Destined Incompatibility of OO.o's OOXML Implementation
Here is a plea to the OO.o developers who work on OOXML (or docx) compatibility:
- Please speak clearly whether the publicly available information about the ISO-approved OOXML format (into which docx is yet to evolve) is sufficient for you to implement its DRM-related features.
- Please speak clearly whether you are sure of your legal safety in implementing OOXML's DRM-related features.
Please say it loudly in your blogs or emails, in as non-technical terms as possible. Then we will turn around and show your opinions to the confused governments and journalists who still believe Microsoft's claim that OOXML is an open format, and put an end to that lie.
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Despite all the OOXML scandals that make 6 countries question the compromised process of ISO and IEC and despite the legal threat behind OOXML, Microsoft is still able to confuse enough people to believe that OOXML is an open format. What seems to be obvious to us who follow the development may not be so to the non-technical public. The goal of this post is to bring awareness of the danger of OOXML to more non-technical public by cutting through the confusing technical and legal fog, and by making Microsoft answer directly, in layman's terms, to the two questions: that of openness and that of legality.
I have my own answers already. I personally have stopped serious programming for years and I know next to nothing about the technical details of OOXML. Yet simple logic dictates that DRM "features" (which OOXML has) immediately becomes useless once the algorithm is known. DRM is designed to restrict, not to empower the user, and therefore has to rely on security by obscurity. It cannot be open for public examination, and the proponents of the exposed DRM systems will surely find legal troubles with those who reveal the secret, including but not limited to FLOSS developers. To illustrate this point, there have been too many cases to enumerate (and I am too tired to give URL's): please just search "DeCSS", "fairuse4wm", "09 F9", "sony rootkit", "ebook sklyarov", "felton sdmi", ...
Yet Microsft will never answer the "openness" and "legality" questions honestly, and my answers for them won't count much. So we need your help, developers. Please let the general public know that OO.o (and for that matter, anything competing against Microsoft Office) is destined to be non-fully compatible with Microsoft Office, in particular regarding all features that require the knowledge of its DRM algorithm. And let them know why. Let them know that it is not because you (and everyone else) are not capable, but rather because OOXML is not open after all. The world appreciate your hard work all the same. We appreciate even more your courage to help clarify matters that Microsoft tries hard to cloud when you admit to the destined incompatibility of your project. Ditto for the firefox ooxml plugin developers. Oops, that one is sponsored by Microsoft so I am not sure whether there is anyone who is voluntarily involved from outside and who would speak the truth.
Some may argue that such move would hurt the publicity, and hence the adoption, of OO.o, Firefox, and other FLOSS projects. In response, I would like to point out that, first of all, one element of the FLOSS culture is honesty about our own shortcomings. Secondly and maybe even more importantly because it concerns the general population outside the FLOSS culture, it would be a better world where MS Office remains dominant by sincerely supporting ODF as the default file formats than where OO.o and Firefox become the greatest helpers in defending Microsoft in various anti-trust cases while getting Microsoft to sneak the wonderful business models of DRM into the office documents of some unfortunate countries. (If these are the only two choices, that is.)
Hopefully at some point in the future, people will understand that true open file formats, and open interfaces in general, are more important than free software. Think about the difficulties that hinder wine, gnash, samba, and so forth. Free software does not fear competition. Yet it needs true open interfaces to compete on a fair playground, or else it is destined to be an incompatible and inferior lame alternative to proprietary solutions. Let's lower down the barrier to truth for the non-technical population and prevent the unconscious spread of docx being helped by some FLOSS before these involved pieces of FLOSS unconsciously become their own victims. We have to admit OO.o's destined incompatibility regarding OOXML one way or another. Why not do it now, loudly, when the echos can still help instead of hurting FLOSS?