Peaceful existence of one open document standard, ODF

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So I understand that the latest pro-OOXML/anti-ODF tactic is to sweetly request peaceful co-existence of document standards.

This is after the crafters studiously refused to participate in the open, community-developed OpenDocument Format OASIS/ISO standard for several years; saw governments around the world start to adopt ODF; provided indirect, arms-length partial, slow, and awkward ODF support; substituted their own massive 8 times bigger XML rendering of what is supported by their proprietary products alone; rammed it through ECMA at a record pace; and received severe negative comments from national standards bodies around the world when they tried to fast track it through ISO.

I would rather suggest that all this new found love and desire for harmony be directed into the evolving ODF standardization work in OASIS, as so many of us are doing today. As I’ve said before, ODF is the future and that’s where we should be focusing our efforts.

OOXML is a delay and dilution of the intellectual and market effort to reach a common open document standard that is ODF and its future community-driven incarnations.

That day will come. The only thing we are all doing in the process now is speeding up or slowing down the eventual broad adoption of ODF. I’m for speeding up.

Also See: An “OOXML is a bad idea” blog entry compendium


  1. All you had said in the blog post is true for the “vendor” (you and I know who we are talking about.) However, the same could had been said of IBM. IBM did not participate in OOXML; It voted “NO” in ECMA; and if, the media is correct, the next version of Lotus Notes does not support OOXML. The last point, if true, I believe is a temporary situation, not unlike the fact that the “mac” version of the popular office application is still not having OOXML support.

    The thing is, these are all choices, the “vendor” obviously chosen a different path from IBM. Both need not help the others to succeed. In fact, both are hoping the other failed. Lately, that vendor has been bashing IBM by name lately. I find these attacks are very personnal in nature and therefore unethical. I am glad that IBM’s pro-ODF bloggers all keep their cool and did not engage in these petty attacks.

    It is true, however, that the luck warm, half-hearted support for ODF from that pro-OOXML vendor shows that he felt he is under threat. However, since he is now proposing peace, I think the vendor should show its sincerity and commitment. Top on the list will be full support for ODF in that office appilication as first class citizen alongside OOXML. Otherwise, it is just paying lip service.

    Incidently, that vendor’s big champion for OOXML, Mr B.J., has been silent on the results of National Bodies comments on his blog. That is strange. Isn’t this one of the “big event” on gaining ISO approval for fast track?

    Kudos to you, Rob Weir and the Groklaw team for highlighting problems with OOXML to National Bodies. Now that not one, but several National Bodies had voiced the same concerns, they can no longer claim that anti-OOXML camp are ranting on unimportant issues. I do not think they are going to admit that those issues are important aspects expected by standards body, but they are forced to defend themselves over these issues. Whether these issues are significant is now in the hands of the jury (National Bodies) now and I hope we can trust them to decide impartially.

  2. Michael Osborne

    Please explain how IBM could have helped the process in ECMA. The TC45 charter explicitly stated that the goal was to create a format that was “fully compatible” with Office XML as used in Office 2007. That’s a very stark contrast to the Oasis ODF TC goals which wanted a vendor-neutral format useable by all. There were no barriers to change at Oasis. The process was completely open.

    Microsoft could have helped shape ODF and we could have avoided a lot of this current crap. Heck, if it weren’t for the state of MA, and ODF, almost definately wouldn’t *be* an ECMA 376.

  3. [WuMing Shi]: “…both are hoping the other failed.”

    You make some good points, except for this one. I’ve perused many blogs on ODF over the past 18 months, including those of Adobe, Sun, and IBM. As for the “Pro-ODF” crowd, the moment, the technology, and people are lining up behind ODF. The more one learns about the very simple issues within the industry that motivated ODF — “to enable the public sector to have greater control over and direct management of their own records, information and documents” (ODA, — the more it makes sense.

    In several posts in this blog, along with other IBM bloggers, they have made it clear that their personal views do not drive IBM’s policies and practices. IBM looks after their own interests, and promoting open standards is a large part of them.

    Regarding Bob’s point above, I agree. From 2007 on, I’m no longer interested in shuffling between two formats, especially one that is fully dependent upon a corporate vendor. I want to be able to use StarOffice/OpenOffice, Google Docs, TextMaker, even Microsoft Office and save my files in ODF as a NATIVE file format, not as a hidden-behind-several-menu-layers Save As option. Microsoft is free to adopt and include ODF within its Office suite. Let them write a new translator to convert legacy docs (MCAN recently failed in its first attempt). If so, people will be free to buy into current and new versions of MS Office with the ability to control their own data through the file format (ODF) rather than the commercial application. Otherwise, OXML is very much like Latin — still alive, but not desired or used very much.

