice.

Don’t waste your time here friendo: I’m the one who wins the hits contest. Period.

This comment was from Gary Edwards, (he of “cracks in the foundation” / OpenDocument Foundation fame) who eventually left the TC and shuttered the OpenDocument Foundation. I seem to remember some dialog from Rob about Open XML being “rushed” through standardization. Funny how those things come back to haunt you.

Yes, funny indeed. Funny as in European anti-trust investigation? Funny as in worldwide suspicion of bribery of public entities and standards committee stuffing? Or funny as in strong pressure on individuals and their careers and  pressuringNGOs helping out starving children in India? Funny haunting indeed: Even Bernie Madoff couldn’t stop certain things to haunt him back. So tell me Gray: is OOXML already haunting your nights? If yes, you can call the Anti-Trust. I heard people feel better afterwards.

I’m very discouraged by Rob’s post. As far as I can tell, rob is playing a shell game where only his definition will be good enough for supporting ODF, and that definition will change to whatever Microsoft isn’t doing. This is far from constructive. This is not a way to foster interoperability and industry dialog. This is not a leader for people to follow.

So what leader do you propose, friendo? Seems you can dish it out, but you can’t take it. As for me I can’t wait for what will happen next: calling Rush Limbaugh as our new chair perhaps? Have fun. I won’t.


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