Wikipedia changes its license

(via David A. Wheeler) The proposed change that the copyright licensing terms on the wikis operated by the WMF – including Wikipedia, be changed to include the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike (CC-BY-SA) license in addition to the current GNU Free Documentation License (GFDL) has been approved. From the official results:

If “no opinion” votes are not included, the Yes/No percentage becomes 87.9%/12.1% (15071 votes).

This impacts us at LQ due to its implications to the LQ Wiki. We recognized the desire to license content CC-BY-SA some time ago and added that as an additional option as a result. With this Wikipedia change it’s likely we’ll do the research needed to offer the same dual licensing option that the WMF now offers. Stay tuned.

–jeremy

ISO puts standard for Microsoft's OOXML document formats on hold

From Heise:

After member states filed four complaints against the standardisation of Microsoft’s Office Open XML (OOXML) document format, the International Standards Organisation (ISO) and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) in Geneva have responded by postponing publication of the revised specification. As the ISO announced, the planned ISO/IEC DIS 29500 cannot be published until these complaints have been heard. Procedure requires that they be dealt with by the end of June, when the ISO and IEC have to hand over their comments on the complaints to two management committees for a final decision.

Brazil, India, South Africa, and Venezuela have officially filed complaints against the controversial certification of OOXML in expedited proceedings in Geneva. These emerging nations are concerned that no consensus was reached about which changes need to be made to the specification, which is more than 6000 pages long, during consultation on the numerous comments submitted at the end of February, after the first attempt to adopt OOXML as a standard failed in 2007. Specifically, they complained that concrete technical objections were not individually discussed .

The official press release:

Four national standards body members of ISO and IEC – Brazil, India, South Africa and Venezuela – have submitted appeals against the recent approval of ISO/IEC DIS 29500, Information technology – Office Open XML formats, as an ISO/IEC International Standard.

In accordance with the ISO/IEC rules governing the work of their joint technical committee ISO/IEC JTC 1, Information technology, the appeals are currently being considered by the ISO Secretary-General and the IEC General Secretary who, within a period of 30 days (to the end of June), and following whatever consultations they judge appropriate, are required to submit the appeals, with their comments, to the ISO Technical Management Board and the IEC Standardization Management Board.

The two management boards will then decide whether the appeals should be further processed or not. If they decide in favour of proceeding, the chairmen of the two boards are required to establish a conciliation panel which will attempt to resolve the appeals. The process could take several months.

According to the ISO/IEC rules, a document which is the subject of an appeal cannot be published as an ISO/IEC International Standard while the appeal is going on. Therefore, the decision to publish or not ISO/IEC DIS 29500 as an ISO/IEC International Standard cannot be taken until the outcome of the appeals is known.

It should be noted that this is not a directional change for the ISO. Their rules dictate that they have to postpone publishing the standard if any official appeals are made. Considering many of the countries originally filed comments that weren’t addressed, it’s very possible the ISO will decide not to process the appeals.

–jeremy

As the ODF-OOXML world turns

I’m a bit behind on this, but it’s a topic I’ve been covering for a while now so I wanted to follow up. First, from the the 451 group:

Oh the drama. Most of us knew ISO approval of Microsoft’s OOXML format was not the end, but more of a beginning in the ongoing fight for the future’s file format. Any doubts of that were put to rest this week with a flurry of activity around OOXML’s approval, ODF adoption, Microsoft’s support and the stance of U.S. states and other governments.

Much of it started with Microsoft’s announcement that it would expand its Office 2007 format support, including ODF. The move, which means Office 2007 users will be able to set ODF as their default file format, is further evidence of changes at Microsoft and the need to support multiple formats and interoperability. However, it still drew criticism from a number of ODF proponents/OOXML opponents, whose concerns include the typical Microsoft skepticism, but also center on the software giant’s OOXML approval campaign and previous statements downplaying the market for ODF.

We also saw further objection to ISO’s OOXML approval, primarily an appeal from South Africa. As format expert and saga watcher Andy Updegrove points out here, the appeal centers on the approval process and also on the ‘business basis’ for OOXML’s fast-track approval. Despite that relatively rapid approval, Updegrove points out that, ironically, Microsoft Office users will not have the opportunity to use the file format until Microsoft’s coming Office 14, expected in 2010 at the earliest.