  4. Zaine, I hope that my daughter Katie doesn’t see your remark about Latin!

  5. I like this new pic in the rotation:

    “Freewheelin’ Bob Sutor”

  6. Dear Osbourne:

    [Please explain how IBM could have helped the process in ECMA. ]

    Not voting “No” can be a start. Before I get flamed. I understands and agrees that IBM reason (“impossibility of multiple implementations that satisfy all the goals stated in the charter”) for saying no. I was expecting an “abstain” vote from IBM since it is backing a rival format. It is the norm to do so. However, given the fact that I felt IBM’s reason was very strong, I would say in this case it is a matter of judgment for IBM

    Points raised by pro-ODF bloggers at IBM could had been raised in the ECMA committee had IBM participated. As you said, “The TC45 charter explicitly stated that the goal was to create a format that was “fully compatible” with Office XML as used in Office 2007”. One crucial point here is that it need not be “fully verbatim” version of Office XML as in Office 2007. There are scopes for rearranging the document package and XML structures. Having said this, pro-OOXML people might take these sincere attempts as attempts to hinder progress of OOXML through ECMA and I believe ECMA would rejects IBM comments on these issues. However, there may be advantages of voicing these issues if only it means to simply to get them documented. For example, although this will give pro-OOXML people the right to say that these issues where considered and discarded, the fact that National Bodies raised them again in the ISO process means IBM and pro-ODF people can say “I told you so”, and gaining the moral high ground by (1) demonstrating that raising these issues in ECMA was not to obstruct OOXML process, (2) removing pro-OOXML lobby ability to say that IBM could had discuss those issues in ECMA committee stage if it were sincere in resolving these issues, and (3) complains that MS could had participated in ODF process without being accused of doing the same in OOXML.


    Saying that “both camps hopes the other failed” is a bit too strong. Thanks for pointing it out.

    IBM’s bloggers are of course mentioning there personal views on the topic. Microsoft’s bloggers will claim the same too. We need to take into account that their views does not represents 100% of their employer’s view, but it would be equally wrong to say that in these cases, they did not partially reflect that of their employer’s.

    At least IBM’s bloggers on these subjects (Bob and Rob) did not used a domain name associated with IBM. Microsoft’s bloggers do.

    I see ODF pop up at places I expects to see DOC on one major academic website recently. That is great. It is accompanied by an equivalent PDF for those who cannot view ODF document. Ironic considering that the original reason for PDF is for people who cannot view DOC.

  7. Indeed, Microsoft must allow reading and saving ODF as one of the 30 or so formats currently supported by MS Office.

    People that prefer OOXML will make OOXML their default format. People (including governments) that prefer ODF will use ODF as their default format. Then the market will evolve, and will kill ODF or kill OOXML or merge them in a single standard format. Or maybe the market will keep both formats as independent standards, if there is really a market need for this as Microsoft claims (but I personally do not believe it will be the case).

    I’m sure many governments, companies and consumers will choose ODF as their default format. And if Microsoft wants MS Office to be selected by them as the preferred tool to edit ODF documents, Microsoft better has to write a good ODF filter (rather than an external, poor quality translator).

    This is the only true way for Microsoft to take care of interoperability and offer choice to their customers. And the office tools will then truly compete on technical merits, without a bias forced on users via a format lock-in.

  8. Moving on from Microsoft ‘.doc’ to ISO 26300 XML is rather like moving on from punch-cards to paper-tape was 30 years ago.

    That happened because of an expansion in the market; instead of ‘computer’ being a mainframe that you went to with a box of punch-cards, ‘computer’ became a TeleType with a paper tape reader. You could have put a punch-card reader on a TeleType, but it would have been rather pointless.

    Now, instead of just ‘Lenovo Personal Computer with Microsoft Windows’, there is an expanding variety of Internet-connected devices that you might have to hand when you want to do stuff. Sticking with Microsoft platforms, there’s the XBox360; or choosing non-Microsoft technology, Lenovo with Linux, Sony Playstation with Linux, and Nintendo Wii with who-knows-what, are all options. There’s also the mobile phones, and Blackberry-type devices. And Apples, of course.

    All seem commercially viable. Ordinary people own and operate them all the time.

    So how do you want to interoperate ?

    ISO 26300 is there, right now. Microsoft ‘.doc’ support (and hence Microsoft OOXML support) is patchy.

  9. Dear Bollen,

    [People that prefer OOXML will make OOXML their default format (and vice-versa)] (words in ‘()’ mine)

    I wish it is that simple. Most people just save everything in the format their application ask them to. Otherwise everyone will be saving to PDF when they post their documents on the web, especially those that makes no sense for the recipients to be able to edit. ;-)

    Moreover, to save in a different format than the application’s default usually mean you run a risk of losing something, although the risk is very small and usually restricted to advance features.

    The truth is, MS **is** incorporating support for ODF in MS Office. However, it is trying to do it in a way that it is just enough to allow it to tender for contracts for customers who wants ODF. If necessary, the tender document will include a 10 page explanation on why the meagre support is all the customer need.

    My beef with its implementation is not it is meagre, but issues surround it, such as

    (1) Implement it in a way that allows it to claim no-support for ODF, i.e., outsource it to a third party
    (2) The recommended implementation which MS support is more awkward to use than it is necessary
    (3) There is no technical reason on why ODF cannot be made the default save format,i.e., first class citizen, especially when you consider that you can save to the more inferior format such as text by default should you be crazy enough to do it.

    All these are simply business-driven ploy to frustrate customers sufficiently to dump ODF. Even then, if Microsoft has no monopoly on Office application it will not be a problem for me. However, right now it feels like it is using its monopoly power to do whatever it wants.

    Novell, in a statement to open source community after the announcement MS-Novell deal, says that “ is bigger than ODF” with reference to it creating support for OOXML in Similarly, MSOffice is bigger than OOXML.

    Right now, as Bob points out, they are arguing that both ODF and OOXML can coexists peacefully. The situation, for the next few years to come at least, is that both will coexists. It is still unclear whether will one of them dies eventually. is possibly the first application where they both coexists as first class citizen. What a shame. I would had thought it is going to be MS Office that has that honor.

    What I most want to see is Microsoft practice what it preaches by giving decent support to ODF in MS products.

  10. [Bob Sutor]: “OOXML is a delay and dilution of the intellectual and market effort to reach a common open document standard that is ODF and its future community-driven incarnations.”
    This is exactly why I do not believe that ODF and OXML can coexist. OXML essentially throws sand in the gears with all its proprietary dependencies, not to mention the bulk of its code being devoted to more than a decade of various legacy MS Office format changes and idiosynchrasies. ODF sidesteps that entire problematic “Microsoft” history and focuses on clean XML and using existing standards.

    Before now, many alternative office applications plugged in .doc/.xls as their native file format because it was convenient to tie-in with MS Word/Office. With ODF’s ISO approval, Web 2.0 embracing ODF, cost control, and expanding government adoption, ODF is the more attractive format on every level for the end user. Moreover, OXML is tied to one commercial software vendor’s (proprietary) applications to access and read it. If Microsoft makes it difficult for individuals, educational institutions, governments, and anyone else to convert OXML, then why should the world “go there” to start with?

    Just adopt ODF, no matter which application you use, and avoid the time, trouble, and cost of future conversions that will be largely dependent on Microsoft’s moves. And since ODF is an Open Standard that is already ISO-certified, Microsoft is free to adopt it as well, rather than burying it in their ‘office/file’ menu.

  11. Zaine, I fully agree with you, but I have the following remark : I’m afraid that ODF and OOXML, as file formats, will have to coexist for some time. It is a fact that MS Office 2007 is on the market, and that it uses OOXML as its default file format. So, OOXML cannot be avoided.

    However, ODF and OOXML should not coexist as ISO standard formats. It seems that Microsoft has now settled the way they will react to the high number of contradictions raised by the National standard bodies : they are now insisting that ODF and OOXML are two very different things : ODF is designed as a general-purpose format, while OOXML is designed to be compatible with the “billions of existing documents”. They are quite right on this. But they want to use this as the reason why “both standards” should be accepted by ISO. I think rather that this is the exact reason why OOXML should not be accepted as an ISO standard. A standard, by definition, must have a general-purpose aim. A specification designed to be compatible with one vendor’s product may be needed by the ecosystem of this product, but that does not make it a good ISO standard.

    Here is my prediction : OOXML will be rejected by ISO. Many users, including government bodies, will decide to standardise on ODF. Microsoft will then have a choice : either they offer a good way to seamlessly read and write ODF files (in the “Da Vinci plug-in” way), and they will remain on the buying list of these users as a possible office suite. Or they keep their current approach with dodgy external translators, and it is very likely that the people who decided to standardise on ODF will look to alternatives to MS Office.

    In both cases, we will see ODF and OOXML coexisting for some time : OOXML in a niche for people who decided to stay with a “Microsoft stack” lock-in, and ODF as the new de-facto standard for all others.

  12. On a related subject, Kurt Cagle’s comment is a must-read….

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