Open XML BRM Day 2 Thoughts

Well it would seem that facts, rumors, and opinions are flowing fast and hard from Geneva. There have been some substantive opinions being shared around that are interesting. I'll focus on 2 topics for today.

1) Patrick Durusau - the project editor for the OpenDocument Format has posted another opinion, and if you are serious about thinking deeply on this topic you should be reading what he has to say. He is a long-time standards professional and I find his writing to be extremely thought provoking. I have great respect for his approach.

  • Patrick makes the point that ODF and Open XML are fundamentally different in their approach. He, as many have, contemplates the idea that ODF and Open XML are markups which are evolving at the same time. He makes the point that it is encouraging to have both formats within the JTC 1 context as it will promote a balanced, technical conversation about the future of formats. I'd also point out that DIN - the National Standards Body for Germany has been driving a conversation on this. Organizations such as PC-Ware Information Technologies AG, Microsoft Deutschland GmbH, OPENLiMiT Holding AG, Dialogika GmbH, Ecma TC45, Novell and independent experts have been working to truly understand what the differences between the formats are. Here is the press release on that.
  • Patrick is very careful to state that he is not in favor or against the Open XML spec - my read is that he is in favor of the process for considering the spec in a holistic manner, rather than through the outright commercial and/or philosophical fanaticism that seems to be driving much of the opposition at this point (my opinion, not his).
  • Patrick points out that Open XMl and ODF are "...two of the major markup vocabularies.." I'll just underscore a theme that is raised all the time, that somehow ODF should be the only document format. There are many today (more than the two being discussed), there will be more in the future. I think it is very good to have them standardized and open for all to use. Great. Now let's move on to the real issues of translation.

2) Google has decided to join the OpenDocument Alliance in opposition to Open XML's bid to become a JTC 1 standard. They posted this opinion that ODF should be the only format and that national standards bodies should vote no to Open XML. They have brought out three primary arguments against Open XML - all three of which are existing opinions of other detractors. My two cents:

***AMENDED BASED ON COMMENTS: I mispoke in the opening of this section and then compounded it by simply missing the point of the org names that I had wrong. I originally wrote that Google was joining the OpenDocument Foundation. Google has been a member of the OpenDocument ALLIANCE for quite some time. The OpenDocument Foundation has long-since closed their doors and the folks over at Groklaw were right in hammering me about getting the names wrong. I have written at length about the Foundation as opposed to the Alliance and should have had this right. My apologies and thank you to Kevin Wright and Luc Bollen for their comments below.***

  • Google has every right to dislike the specification and advocate against it. It is worth pointing out that they have a commercial interest in their foray into the marketplace with Google Docs. (which is just fine, but should be kept in mind when viewing anyone's opinions...including my own.)
  • They start with what was the contradiction argument of more than a year ago - which ISO determined not to be the case. More than that, so many people have written on this point that no arguments are left other than to say simply...they are wrong. The formats represent both the past, present, and future of different applications and different functions. ODF represents a subset of capabilities offered in Open XML and does so due to the products that were the impetus for the creation of the formats. Never mind the fact that the derivation of the formats took entirely different engineering pathways and take into account different sets of legacy issues (for good or ill).
  • Their second point also misses the point. The idea that the specification represents the existing data of millions of organizations' data is not a flaw. I do hope that as they bring along their customers from feature to feature (technology to technology) over time, they are respectful of the need for legacy compatibility. The customers I speak to feel rather strongly about this. Additionally, now that there are literally hundreds of independent implementations on Linux, Windows, Palm, iPhone, seems a bit of a reach to still insist that the spec is limited to a single vendor.
  • Finally, they argue that changes in the spec demonstrate that it is "insufficient." Hmmm...the changes coming from ODF 1.0 to ODF 1.2 and 1.3 are huge - again, does that mean that ODF shouldn't have been standardized? I have written frequently about this. I have no problem with the fact that specifications change for the better. That is a good thing. Market relevance, the quality of spec for implementers, the terms governing use...all important factors. Let's focus on the real issues. Google doesn't want Open XML to pass because it creates commercial opportunity for them (as it would for IBM and/or Sun) - ok, I respect that. But the arguments are still thin as far as I'm concerned. (Probably not surprising to many that my opinion would differ.)