Microsoft credited customer and government demand for its new found ODF love, but we also saw indications it may also involve difficulties in backward compatibility with OOXML. As ZDNet’s Tom Espiner points out, ‘The company now says OOXML support would require substantially more work.’ This comes as no surprise to many open source software users who have come to the same conclusion over the years. In fact, the inability of Microsoft to support different versions of its own Office and format software has fueled many OpenOffice.org downloads over the last few years, including my own.

Still, customer demand as the reasoning behind Microsoft’s ODF support was reinforced by yet another development in the ongoing format saga: findings from the State of New York. While the state’s officials indicated it would be a mistake to name ODF or OOXML as the standard of choice, New York’s format wonks did indicate that openness is the path to the future. That does not necessarily mean ODF, but it certainly makes it more likely given the controversy, uncertainty and drama still surrounding OOXML.

Since that post, Brazil and India have also decided to appeal. The deadline to appeal has now passed. The India post by Andy contains some good “what comes next” information for those that are interested. The appeals all have some items in common, but each also has points made only by that country. It’s clear that Microsoft did some very shady things during this process. It’s a sad indication that the company is still not willing to compete on the merits of its products on the one hand. On the other hand, they recently announced that Office 2007 would support ODF but not OOXML:

Microsoft today announced that it would update Office 2007 to natively support ODF 1.1, but not to implement its own OOXML format. Moreover, it would also join both the OASIS working group as well as the ISO/IEC JTC1 working group that has control of the ISO/IEC version of ODF. Implementation of DIS 29500, the ISO/IEC JTC 1 version of OOXML that has still not been publicly released will await the release of Office 14, the ship date of which remains unannounced.

So they fast track an office format while a competing one already exists, push it through the approval process using tactics that are questionable at best and then decide to only implement the competing standard in the current shipping product. You couldn’t make this stuff up. It’s clear that the internal battle within Microsoft is still raging. Part of the company really want to change, but part of it really doesn’t. It remains to be seen which side will prevail, but it’s not difficult to see why many in the Open Source community remain wary.

–jeremy

Microsoft Makes Strategic Changes in Technology and Business Practices to Expand Interoperability

A little late on this, but better late than never. By now, you’ve probably heard about the Microsoft press release regarding “New interoperability principles and actions”:

Microsoft Corp. today announced a set of broad-reaching changes to its technology and business practices to increase the openness of its products and drive greater interoperability, opportunity and choice for developers, partners, customers and competitors.

Specifically, Microsoft is implementing four new interoperability principles and corresponding actions across its high-volume business products: (1) ensuring open connections; (2) promoting data portability; (3) enhancing support for industry standards; and (4) fostering more open engagement with customers and the industry, including open source communities.

“These steps represent an important step and significant change in how we share information about our products and technologies,” said Microsoft chief executive officer Steve Ballmer. “For the past 33 years, we have shared a lot of information with hundreds of thousands of partners around the world and helped build the industry, but today’s announcement represents a significant expansion toward even greater transparency. Our goal is to promote greater interoperability, opportunity and choice for customers and developers throughout the industry by making our products more open and by sharing even more information about our technologies.”

As you may have guessed, the blogosphere was abuzz with activity shortly after the announcement. First, let’s start with the basics. The products covered in this announcement are: Windows Vista (including the .NET Framework), Windows Server 2008, SQL Server 2008, Office 2007, Exchange Server 2007, and Office SharePoint Server 2007, and future versions of all these products. The key promises are: “Ensuring open connections to Microsoft’s high-volume products”, “Documenting how Microsoft supports industry standards and extensions”, “Enhancing Office 2007 to provide greater flexibility of document formats”, “Launching the Open Source Interoperability Initiative” and “Expanding industry outreach and dialogue”. While I see the word Open Source being used quite a bit in conjunction with this release, I see very little reason why. This is about API and protocol access for the most part. This will certainly help Open Source developers, but it isn’t Microsoft actually opening any code (or even changing their stance on Open Source from what I can tell).

Let me say that this could be the beginning of a fairly major shift for Microsoft, a change that most feel is long overdue. As usual though, the devil is in the details. Is this announcement fluff or substance? The first major hole I see is that the “covenant not to sue open source developers”, along with some other pieces, only pertain to “non-commercial” distribution/implementation. This makes room for a lot of gray area on how you define commercial use. Also, from what I can tell, the patent provision terms discussed in the announcement are not compatible with most Open Source licenses. That being said, it’s also a far cry from Microsoft calling Linux a cancer, so it’s certainly a step in the right direction. The real driver here, however, is almost certainly customer demand and a landscape that is shifting underneath the feet of Microsoft. I think the 451 group puts it well:

“Nudged by the European Union’s Court of First Instance, but more likely the result of a hard look at market dynamics and the competition, Microsoft has opened up its APIs and pledged to work more openly with the rest of the industry, including the open source community, on interoperability and standards issues. It’s an acknowledgment that in today’s world, many more flowers bloom when platform companies make their APIs completely open for developers to write to, a la Google and MSFT’s recent investee, Facebook. This is yet another thing Google has taught the largest software company in the world. It appears on the face of it that Microsoft now intends to live by the merit of its products, rather than rely on lock-in.

