The former State Government CIO of Massachusetts (a state in USA) Louis Gutierrez has a worthwhile interview in Computerworld this week. What I like about the article in particular is that he seems clear that the role of govenment is not just to passively accept standards, but to pragmatically assess the suitability and impact and processes of each one. ISO makes “voluntary standards” not laws.
Gutierrez says the obvious: that there is a marked difference in the feature set between ODF and OpenXML (”straightforward simplicity” versus “feature-rich but very idiosyncratic diversty”): he does not trivialize the difference in coverage or scope between the two. More interestingly, though he is obviously not a pluralist at heart he does acknowledge that there may be legitimate benefits in plurality (especially if we take the strategic view where we are trying to set up the pre-conditions for full-function office standards, to benefit users rather than hungry vendors.)
…The trouble with people who say “You are ignoring the elephants in the room” (i.e. that the utterly dominant thing is the corporate and political machinations) is that the room actually contains more than elephants…at the end of the day, when the elephants have left, some poor schmuck has to clean up. The hard technical issues cannot be ignored: which applications work?, can the format carry the information we need? for each area, what is the allowed trade-off between fidelity and interoperability? What validation is being performed? Which version of the standard is being required? Which profile? Which test suite? What encouragement is being given to Open Source developers (e.g. KDE)?
Here’s some quotes on ODF and OpenXML from late in the article:
Do you have an opinion on which way you’d like to see that battle go? I have an idealistic opinion that I am not putting a lot of odds on. It would be great to see a merging of standards over time — to see the straightforward simplicity of ODF married to the enormously feature-rich but very idiosyncratic diversity of Open XML, and to have the world come to a place where it says, “Look, we can enhance the one and simplify the other and come to a real standard place.”
One XML? One core XML, with possible embellishments that are put in by competitors. That’s kind of the idealistic wishes of someone who likes less rather than more.
Do you see any reason for there to be two standards? If you were starting blank-slate, there certainly would not be value to creating two separate standards. Over time, it has sometimes been useful to have the competition of two standards to keep both sides honest. But I don’t see particular value in the long-term co-existence of two separate standards.
Did you get any indication that the current administration is going to change the ODF policy? No. Although I can’t in any way speak on their behalf or pretend to speak on their behalf, the things I'’ve heard are the things that are most encouraging. They are going through the standards processes. “Let’s take a look at Open XML. Let’s evaluate it against the things we wanted in a standard.” I think the new administration, they’re very good government people.