ZDNet Plays Hardball: An Update on “Office XML as a One-way Standard”

OK, I just have to post an update to my blog posting on Office XML, because my post causes some reactions from Microsoft and its friends that amuse me no end:

  • First. Rick Schaut published an update to his original blog posting where he responded to my blog posting, producing a new estimate of how much work it would be to add Office Open XML support to the Mac versions of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. I somehow missed this update when it happened, or I would have responded sooner.
  • Next, David Berlind of ZDNet published an article on the “he said, she said” nature of our posts, using a baseball metaphor. His premise is that a two year old could have hit Rick’s ball (his original post) out of the park, but in the end says that not only did my ball (my post) get caught at the warning track, but that the runner got caught tagging for home. I’m not really sure who or what the runner is supposed to be in this particular metaphor, but we’ll let that slide… No hard feelings, though, David – I got a good laugh out of it, and I certainly don’t mind getting my name mentioned in a column from a much more well-known blogger, even when he calls me vicious. I do want to point out that I did warn everyone in my first blog post that I was known for having a bit of an acid tongue. Guess I haven’t mellowed quite as much as I thought.

Now, I’ll be the first to say that I was having a little bit of fun with Rick’s original post. I didn’t really believe it would take a team of good developers 150 person-years to do the work. Rick’s original estimate was ridiculously overinflated, and I used that to my own rhetorical ends. That doesn’t mean my original point wasn’t valid, though.

Fortunately, Rick has now published a more realistic estimate, one that I believe is more accurate. Here’s what Rick now has to say:

If we had to add support for Open XML to Mac Word 12 without being able to port code from Win Word, the read/write estimates shrinks down to about 8.5 man/years (44 weeks x 5 devs x 2 for read+write). As I recall, this about half of what it took to add HTML support to Word: 10 or so devs over a release cycle of 2 years. Doing the work for PPT and Excel isn’t strictly a multiple of Word, because about 30% of the XML elements are shared between the three apps. So, for all of Mac Office, I’d estimate it would take a total of about 5 devs over the release cycle to add full Open XML support starting from scratch, as part of the larger project.

David Berlind says this update refutes my argument, so much so that in his baseball metaphor the response is good for two outs instead of one. But is that really the case?

The fact is that Rick is now spinning things a bit, and his new numbers don’t really disprove my point at all. First, notice that he split the figures for Word from those for Excel and PowerPoint, and that the former figure was expressed in person-years while the latter is a count of developers. This is a common form of numerical misdirection. Since the release cycle is two years, the total effort is actually 18.5 man years [8.5 man-years + (2 years * 5 people)]. That is actually slightly less effort for Word, Excel, and PowerPoint together than he originally claimed for Word alone. (I’ll leave it to someone else to point out what this does to Rick’s original argument about why the Office Open XML converters for the Mac aren’t coming anytime soon.)

But there’s another thing missing from Rick’s estimate that I included in mine: additional resources for testing, localization, documentation, etc. As I said previously, that would easily double the amount of resources required, and that is a very conservative estimate. So now we’re back up to 37 person years.

Now in my previous estimate, I also estimated that it would be more difficult for someone else to create Office Open XML converters, because their internal document formats would be very different than those of Office. So adding that same fudge factor gets us to 46 person-years, rounded down.

That’s a bit less than a third of my previous estimate, but its still a heck of a lot of resources. Even if you choose to use the unfudged 37 person-year figure, my point about the investment required still stands: how many competitors can afford the investment of 18-23 people over a two year period to implement a check-list feature?

David, bottom line is that you scored the play wrong. Here’s how it really went down: Rick lobbed one over the fat part of the plate, I hit a fly ball to the warning track. Should have been an easy out (or two), but Rick committed an error fielding the ball. So I’m on second base, nobody’s out, and the runner scored. Still wish I knew who or what that runner was supposed to be.

(And, in case anyone missed it, I’m still having a bit of fun with this.)

~ by Andrew Shebanow on 15Dec06.

4 Responses to “ZDNet Plays Hardball: An Update on “Office XML as a One-way Standard””

  1. heh… made me think of this:


  2. You’re having fun writing it, but we’re having a blast reading it! I do think you’re more accurate, if nothing else in the simple point: no one can reasonably be expected to implement this spec with urgency, if at all. It will take MS Office users 3-6 years to get off the .doc/.xls standard and move to OXML, so others won’t be penalized for not supporting it yet.

    If the only companies who attempt it are Novell and Corel (success not guaranteed), then even they can take their time. Meanwhile, Microsoft gets more anxious as apps implement ODF — especially Web 2.0 apps — and sidestep OXML altogether, in favor of: “We’ll convert to .doc/xls, but if you want OXML, you can open it in your copy of Office 2007 and do it yourself.” I hold that companies and OpenOffice should not bother converting OXML and kick the burden back to Microsoft to write it, thus further backing Microsoft into a corner. By doing so, they will save money, resources, and as you imply, years of wall-banging headbutts!

  3. In what respect does Word have “HTML” support, and why would such a thing take two full years?

  4. Joe,

    Way back when Bill Gates wrote his famous Internet memo, the Office team did a huge amount of work on Office to make it support HTML. Word, for example, can save HTML while still remembering all of your Word style info. Dreamweaver actually as a special command to strip all the non-standard tags from a Word-generated HTML document. Office 2007 has a new version of HTML output that gives up on preserving Office formatting and just generates simple HTML output.

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