“As a result, developers should gain the potential to tie applications more closely into Microsoft’s Windows, SQL Server, Office and Exchange Server products with greater flexibility and innovation, perhaps through self-sustaining developer communities. SharePoint could also benefit from a platform approach, becoming a de facto central application for large segments of the market. And Microsoft is aiming to make open source applications run as well on Windows as they do on Linux, enabling it to continue competing against Linux while at the same time accepting and working to support open source projects.”

As it stands, whether this is a major announcement or a marketing fluff piece will become apparent in the coming months (and years). As real news comes forth, I’ll certainly be following it and will post updates. In the meantime, here is some additional reading:

Mary Jo Foley
Response from Red Hat
Groklaw
Bill Hilf
Andy Updegrove

One final note. I think one thing is absolutely clear. If this is to be the beginning of real change for MSFT, Ballmer has to go. I’ve said that before and I stand by it. It will not be possible for them to change with him in charge. Don’t think so? During all the talk of openness from Microsoft during this announcement, I leave you with his words from the press conference:

BRAD SMITH: With respect to other (commercial) distributors, and users, the clear message is that patent licenses will be freely available.

STEVE BALLMER: Patents will be, not freely, will be available.

BRAD SMITH: Readily available.

STEVE BALLMER: Readily available for the right fee.

–jeremy

Microsoft Fails to Gain Approval for OOXML

There are so many posts flying around about this that it’s been difficult to keep up (and I’m still digesting a lot of it), but the bottom line is that the OOXML is not an ISO standard. Well, at least not yet. A bit oddly, Microsoft has spun this in a positive way with their “Strong Global Support for Open XML as It Enters Final Phase of ISO Standards Process” press release. The reality is that this is just the beginning. Things now move to the next step, which should get really interesting. Microsoft is pulling out all the stops on this one. Andy Updegrove, who is not only extremely knowledgeable on the subject buy also extremely balanced in his observations, went as fas as to say:

As someone who has spent a great part of my life working to support open standards over the past 20 years, I have to say that this is the most egregious, and far-reaching, example of playing the system to the advantage of a single company that I have ever seen. Breathtaking, in fact. That’s assuming, of course, that I am right in supposing that all of these newbie countries vote “yes.”

I guess we’ll just have to wait and see a few more days to learn whether that assumption is true. Want to place your bets?

Looking at other sources, allegations range from ballot stuffing to nearly straight up coercion and bribery. That should be an indication of just how important this is to Microsoft and just how important it should be to you. It’s fascinating to see one part of Microsoft make what appears to be a sincere effort to join the Open Source community and then see another part act like this. I’ll be doing some additional reading/research and will certainly have more to say on the topic. For now, here’s some good additional reading for you:

Once More unto the Breach
Once More unto the Breach
consortiuminfo.org
consortiuminfo.org
consortiuminfo.org
All about Microsoft

–jeremy

OOXML Approval Vote Fails in INCITS

From Andy (who recently accepted a more formal role at the Linux Foundation):

As I reported on July 23, INCITS, the US balloting body on the OOXML vote, put out a ballot to see whether the US should vote to approve OOXML, with the ballot to close on August 9. That ballot has now closed on schedule, and there is a public link that shows the vote – which failed, with 8 in favor, 7 opposed, and one abstaining. As I noted previously, a vote of 9 in favor would have been required for passage. That number is a simple majority of the 16 INCITS Executive Board members that have voting privileges on this ballot (in fact, the Board has 18 members, but due to attendance rules, only 16 of the 18 had voting priviliges on this ballot).

There is a second leg of the vote, which also failed: out of the total number responding (in this case, all 16), the abstentions (one) are subtracted, yielding a number (fifteen) of which two-thirds (in this case ten) would need to be in the affirmative.

The link above includes links to the individual comments filed by eleven Executive Board members.

