Java, Microsoft Office Software at Peace

Dennis Byron

It's fitting that the acrimony ends with a whimper rather than a bang. The Apache Software Foundation (ASF) released POI 3.5 on September 29. According to the POI team's e-mail (ASF rarely puts out press releases about such things):


"Apache POI is well-known in the Java field as a library for reading and writing Microsoft Office file formats, such as Excel, PowerPoint, Visio and Word. With POI 3.5, it supports the new Office Open XML (OOXML) formats introduced in Office 2007."


The work related to this release, which began in March 2008 in the midst of the open source blogosphere's insane rabble-rousing over International Standards Organization (ISO) approval of OOXML, proceeded sanely and with good cooperation between Java and Windows guys who just need the IT world to work together literally and figuratively. The project marked one of the then most visible acceptances by Microsoft of the open source culture and open source terms and conditions (Ts&Cs), although Microsoft's decision to make peace with open source actually came with its acquisition/hiring of Ray Ozzie in 2005.

Back in March 2008, I asked Gianugo Rabellino, CEO of Sourcesense, if he wasn't afraid he'd be set adrift in the middle of the Mediterranean in a rubber dinghy for consorting with the enemy. I am not sure of the legal arrangements, but it appeared that Sourcesense had been hired by Microsoft to lead its side of the cooperation. Sourcesense is a European open source systems integrator, whose employees are long-term contributors to numerous open source teams.


Rabellino's response at the time:


"providing OOXML support for the same functionalities (as previously provided for earlier versions of Office) is a logical step and something that the POI community might have decided to add anyways at a certain point in the future: doing that in collaboration with Microsoft looks like a good step in the right direction, both for Microsoft and Open Source."

Boy, was that sensible in light of the bombast and misdirection coming from Sun, Red Hat, IBM, and many others in February/March 2008.


OOXML, although it has only been actively marketed for about two years, is quickly becoming as popular - depending on how you measure such things - as the leading ISO standard document format, Adobe's PDF. The POI project will only hasten that acceptance.


See http://poi.apache.org/ for more details.

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Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Oct 7, 2009 2:46 PM Karl E. Jorgensen Karl E. Jorgensen  says:

Please do not confuse OOXML (the standard) with the stuff that Microsoft Office writes: They are not the same thing.

There are 3 major problems here:

(a) the OOXML "standard" is still very underspecified, leaving lots of room for interpretation, thereby virtually guaranteeing incompatibilities between implementations

(b) The files saved by MS office do not follow the standard - even if we give them the benefit of doubt as per the underspecifications. Problem is that some elements of the standard were only agreed upon after MS had released their implementation, so MS could naturally not follow it. Even if MS updated their software, anybody reading OOXML documents would still encounter pre-update documents, thus defeating the whole point of having a standard...

(c) the standard is largely MS trying to make their format official. It should not be confused with a "vendor-neutral agreed-upon standard". As a result, it inherits nearly all of the flaws in the MS software (leap year problems, weird date calculation, trigonometric functions without units, incompatible country codes, use of windows-only formats for graphics, and lots of weird inconsistencies)


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