Friday, February 29, 2008

ISO BRM ended in Geneva today

The ISO Ballot Resolution Meeting (BRM) on DIS-29500 - better known as Office Open XML (OOXML) came to a close in Geneva today. I was not there, so I suggest you read some first impressions in these blogs:

One thing is clear: the five days in Geneva were not nearly enough to discuss all the proposed dispositions exhaustively. But that doesn't really matter, because the BRM was never intended to produce a final vote on the standard.

That will happen in the next step of the process: now we get to wait 30 days while the ISO member countries cast their official votes on the adoption of OOXML as an ISO standard.

For a quick summary of the acronyms surrounding OOXML and the ISO process, see my previous post on XML Aficionado.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Out of office (and loving it)...

Here's a quick XML Aficionado update from the Caribbean: warm trade winds, blue skies, excellent cocktails. Nothing XML-related to report at all... :)

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

OOXML vs. ODF - the "battle" is heating up as we get closer to the ISO BRM date

I wrote about the Burton Group's report "What's Up, .DOC?" before on the XML Aficionado blog, and it didn't take long for the ODF Alliance to write a scathing rebuttal to the Burton Group report. Ironically, that rebuttal was published in PDF format, not ODF...

Before we take a look at what happens next, maybe it is time for a short review of the various acronyms and abbreviations that are commonly used in these reports, discussions, and in related blogs:

OOXML Office Open XML is an XML-based file format specification for electronic productivity application documents, such as spreadsheets, charts, presentations, and word processing documents. Originally developed by Microsoft, it is already an Ecma standard and widely used due to its implementation by Microsoft Office 2007. It is currently in the process of being proposed as an ISO standard.
ODF Open Document Format is a file format for electronic office documents, originally developed by Sun for the office suite and then later standardized through OASIS and ISO.
ISO International Organization for Standardization
BRM Ballot Resolution Meeting is the ISO process by which comments received during the previous ISO FastTrack vote and letter ballot phase are resolved by the meeting, during which national bodies and the submitting entity (Ecma) will possibly agree on a set of revisions to the originally submitted standard text. The DIS-29500 BRM is scheduled for February 25-29, 2008, in Geneva.
DIS-29500 The official ISO name and standard number for OOXML
OASIS Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards; a non-profit consortium that defines open standards for the global information society
Ecma Originally this was called the European Computer Manufacturers Association, but their new name is Ecma International - European association for standardizing information and communication systems.
XML eXtensible Markup Language as defined by the W3C in 1998. Probably the most important standard of them all, because both OOXML and ODF are built on top of XML. If you don't know it already, you should definitely learn XML... :)


So what's new with the OOXML vs. ODF debate now that we are only two weeks away from the ISO BRM? Earlier this week, the Burton Group responded to the ODF Alliance's rebuttal in a series of three postings by Guy Creese on the Collaboration and Content Strategies Blog, and you can find them here: Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3. In this response, the Burton Group addresses each criticism from the ODF Alliance point by point.

Also, Slashdot reported this week on the Ecma response to the ISO comments and the recent blog post from Russel Ossendryver (an open source and ODF advocate) criticizing the Ecma response.

If you prefer some demos over reading thousands of pages of specifications, you may find these videos interesting that have been posted on YouTube recently: a video of Open XML on the iPhone, as well as a video of Native Open XML support on Mac OS X. Both videos show support of OOXML on Apple's platforms, yet Martin Bekkelund (a proponent of Norway's "no" vote on DIS-29500) writes on his blog today about some headaches he's had with OOXML on the Mac and his iPhone. I was curious about his allegation that a .DOCX on the iPhone produces an error message, so I had to try it myself - and I am happy to report that any .DOCX attachment received on my iPhone (running the 1.1.3 software) displays beautifully and works pretty much exactly like it is shown in the YouTube video above.

More commentary and further information can be found on Michael Desmond's blog, as well as in previous OOXML-related posts on this XML Aficionado blog. Also keep in mind that the best way to learn OOXML is to start experimenting with it, and I recently wrote a longer article on Content reuse with Open XML and XSLT to show exactly how easily it can be done using the built-in OOXML support in your favorite XML Editor.

One thing is certain: everybody will be watching the outcome of the ISO BRM very closely...

Monday, February 11, 2008


Tim Bray posted a great story "XML People" about the early days of XML, and the people involved in creating the standard. It's hard to believe that XML is 10 years old already.

Talking of which, XMLSpy is just about 9 years old this month: we launched version 1.3 on 1/24/1999 and version 1.4 followed on 2/15/1999. There was never a version 1.0... :)

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Download and install the driver for ... Windows Vista?

I received this curiously strange error message today, after Windows Vista on my desktop computer came back from a blue screen:


It seems that Windows Vista is asking me to download and install a new driver to run … Windows Vista???

That's the same error message format that you sometimes see when a graphic card or other hardware device malfunctions and Windows recommends that you download and install a new driver for that hardware. But it appears that in this case Windows has a problem running itself...

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Fifth undersea cable cut: Coincidence?

When I received an e-mail from my father a couple of weeks ago that a ship off the coast of Egypt had severed a fiber-optic undersea cable that carried Internet traffic between Europe, Africa, and Asia, I was, of course, curious to learn that it actually was the second cable being damaged in the area and that it already had a measurable effect on Internet traffic for some organizations: my father is editor-in-chief for Monatshefte Chemie (Chemical Monthly), and he told me that he had already noticed that Chemical Monthly was no longer receiving articles, submissions, or reviews from China, India, Iran, and Egypt.