Here’s the link that’s referred to above. The voting results:

* Yes votes: Apple, Department of Homeland Security, the Electronic Industries Allliance, EMC, Hewlett Packard, Intel, Microsoft and Sony Electronics.
* No votes: Farance, Incorporated, GS1 US, IBM, Lexmark International, NIST, Oracle, and the Department of Defense.
* Abstention: IEEE

The IEEE abstention is due to “divergent viewpoints of key IEEE members and stakeholders”. A couple of the yes votes, HP especially, are a bit surprising and it should be noted that many of the no votes are conditional.

–jeremy

Massachusetts Falls to OOXML as ITD Punts

From Andy Updegrove:

In a not unanticipated move, Massachusetts announced today that Ecma 376, the name given to the Microsoft Office Open XML formats following their adoption by Ecma, would be acceptable for use by the Executive Agencies of the Commonwealth. The announcement was made even as it appears more questionable whether the National Body members of ISO/IEC JTC1 will conclude that the formats are in suitable form to be granted standards status, and despite the fact that the ITD receive comments from 460 individuals and organizations during the brief comment period announced on July 5.

Most of those comments, “addressed revisions made to the Data Formats section [of the proposed changes to the Enterprise Technical Reference Model, or ETRM], specifically the inclusion of Ecma-376 Office Open XML as an acceptable document format for office applications along with the Open Document Format (ODF).” That number is several times the input received in connection with the original draft of the ETRM in August of 2005 that originally included ODF but not Microsoft’s OOXML.

The decision was posted today at the Information Technology Division’s Web site in a statement attributed to Henry Dormitzer, Undersecretary of Administration and Finance, Interim Commissioner, Department of Revenue, and Bethann Pepoli, Acting Chief Information Officer. That statement read in part as follows:

The Commonwealth continues on its path toward open, XML-based document formats without reflecting a vendor or commercial bias in ETRM v4.0. Many of the comments we received identify concerns regarding the Open XML specification. We believe that these concerns, as with those regarding ODF, are appropriately handled through the standards setting process, and we expect both standards to evolve and improve. Moreover, we believe that the impact of any legitimate concerns raised about either standard is outweighed substantially by the benefits of moving toward open, XML-based document format standards. Therefore, we will be moving forward to include both ODF and Open XML as acceptable document formats. All comments received are posted on this web site.

The “Fair and Balanced – let someone else decide” decision by the current administration and interim CIO Bethann Pepoli stands in sharp contrast to the positions taken by predecessor CIOs Peter Quinn and Louis Gutierrez, backed by then governor (and now-presidential hopeful) Mitt Romney. Both Quinn and Gutierrez insisted on including only “open standards” in the ETRM, and withstood significant pressure from Microsoft to give ground and accept OOXML prior to its adoption by ISO/IEC JTC1.

He ends the blog post with:

Massachusetts – or, more properly, a small number of courageous public servants – did something important two years ago when they took a stand for open formats. It is regrettable that their successors have seen fit to abandon that principled stance, even to the expedient extent of waiting a short while longer to see whether Microsoft’s OOXML formats will be found to be sufficient or lacking under the microscope of the global standards adoption process.

Unlike so many days before as the saga of ODF and OOXML has unfolded, this is not a day to be proud in Massachusetts.

I do find it odd that the ITD didn’t wait what is probably about a month or so to see how the ISO approval process went. Massachusetts defines an Open Format as follows:

“The Commonwealth defines open formats as specifications for data file formats that are based on an underlying open standard, developed by an open community, affirmed and maintained by a standards body and are fully documented and publicly available.”

It seems clear to me that OOXML does not meet this definition, arguably in multiple ways. Matthew Aslett points out some of the revisionist history that seems to be taking place at this point. As Andy points out, this is not an unanticipated move. That doesn’t mean it’s not disappointing though.

–jeremy

Update on ODF and Massachusetts

As Andy points out, “Silence means consent”. If this is a topic that is important to you (and it should be), I’d also encourage to take a few minutes and make your opinion known.

A few days ago, I posted my comments to the Mass. ITD on whether or not it should include OOXML in its list of approved standards. I also urged anyone with an opinion on this issue to send their own comments to the ITD at this address: standards@state.ma.us. Now, Pamela Jones, who has contributed hugely to the ODF effort in the past, has just posted a long and informative entry at Groklaw, pointing her readers to various resources that they may wish to consult in preparing their own comments, as well as ideas on the various areas upon which comments may be relevant. PJ has done her usual great job on this, and I’d encourage you to read her entry to see how her observations strike you.

