November 23, 2007

GNOME Foundation Statement on ECMA TC45-M Participation

Recently, a number of articles have raised concern in various communities about the GNOME Foundation’s membership of ECMA and participation in TC45-M — the technical committee reviewing Microsoft Office Open XML, or “OOXML”.

In this statement we describe our participation in ECMA TC45-M, and provide a summary of our position on ODF, OOXML and related issues.

Background

Jody Goldberg is the lead maintainer of Gnumeric, a GNOME-based spreadsheet application, a position he has held for seven years.

Before June 2007, he worked for Novell, representing them on TC45-M in order to obtain further documentation of OOXML during its review process. In June, Jody left Novell and proposed that the GNOME Foundation facilitate his work with TC45-M by joining ECMA as a non-profit.

We accepted Jody’s proposal to make sure that OOXML was documented enough such that FLOSS implementations were possible without a huge amount of pain (as experienced by those working on DOC and XLS binary format support). The decision to participate in TC45-M was made by the Board as a direct result of Jody’s request. It did not involve any third party influence or financial considerations at any point.

Jody’s last interaction with TC45-M was in July, to deal with the latest set of issues he submitted regarding charting and pivot tables. While he is not participating in the current activities of TC45-M (which is focused on issue resolution for the ISO standardisation process), our membership continues so he can participate in the next review period.

During his participation in TC45-M (via Novell and the GNOME Foundation), Jody has raised hundreds of issues with the documentation of the format, which will demonstrate a significant, material, on-going benefit to FLOSS implementations of OOXML and as a result, to users of FLOSS products that require such interoperability.

In 2000, the GNOME community de-emphasised its own office software products, choosing to support the nascent OpenOffice.org project. As a result, there are no office products released on our six-month time-based release schedule today, although we encourage and support projects such as AbiWord, Glom and Gnumeric.

Position

  1. GNOME’s principal mission is to deliver Software Freedom to users around the world. The GNOME Foundation aims to support the world-wide developer and contributor base of the GNOME project towards this goal.
  2. The GNOME Foundation is a member of the ODF Alliance, and along with our contributors in the GNOME community, we are passionate supporters of open standards in general. We believe that ODF delivers the best opportunity for industry and government to collaborate on an open document standard, to drive unprecedented innovation, productivity and public transparency.
  3. The GNOME Foundation’s support for Jody’s participation in TC45-M does not indicate endorsement for, or contribution to, ISO standardisation of the Microsoft Office Open XML formats.
  4. While Microsoft should be applauded for releasing information about the Office document formats, their manoeuvres around the standards process demonstrate that they are not pursuing standardisation as a platform for innovation for the entire industry. Indeed, Microsoft continues to behave in the abusive manner of an unreformed, convicted monopolist with no passion for true industry collaboration in the interests of users.
  5. We are deeply concerned that abuse of the standards process is eroding public trust in the value and independence of international standards. Both ODF and OOXML are very heavily influenced by their implementation heritage, neither are likely to deliver the “one true office format”, and both communities have — in their own way — played a role in this erosion of trust.We in the Open Source and Free Software community should be cautious about taking a black and white approach to a process that is rapidly turning standards into industrial weapons to the detriment of our users, software and communities. We face the very real danger that standards will suffer the same fate as patents: created to spur innovation and sharing, but manipulated to control and restrain.

Get Involved

The GNOME Foundation is supporting the pursuit of Software Freedom through the innovative, accessible, and beautiful user experience created by GNOME contributors around the world. It’s a fun and inviting community, so if you’re reading this and wondering what you can do to help promote Software Freedom, contributing to GNOME is a great way to start!

Media Enquiries

  • GNOME Foundation Press Officer
    Jeff Waugh (Sydney, Australia)
    Email: gnome-press-contact@gnome.org
    Phone: +61 2 9318 0284
    Mobile: +61 423 989 818