Imagine my surprise, when I learned last week that a third cable was affected in the region. I was not the only one starting to think that a pattern might emerge here - especially after it became clear that no ships were in the area, which is clearly marked on charts as being a no-anchoring zone.

Even with three cables damaged there is still some value in applying reasonable doubt, and assuming that a natural phenomenon, increased dragging of anchors due to storms in the area, or other accidents might have been contributing factors.
Today, however, the count increased again, as we are learning that a fourth and fifth cable in the region have been damaged. The Khaleej Times has reported the following summary of all the cables involved in the outage:

"A total of five cables being operated by two submarine cable operators have been damaged with a fault in each.

These are SeaMeWe-4 (South East Asia-Middle East-Western Europe-4) near Penang, Malaysia, the FLAG Europe-Asia near Alexandria, FLAG near the Dubai coast, FALCON near Bandar Abbas in Iran and SeaMeWe-4, also near Alexandria."

For the locations of these undersea cables please see the map on the Engadget blog today, which also lists the date of the respective cuts that range from January 23 until today. FLAG also has an update on the status of their two cables on their website and a map showing the FALCON cable locations.

However, it appears that initial reports on Slashdot today that these outages have cut Iran entirely off the Internet are exaggerated and do not appear to be true.

So where does that leave us: the loss of five cables in just two weeks is an awful lot to be a coincidence. As a result, there is an explosion of conspiracy theories trying to explain this, and you can find some of them in the comments on Bruce Schneier's blog. However, as Robert Graham points out in the Errata Security blog today, there isn't necessarily a pattern here, because normally undersea cable outages are not reported widely, so what we are seeing might still be a normal statistical fluke.

So it remains to be seen over the next several days what is behind these cable failures, as we learn more about the repair of these cuts and get reports on what factors might have been contributed to the damage in the first place. Stay tuned to your favorite blog, news website, or check out TechMeme.

One thing is clear, however: the undersea cables are an important part of our global Internet infrastructure, as we are carrying about 90% of the international traffic over these fiber-optic submarine routes, whereas satellites account for just 10%. Nonetheless, traffic is presently being rerouted around those damaged areas and frequently has to take longer routes - sometimes via the US - resulting in lower connectivity ratings on the Internet Traffic Report.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Interesting, but of no commercial value

JP Rangaswami has written a really beautiful posting with the title “Interesting, but of no commercial value”: The problem with emerging social media tools on his confused of calcutta blog today.
The article is a well written tour through the history of computing and the resistance being put up against new and innovative technologies that have the potential to change the way we work, communicate, or do business.
I'll quote just the first few introductory paragraphs here:

I can remember a time when people thought e-mail was a complete waste of time. I can remember a time when spreadsheets and storyboarding software were similarly disdained. In fact, I can even remember a time when no senior executive would be seen dead near a computer. You know something? It wasn’t that long ago, maybe 20 years ago?

I can remember a time when people thought the internet was a complete waste of time. When browsers had no future, when search engines were nothing more than toys. It wasn’t that long ago that Google was something that a few people played with, and the rest thought…. that they were wasting time. I can remember a time when people thought eBay was a plaything, someplace
that people went….to waste time. I can even remember a time when packages marked
Amazon or Fedex were unheard-of in enterprise mail trolleys. You know something? It wasn’t that long ago, maybe 10 years ago.

I can remember a time when people thought social media, software
and networks were a complete waste of time.
Facebookers were fools, Twitterers were twits, when even blogs and wikis and IM were viewed with deep suspicion, when everyone thought that the people who were using them…..were wasting time. You know something? It wasn’t that long ago. Maybe it’s still happening now.

I've been in software since 1983 and always was an early adopter, using "stuff" at the bleeding edge of technology. JP is absolutely spot on: at first these new technologies are being ridiculed by "the establishment" - and then they take over the world.
Read the full article on JP's blog.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Microsoft's $45 billion bid for Yahoo

Microsoft has announced just now that they are making a $45 billion bid to acquire Yahoo.

This is directly from the Microsoft press release:

Microsoft Proposes Acquisition of Yahoo! for $31 per Share

valued at approximately $44.6 billion in cash and stock; provides 62 percent
premium to current trading price for Yahoo! shareholders; combined entity to
create a more competitive company, providing superior value to shareholders,
better choice and innovation for customers and partners

“We have great respect for Yahoo!, and together we can offer an increasingly exciting set of solutions for consumers, publishers and advertisers while becoming better positioned to compete in the online services market,” said Steve Ballmer, chief executive officer of Microsoft. “We believe our combination will deliver superior value to our respective shareholders and better choice and innovation to our customers and industry partners.”

“Our lives, our businesses, and even our society have been progressively transformed by the Web, and Yahoo! has played a pioneering role by building compelling, high-scale services and infrastructure,” said Ray Ozzie, chief software architect at Microsoft. “The combination of these two great teams would enable us to jointly deliver a broad range of new experiences to our customers that neither of us would have achieved on our own.”

The Microsoft board of directors sent this offer to the Yahoo board of directors and the letter accompanying the offer is part of the Microsoft press release, too.

If this goes through, it would indeed be a curious transformation of the web. There are two "major" web sites that I rarely ever visit: and - imagine how appealing a combination of them would be...

For more blog reactions go to TechMeme.