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08.11.07

Document Formats Watch — “For the Love of God, Think about the Children (and Consumers)”

Posted in America, Australia, Formats, IBM, Microsoft, Office Suites, Open XML, OpenDocument, OpenOffice, SUN at 1:07 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Why Format Wars Should be Avoided

Formats and standards wars (or just rivalry at best of circumstances) are nothing new. They emerge when two (or more) parties fail to reach consensus on a single path to follow. They emerge when greed and urge for control supersede the needs of the customer. One fine example of this is the high-def DVD formats war. In yesterday’s news you could find an article that mentions (but not addresses) some of the issues.

More studios, including Sony and Disney, support Blu-ray exclusively. Only Universal Pictures supports HD DVD exclusively. Warner Bros. and Paramount release films in both formats.

This is fragmentation. Another new article demonstrates the impact on the consumer.

Likewise, people with Blu-ray players won’t be able to enjoy the action-thriller “The Bourne Ultimatum,” which Universal Pictures will release only in HD DVD.

[...]

“The frustration for consumers is not knowing what format is going to win,” said Chris Roden, an analyst at Parks Associates.

Let’s use this as a case study.

Can a Proprietary Format and an Open Format Live in Harmony?

So, we already know for a fact that Microsoft’s refusal to join the vendor-neutral ODF Alliance — something which it has had many opportunities to do — is a case of selfishness that will cost the consumer, which is also the biggest victim.

What is rather surprising is that a supposedly well-educated and respected body has just made a statement that supports fragmentation. From yesterday’s news:

“NIST believes that ODF and OOXML can co-exist as international standards,” NIST director William Jeffrey, said in a statement. “NIST fully supports technology-neutral solutions and will support the standard once our technical concerns are addressed.”

It is unlikely that NIST are “in Microsoft’s pocket”, so to speak. They have already rejected Windows Vista (this led to a fair bit of noise at the time). So, why on earth would anyone wish to mix incompatible formats where one is badly-designed and proprietary whilst the other is not? Could it be ubiquity that made de facto binary dumps acceptable?

Another new article highlights the real issue here. It states that formats like these fail to communicate.

According to Gary Edwards, founding president of the OpenDocument Foundation, OpenOffice and other Open Document-based applications can do a better job interoperating, if only the vendors that steer the format would allow them to.

Among yesterday’s OOXML/ODF roundup we also mentioned another important factor that stifles interoperability, namely platform dependencies. By educating those involved, things can change for the better.

The Ugly Truths and the Lies

From the he-said-what? department comes this:

Groklaw has a rather extensive discussion of a recent meeting at Standards Australia about their vote on OOXML. I need to correct something mentioned in that report.

IBM is not now a member of CompTIA. We used to be a member, but we quit some time ago. We did not participate in any CompTIA meeting where we voiced our support for OOXML.

CompTIA is an infamous anti-Linux lobbying arm of Microsoft. It is bizarre that CompTIA, which has vocally supported Microsoft’s side in this debate, can somehow be associated with IBM. Are these reports being reviewed by the wrong individuals? Panel stacking again?

In any event, Oracle has also submitted its comments about this rushed process. The speed of this process serves Microsoft because it leaves too little or no room for evaluation and feedback.

Wins for ODF, Losses for OOXML

Despite all the whiny-type reports, there are some good news as well. OpenDocument wins support Babya software, for example.

Babya today announced that it will support the OpenDocument format in Babya software.

The standard was developed by a technical committee of the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS) consortium…

Additionally, INCITS does not approve OOXML.

The overall vote is not, to me, a surprise. Leaving all politics or opinions aside on whether OOXML should become an ISO/IEC standard when ODF already exists, I do not believe that OOXML is in good enough shape to recommend a yes vote, with or without comments.

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