Several articles in various publications last week about the ISO-approved Open Document Format and Microsoft's efforts to make their own XML-based document format another standard.

ComputerWeekly sees something hypocritical in IBM's stance towards ODF.  It is true that IBMers have been quite vocal about the risks associated with Microsoft's effort to standardize their Open XML format from Office 2007.  Main reasons -- ODF has already been approved as an international standard at the ISO, isn't authored or controlled by a single vendor, and is supported in several products in-market today as well as in the near-term.  Microsoft claims that Open XML is just as open, even though Office on the Mac doesn't support it yet, few public documents exist in the format, and the spec itself is a hefty 6000+ pages long.  Yet ComputerWeekly also highlights the massive PR and public influence effort that Microsoft has undertaken to push Open XML along, without taking a look at why such an effort has become necessary for MS.  Like so many things in IT, if the benefit was obvious, millions of push wouldn't be necessary...

InfoWorld has an interview with IBM's Bob Sutor on this topic, in "IBM undeterred by setbacks to ODF adoption".  This question really gets at the heart of what "openness" really is:

IDGNS: Some potential users would like to see one single standard, a combination of ODF and OpenXML. Could that ever be a possibility?

Sutor: It's more a difference in technology. Microsoft XML technology is simply not good XML. Look at the English language. It's a bunch of letters, words, and grammar, and you can use the rules to form sentences. That's similar to XML. You can sit down to write a novel, and so can I. I might write the worst novel, and you write the best. Just using XML doesn't guarantee quality in the same way that using English doesn't guarantee great novels. Microsoft's XML doesn't take into account modern design and steadfastly ignores other XML standards.
But the best resource on this topic that I've seen recently is a full examination from Sam Hiser, of the OpenDocument Foundation.  Yes, he's obviously writing from the ODF perspective, but "Achieving Openness: a closer look at ODF & OOXML" examines the key, basic issues that exist in this space.  It takes to task so many of Microsoft's "don't customers want choice?" arguments as being specious and irrelevant, and pushes the exact detailed facts around many of the key objections that IBM, and others, have raised to MS's approach.  There are points raised in Hiser's document that I wasn't aware of before, including the legal indemnification issues (or lack thereof) with OOXML.

I have written about ODF "versus" OpenXML a few times, without much commentary.  I realize this issue seems very abstract or minute or irrelevant to many readers.  My assertion would be that it is in fact highly relevant, not just because Notes 8 includes editors that support ODF, but because it is a chance to avoid "format wars" in our industry.  Anyone watching Bluray vs. HD DVD or the horrible HDMI implementations in the video industry or, much more commonly, has dealt with the difference between A4 and 8½ x 11 paper sizes knows that multiple, competing standards do little to advance business or technology.  

More standards is not greater good.  Using existing standards, standards which are open, can involve any vendor, and have been implemented by many is the greater good, for now and far into the future.  Thus, now is a really good time to read Bob Sutor's blog, Rob Weir's blog, or, for the opposing view, Doug Mahugh at Microsoft (or my former colleague Stephen McGibbon).  As I've seen play out so many times when watching Microsoft, the truth is not getting in the way of the story.  The next few months, as ISO moves to a vote on OOXML, will be worth watching -- and participating.

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