The debate between ODF and OOXML adopters even on these pages has definitely managed to clearly push people into one or the other camp, to the extent that I find it amusing to see the degree to which both sides have rallied around their respective flags. I’ll freely admit that I am very much in favor of seeing ODF’s acceptance as an ISO standard - it has, in most cases, respected the principles that I myself believe about standards, to whit:
- Level Playing Field. ODF has been set up as a specification that does not in fact give significant advantage to any one player. Yes, an ODF implementation of Open Office exists, but Open Office also accounts for perhaps 1% of the “marketplace” of adoption for word processing or spreadsheet programs in use today; with Google playing in that space, WordPerfect, Lotus, and others also adopting ODF, its likely that the “first player” advantage that OOo has will likely not significantly factor within the next year or so.
- Building Upon Standards. A lot of people have tried to use the arguments that the OOo specification also incorporates XHTML, XForms, SVG, and other standards, and so the analysis of the size differential between Microsoft’s OOXML format and ODF should be viewed in this context. Yup. It should - ODF is essentially stating that ODF is a modular format that incorporates other modular formats that it does not in fact have direct control over, but that are universally recognized as standards even if implementations are not as pervasive as they could be. ODF does not need to (nor does it) redefine what others have already spent a great deal of time and energy creating and validating as reasonable standards, so can get away with a much smaller “expression”.
- Royalty and Patent Free. ODF is, I believe, patent unencumbered - there are no sleeping dogs that might come awake once you begin to use the product standard. OOXML not only assumes encumbrance, it practically demands it.
- Openness of the Standardization Process. ODF went through a very visible, very public period of standards development through OASIS, and it was perhaps this reason that made it possible for the ISO review committee to expedite the adoption of ODF so quickly - the hard work of standardization had been done. Microsoft, on the other hand, has tried to “fast-track” OOXML through ISO the way they did through ECMA (which has long been friendly to Microsoft’s vision of standards) and are now finding that the formal review process is definitely not as friendly - not because of any innate bias against Microsoft, but because the “standard” that they are proposing flies in the face of everything ISO has attempted to do in its long history.
- Deliberate Incompleteness. Technically, what ODF has proposed is largely for the Word processing portion of ODF, rather than the spreadsheet side. This isn’t that surprising - a spreadsheet is not a word processing document, and there are issues that the ODF technical committee readily recognize with regard to interoperability and compatibility for spreadsheets that have kept total description of the spreadsheet version out of the specification. Again, this comes back down to the use of minimal force principle, and there are still issues with regards to spreadsheet representation that need to be worked out - and in general, standards. OOXML is far more extensive there, but again, they only need to be standard to themselves, while adopters of ODF recognize that what they are developing need to be universal, and hence need to solve issues that aren’t specific to Microsoft’s version, so its better to keep that portion out and resolve it as a separate module.
The central crux of the current debate is, and should be, whether Microsoft’s OOXML does in fact represent a standard that is conceivably implementable by anyone outside of Microsoft (for instance, whether it is a standard that can be implemented cleanly on Linux or the Macintosh without the specific inclusion of Microsoft specific technologies on these platforms) or if it is instead simply the last gasp of a vendor trying to keep their product from becoming irrelevant in the long term. I’ve seen a lot of fairly heated rhetoric on other blogs and articles concerning such things as the efficiencies of OOXML over ODF (which I do not doubt - proprietary solutions are almost invariably more efficient in the short term), the stated vehemence of non-Microsoft partisans with regard to OOXML (which I view as irrelevant to the discussion as the stated vehemence of the Microsoft partisans to ODF), the competitive disadvantage that ODF gives to Open Office compared to MS Office (oh, give me a break - I’m a big fan of OOo, but Microsoft Office has played every card in the deck to insure monopolistic control over that market, mostly successfully), or the possibility that government office workers will be “shackled” with an inferior office format (i.e., one that doesn’t display the latest Microsoft Office documents in perfect fidelity, but otherwise is very close feature-wise).
Microsoft will survive this. Those companies that like Microsoft Office for its integration will continue using it for same, those government workers or research people who need it can likely get it as part of their working capital budget, same as they always have. There are hundreds of millions, if not billions, of word and excel documents in circulation, although as concerns about application scripting and other potential virus vectors continue to escalate, their presence on the web is continuing to decline. OOXML represents a format that by all indications is a bear to work with from an XML transformation or search standpoint, especially compared to ODF, but as most people don’t write XSLT transformations, this is more a market opportunity for enterprising XSLT developers than anything.
With regards to ODF and OOXML, the ISO process is indicating that a standard is and should be something that represents a common ground for everyone, not simply the formal ratification of a de facto monopoly. The creators of ODF (who were not all Open Office employees) recognized that and aimed for as clean a standard as possible. If Microsoft had chosen to work with them then chances are it would have had a standard far more to its liking than ODF as it stands now. They took a gamble that they could continue to use their weight to get their way, and by all indications it has not only alienated the ISO committee but also largely reduced its credibility in other standards areas at a time when open standardization is becoming recognized as the only legitimate standardization form.