Monday, April 9, 2007

Some document standards more open than others

Most readers of this blog have already read about the ongoing fight about the Open Document Format, which is being led by two engineers who work on XML document formats at Sun’s group. The standard is being promulgated by OASIS, an industry consortium led by IBM and Sun, but many of the key technical issues have been discussed in open forums for more than four years.

Of course, this is aimed directly at the ubiquitous (and proprietary) .DOC (aka Microsoft Word) format that hold the overwhelming majority of the world’s formatted documents. The most visible aspect of the conflict was the attempt to get the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to adopt ODF by Peter Quinn, its CIO until the controversy forced him out (and then his successor) out last year.

The various conflicts around Microsoft have been well covered by ODF supporters in special sections on Groklaw, Andy Updegrove’s blog, and the blog of IBM’s Bob Sutor. The bible of enterprise IT, Computerworld, has also given it frequent coverage.

The story surfaced on Easter Sunday in (of all places) the International Herald Tribune, the pre-Internet bible of American expats in Europe (and now a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Gray Lady herself). The story noted that while the ODF became an ISO standard nearly a year ago, Microsoft has proposed its own XML schema for ISO standardization, called Office Open XML. The OOXML is already standardized by ECMA, a Microsoft-friendly ISO-partner trade association that previously blessed Microsoft’s C# language.

Clearly the competition from ODF (as with other competition) is forcing Microsoft to be more responsive to the needs of customers and complementors, after more than a decade of a completely secret proprietary file format. Microsoft acknowledged the importance of file interoperability in its announcement last year of OOXML for Office 2007.

The criticisms of Microsoft’s ISO application seem to be twofold. First, if the world already has an ISO standard for office documents based on XML, why does it need a second? I suppose Microsoft’s argument is that ODF is controlled by its major competitors and they are designed to make its life difficult. Of course, Microsoft could have joined the ODF technical committee, but (like IBM in its day) would prefer to continue to control its own proprietary standard rather than accelerate adoption of a (low-switching cost) open standard.

Technorati Tags: , , , , ,

No comments: