Thursday, February 14, 2008

OOXML / ODF FUD

In his blog (An Antic Disposition: Punct Contrapunct, which has a great sub-title: "...thinking the unthinkable, pondering the imponderable, effing the ineffable and scruting the inscrutable"), Rob Weir has a very good discussion about some recent FUD (Burton Group's "What's up, .DOC?") around OOXML and the upcoming JTC1 ballot.

In this very shilly document - which has even in its abstract subtle digs ("The competitive stakes are huge, and the related political posturing is sometimes perplexing.[emphasis added]")

Some points:
  • "On one hand, government agencies and other organizations seeking to use a free, non-Microsoft productivity suite will be happy to use ODF, the file format behind OpenOffice.org": No. Governments (and other organizations) are not looking for free non-Microsoft software; they are looking for (true) open standards for document formats that will allow them to properly manage, distribute and archive their documents without having to worry if they can open a document created five years ago or to purchase software from more than a single vendor.
  • "OOXML is an extensible standard. It allows vendors and enterprises to extend the standard within an OOXML-defined framework... This built-in ability to augment the OOXML standard is a safety valve for future innovation, allowing new features to be added without forcing vendors to invent yet another separate file format or wait for standards bodies to give their approval. While such extensions initially decrease interoperability, it's Burton Group's belief that this issue will resolve itself over time, as popular extensions are adopted by other vendors or eventually move into the baseline specification." This is an opaque way of saying that to do more interesting things, you have to use another Microsoft proprietary format.
  • They do not deign to address any of the serious issues around the viability of OOXML as an open standard discussed extensively elsewhere. Actually, that is not entirely true: they did mention something about the ISO process and the "several thousand suggestions" concerning OOXML. Suggestions. How quaint.
  • "The debate and scrutiny are not surprising, given Microsoft's historical track record as an extremely aggressive competitor and convicted monopolist, but it's important to understand that Microsoft appears to be sincerely committed to making OOXML a substantive standard...". Sorry, all these words in the same sentence make my head explode.
  • "Broad recognition of OOXML as a legitimate (real and de facto) standard..." So its not an open standard anymore?

In general, they damn ODF by giving it faint praise, repeatedly pointing-out its limitations: "ODF represents laudable design and standards work. It's a clean and useful design, but it's appropriate mostly for relatively unusual scenarios in which full Microsoft Office file format fidelity isn't a requirement".

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