It’s particularly important for you to consider doing so, because I learned from a reporter today that only about 50 comments have been filed with the ITD so far. With only 8 days to comment left, this compares very poorly to the over 150 comments that were received by the ITD in 2005. I have no idea what percentage of these comments are pro OOXML and what percentage urge the ITD to stick only with ODF, but given the small number in total, it could easily be disproportionate in one direction or the other, especially if a concerted effort has been made by one constituency or the other to influence the outcome.

Regular readers will know that I think that this is an important issue. Right now, the default decision in the ITD’s new version of the Enterprise Technical Reference Model is to include OOXML. In my last post, I paraphrased one slogan from the activist 1960’s that helped to shape a lot of who I am today. I’d like to now offer another catchphrase from those braver and more involved times, this time a chant from the many protest rallies that punctuated the antiwar movement: “Silence means consent.”

That slogan is particularly apt now, because the fewer the comments the ITD receives, the more certain will be the result. After all, if people no longer care, why should the ITD stick its neck out? The past immediate experiences of both Peter Quinn and Louis Gutierrez have made the consequences all to obvious. These people aren’t paid combat pay to be controversial – they’re just supposed to keep the IT structure effective for our benefit. If we want them to do more than just do what they’re told by vendors, we owe it to them to back them up.

–jeremy

Massachusetts May Adopt OOXML – What Say You?

Andy continues his prodigious coverage of the Massachusetts OOXML/ODF debate. From a recent post:

The Massachusetts Information Technology Division (ITD), the state agency that effectively launched the voyage of ODF around the world in August of 2005, has released a new version of its Enterprise Technical Reference Model. And this new draft includes Microsoft’s OOXML formats as an acceptable “open format.” The new draft was posted today here, and the very brief comment period will end on July 20. The header to the announcement at the ITD Web site reads as follows:

A review draft of ETRM v. 4.0 is available for review and comment from July 2nd through July 20th, 2007. Comments should be submitted to standards@state.ma.us. This major release of the ETRM updates content published in version 3.6, introduces the new Management Domain, enhances the ETRM’s format for accessibility and usability as well as provides additions and updates to existing language and technical specifications. For a detailed outline of major revisions made in this version please consult the Major Revisions for ETRM v.4.0 document.

The announcement is not a surprise to me, as I’ve been following the progress of the ITD’s internal reviews over the past six months. I’ve not been commenting on this publicly in order to try to give Bethann Pepoli (once again the interim CTO, since the departure of Louis Gutierrez) and her team the space to do their internal evaluations with less pressure than Peter Quinn experienced the first time around. However, and as you can imagine, the ITD has been under as much pressure behind the scenes (and perhaps more) as the legislators of those states that have recently tried, and failed, to pass laws that would mandate open formats in government.

The OOXML-related changes to the text of the ETRM are deceptively insignificant. By my word search, there are only three references: the inclusion of the name of the standard in the introductory summary of changes, a brief description and migration section in the Domain: Information part of the draft (scroll down and look for the “Open Formats” section), and the listing of Ecma among the other standards bodies on a list of “Relevant Standards Organizations.” But the potential impact of these change if retained will be great.

How much pressure has the Massachusetts ITD been under to accept Ecma 376? I’ve been told by those in the know that the contacts reached all the way to Deval Patrick, our new governor. Here, as in the states where legislation was introduced, the point was forcefully and repeatedly made that Microsoft is the kind of company that can provide jobs and other economic support where and as it pleases. And, to be fair, the same points were been made in the past by representatives of IBM and Sun when they have spoke out in favor of ODF.

Now we are looking at a very short comment period, commenced with no advance warning, spanning a holiday, and contained within one of the busiest vacation months of the year (one can’t help wondering why).

That makes the comment period less than 14 business days in a month that, as Andy points out, is one that is very popular for vacationing. Assuming the addition of ECMA 376 moves forward, the question becomes how large of a blow is this to ODF? Opinions on that remain all over the map. Some seem to think it’s a minor setback while others say it could potentially relegate ODF to being a footnote in history. The fact remains that OOXML still only has a single implementation. It’s also unclear if the latest version of Office completely implements the spec or implements items not in the spec. This means that if ODF adoption doesn’t gain any traction, Microsoft will easily be able to move forward with proprietary extensions, let ECMA 376 languish or even drop support in the future altogether. In other words, we’ll be right back where we started. That’s a bad thing. Andy has further coverage on the topic, including reactions from around the industry.

–jeremy

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