Formats, Formats, and more Formats....some say there should be only...except the other one...and that one...and the new one...and...

In the comments section of my last post, there is an absolutely solid discussion going on the idea of a single standard. I have promised to put some more sophisticated thoughts into a top-level blog, and I will. But, first I simply have to comment on some of the stuff I'm reading out there.

I encourage you to check out this blog posting from Sam Hiser. Sam is not a fan of my points of view. So much so that I keep him linked in my critics corner because I strongly believeĀ in keeping an open mind about issues before coming to a conclusion.

Sam, and the organization he is closely associated with - The OpenDocument Foundation - have come to the conclusion that ODF is not heading in a direction they support, and are now advocating that attention be moved to the Compound Document Format (CDF). The CDF work is currently under way over at the W3C if you are curious about it.

In Sam's words...

It may be news to some -- not to the ODF Community, certainly -- that we at the OpenDocument Foundation have been displeased with the direction of ODF development this year. We find that ODF is not the open format with the open process we thought it was or originally intended it to be.

This leads then to...

Among ODF's weaknesses is its provenance from a specific application and the unwillingness of its originators to release it into the Bazaar. Merchants of irony will note this is the identical problem that paralyzes the incumbent gorilla's format.

Before I comment on this (and I'll note here that I may have made points similar to the comments about commercial intent behind ODF in the past), let me finish by noting that Sam supports CDF because it meets the following criteria (again, from his blog)...

  • openness & objective oversight
  • full compatibility with legacy MS formats
  • convergence of desktops, servers & devices
  • cross-platform portability
  • vendor independence
  • an explicit interoperability framework
  • freedom from patent & other encumbrances

OK, now for my comments. I will keep them somewhat brief.

  1. There are many document formats out there. Innovation will continue to push technology forward (especially in the applications) and thus the need for evolution and flexibility with document formats will continue to move forward at a rapid pace as well. Now, with the push towards standardization of these formats the argument is one of consolidation. Yet this does not jive with the actual situation in the marketplace. The OpenDocument Foundation could not be making this point any clearer for me. They had hoped one technology was going to get to a certain result, but that result did not materialize. So, they are now hoping the next one will do it for them. Let's say CDF was actually adopted in mainstream apps (ODF is certainly ahead of CDF on this front) and the format moves out of the theoretical specification phase and into broad commercial implementations phase (meaning that things like app compat, competitive differentiation even among "friends," and a range of other potential points start coming into play)...they may find that there is a need to move to a new format for the cause once again. Oops, more formats.
  2. I will point out again (and I'm sure I will do so more than this time), Adobe is not only standardizing (through Fast Track none-the-less) their doc format, their lead engineer eagerly pointed out the fact that Adobe also has their own "XML-friendly" format in the "Mars Project" aside from PDF. Anyone else interested in pursing their own strategy with this stuff? Oh yes...that would the Chinese Government with UOF. Ok - so other than those efforts...there should be just one.
  3. It would seem that some of the rhetoric around ODF might also need some re-vamping considering the points being made by their own community. I'll leave it for that community to discuss their own differences for now.
  4. All of this seems to make the point stronger than ever that when you are speaking about document formats, you are really speaking about an adjunct technology to the applications which are the real "solutions" in this discussion. If consumers want those apps to be pushing the innovation envelope year after year (I'll point to the MS Office team adding OneNote to the mix over the past few years and how different that experience is for doing the same thing as Word on the surface...typing text...but yet oh so much better for other uses.), then the formats will be a representation of those features. This seems much better for consumers than constraining the apps to the limitations of the format in the name of consolidation.
  5. Again, just to put the point in there - translation and metadata will figure in very large to the long-term consumer concerns of data control.

Ok, so my comments were a bit longer than I thought they would be. I'm still going to ruminate more on the doc format vs. network protocol discussion as it applies directly to this same discussion.